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Full of adventure

“Looking for Muir” © 2018
36.5″ x 51.5″
by Nanette S. Zeller

It was a long journey to get here, but now I can say I succeeded. My first solo exhibit is history. I can look at it all in retrospect. I’m thinking about the overwhelming amount I learned about myself, about creating and exhibiting art, and about the business of being an artist. It’s a lot of information I didn’t know starting out.  I feel  confident about moving forward, but there’s also a crazy amount of stuff I want to know.

With 2018 almost over and 2019 fast approaching, I’m feeling reflective. I know that I am fortunate and I try to be grateful for all the opportunities I have. My life started in January, so maybe that’s why I get so sentimental during this time of year. Each year is an opportunity to honor what I’ve done and look forward to what’s coming.

I have a laundry list of things I need to accomplish before the new year. There are some interesting opportunities opening up for me. There are things that I dreamed about and things that I’ve worked hard for. I’m looking forward to sharing all the details along the way. I slowly stepped off the exhibit train I’ve been riding and now I’m jumping onto the next boxcar full of adventure!

Happy Holidays

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. As I reflect on this year, I have a lot to be thankful for.  I was able to accomplish 2 dreams; getting work published in my favorite magazine and having a solo exhibit.

This year also offered a lot things that created stressors.  I am thankful that we survived 2 hurricanes with very, very minimal impact. Some of my friends were not so lucky and countless others, who I don’t know personally, experienced major loss from weather, fire and other events.

I am thankful to have so people in my life who support and encourage me. I’ve been reminded this year, how important it is to support those around you. A simple gesture of support can mean a lot to someone who is going through a difficult time.

I’m thankful for you reading my blog and following my journey. I hope by sharing my stories, you find ideas that you will connect to. My goal is to encourage you to embrace your creative side and to stay proactive even when you may be struggling. By dreaming the big dreams and embracing the power you hold inside, exciting things can happen.

I appreciate you! Have a joy filled Thanksgiving and happy holidays . . . Namaste!


As Nature Speaks, a dialog with an art quilter
Featuring the artwork of Nanette S. Zeller
Closes Saturday, Nov 24, 2018
Page-Walker Arts & History Center, Cary, NC
119 Ambassador Loop, Cary, NC 27513

Call ahead to check gallery availability (919) 460-4963

Unaware of me

There’s still another week and a half left of my exhibit at Page-Walker in Cary, NC. The last day to see “As Nature Speaks” is next Saturday, Nov 24. It’s been a surreal process with a wide range of emotions attached to it. For me, the biggest part of it has been re-discovering who I am.  I’m someone who cares deeply for natural landscapes.  As the exhibit slowly winds to a close, it’s time to share some of the artwork that I’ve been working on.

Back in July, I shared snippets of an art quilt I was working on featuring trumpet pitcher plants. My summer blog posts described a lot about my process. Before the exhibit opened, I made signs describing the artwork. In each sign, I told a story. The idea of the trumpet pitcher plant quilt has been in-grained in my mind for a long time. It’s a lovely feeling to see it hang in a beautiful gallery. The signage explains why it meant so much for me to create the image:

  • Sounds of the Trumpet  (Trumpet Pitcher Plants)
    21” w x 42” h
    In the Sandhills of North Carolina, the longleaf pine ecosystem is fire-dependent. I have been lucky to visit pristine fire-managed bogs and wet longleaf savannahs where the carnivorous trumpet pitcher plant thrives. Their rigid tubular leaves can grow up to 3 ft tall, attracting flying insect to a cavernous demise. They’re amazing plants to see and aside from their size, the next most noticeable feature is the sound. In daylight, there’s a constant hum of bees which are focused on getting to the sweet nectar and they’re totally unaware of me.Techniques & Materials:Inspired by photos taken by the artist, commercial fabrics, appliqué, thread painting, hand-painted cheesecloth, and Prismacolor pencils.


As Nature Speaks, a dialog with an art quilter
Featuring the artwork of Nanette S. Zeller
Oct 11- Nov 24, 2018
Page-Walker Arts & History Center, Cary, NC
119 Ambassador Loop, Cary, NC 27513

Call ahead to check gallery availability (919) 460-4963

As Nature Speaks

All the fussing is over. I finally realized this milestone in my career: a solo show in an art gallery!

There were times over the summer when I didn’t think I would be able to create enough art to fill this big gallery space. I knew I couldn’t give up, so I just kept working. When I pulled everything together, I had 27 pieces of art to hang.

What a relief, especially considering that this past month we had to deal with 2 hurricanes in as many months. Its all good. I’m please with how everything looks.

If you happen to be near Raleigh, I hope you get a chance to visit my exhibit at Page-Walker in Cary, NC.  My artwork will be on display through November 24.






As Nature Speaks, a dialog with an art quilter
Featuring the artwork of Nanette S. Zeller
Oct 11- Nov 24, 2018
Page-Walker Arts & History Center
119 Ambassador Loop, Cary, NC 27513



It will be OK

Seriously, there’s no time for this. I spent a lot of time this week worrying about and preparing for a hurricane. We’re expected to experience the outer bands of Hurricane Florence as she makes her way into the Carolinas. The weather forecast calls for tropical storm levels of rain and wind.

Everything is secured, we have “plenty” of water. Thankfully I live in a neighborhood of supportive friends. We have each other’s backs. There’s nothing more for me to do except continue prepping for my exhibit that will open on Oct 11. So as long as we have electricity, I’ll be quilting the last pieces of artwork.

This week is merely a reminder that you can never plan for everything. When things get out of your control, just take a breath and make the most of what you have. As my dad would say…it will be OK.



As Nature Speaks, a dialog with an art quilter
Featuring the artwork of Nanette S. Zeller
Oct 11- Nov 24, 2018
Page-Walker Arts & History Center, Cary, NC

Adding those final details

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I really enjoy thread-painting.  It makes better sense to call the technique free-motion embroidery, but thread-painting is a more commonly used term. “Painting” with thread is very similar to traditional hand embroidery, something most people are familiar with. When I do free-motion embroidery, instead of hand-sewing, I use a sewing machine to apply the stitches. In hand-embroidery, you move the needle across the fabric and in thread-painting you move the fabric under the machine’s needle.

Last week I used a thread-painting technique to create fern shapes that I stitched to the tree quilt I’ve been working on. I created the ferns by stitching them onto water-soluble stabilizer that was secured in an traditional embroidery hoop. I drew an outline of the fern shape on the stabilizer, then went to town applying stitches with my sewing machine. When I finished stitching the shapes, I un-hooped the stabilizer and soaked the stitched motifs under running water. The stabilizer becomes gooey as it dissolves under the water and eventually all that’s left behind are the embroidered threads.

Once they were dry, I stitched the ferns to the base of the trees. The shapes add a nice 3-dimensional effect to the overall design. With this addition, I pretty-much finished the large tree quilt that I’ve been working on these past few month. I trimmed it to size and now just need to hand-stitch the facing (aka: finished edge) it into place. I also think I’m going to use some hand embroidery to add some additional pops of interest to the ground cover. I find handwork relaxing, so I’m going to take my time adding these final details.

Live a little longer

I dabble in genealogy and really find connection with a Mexican tradition called the “three deaths.” Our first death is when our bodies cease to function. The second death is when our body is lowered into the ground. And the 3rd death is when our name is spoken for the last time.

Last week I wrote about my curiosity regarding the longevity of my art quilts. In that post, I was basically contemplating the three deaths , not some unrealistic concern about becoming famous. As I do genealogy, I love discovering a relative who’s been dead a very long time. I sense that when I find them, that they’ve been resurrected.

For me after I’m forgotten, I hope every so often there’s a quilt or 2 hiding somewhere which resurrects itself (me). Realistically, textiles are a very fragile medium to work with. There are so many factors which can destroy them into piles of thread and dust. As I prepare for my solo exhibit later this year, I’m thinking about what this all means … to be making things.

I’m near completion of a piece I’ve been working on for awhile and it struck me that there are things getting buried during the construction. I’ve added a lot of thread painting to this piece. This week, when it was time to quilt it, I had to cover up the back-side of the stitching. It amazed me to see how my stitching created its own art piece.

It makes me think that maybe, this process of creating can also experience it’s own stages of life and three deaths. My thread painting was once an active part of the process, but that is over now and buried behind layers of fibers. When you see the finished piece, the thread work does not take center stage as is does on the back. It becomes blended into the layers of fabric, color and quilting. This secondary art piece I unintentionally created is likely never to be seen again. So, I thought maybe if I leave it’s picture here, it might live a little longer.


What I make will disappear

Creative Goddess by Nanette S. Zeller. Created spring 2010/disassembled 2014

I wonder why people create. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. There are some of us who create for the pure joy of making something, there are others who make to give away, there are some who create things to make a statement, and even people who create hoping to be seen.

Recently I’ve been making art quilts which are meant to be statements pieces. In making my art I’ve also realized I do it to be seen. It may sound a little narcissistic, but why else would you put in a purposal for a solo show or enter an art exhibit? You obviously have something you want people to see otherwise you’d keep it from hanging in public view.

Some of this for me is also about leaving a legacy. When I die only 2 things will remain: one is people’s memories of me as the person and the other is any object I’ve created. Memories fade fast, but material objects created by a person can last a very, very long time.

Have you ever watched the Antiques Roadshow? On the show, people bring in their “finds” and are educated about the object. I am always so fascinated when the expert starts sharing the history of the people who created the piece. I’ve seen it with paintings, furniture, jewelry, and all sorts of objects. They tell stories about the object and stories about the creator. Sometimes the expert can recite facts from over 100 years ago. How exciting that the artisan is still being remembered for what they did so very long ago. There’s a legacy.

Do I really expect my work to last centuries? No, absolutely not. I use textiles. There are things I can’t control about longevity. I’ve seen quilts from the last century made from beautiful silks or cute little calico prints which have disintegrated over time. They didn’t know back then that some of the dyes which colored the fabrics would eat away at the fibers or would fade so badly that a bright red fabric would turn tan.

We’re much more cautious now and the textile industry tests their products. Do I really know for sure that the materials will survive 100 years or more? No. Sunlight can be suicide to any fabric (I keep my textile pieces stored in a dark closet). I can only hope that the fusible products, synthetic adhesives, fixatives and starches, or even the dyes in the fabrics don’t contribute to decomposition. But really, I don’t stress about these things.

As much as I would love to think that 100 years from now one of my art quilts will be considered a prize possession, I know that’s unlikely. I do take caution in what I use. I don’t knowingly do things that will damage my art, but I don’t obsess about the archival quality of a product I’m using. Like a memory, I know in time what I make will disappear.


Never too late to learn

I have always enjoyed learning.  Learning doesn’t always have to mean learning a physical or intellectual skill. Sometimes you can learn about yourself and what works for you.

For example, the past several months I’ve been working on and blogging about a new art quilt inspired by a visit to Muir Wood National Monument. This piece is huge and, at times, a little unruly. Two weeks ago, I found that I was getting very frustrated with the progress of this piece. Because I really wanted to get it finished, I kept trying to plug along with it.

Every piece I make is unique and requires different techniques to accomplish my vision, therefore I’m not very systematic about what I do. As I progressed on this piece, I realized I was super tense working on it. Little obstacles kept appearing that made me re-think my path forward. During my most intense frustration, I posed a question to an online group asking them what they do when they feel this way: “Do you keep going and fight through the frustration?”  or, “do you call a time out, put it away and start working on something else?” I got mixed responses, but most seemed to agree walking away was a good choice.

I’ve always tried to drive on, but this time I had other small projects I could work on to allow a temporary break from the large quilt. This week I put the Muir quilt under the needle again. Its amazing how my attitude has changed. I’m once again excited about stitching on this quilt top. I learned something new about my creative self – stepping away is a good thing. Sometimes deadlines keep me from having this luxury but, I also don’t think I do my best work when I’m stressed. With this experiment I learned something new about myself: I can and should take a break when I need it.

Knowing how you work and what you need to succeed is owning a very valuable tool for your productivity.  Do you pay attention to your feelings when you work? You know, it’s never too late to learn.


I’m working on the thread painting stage of my latest quilt. Here’s a view of the back.

I’m not too concerned about how pretty it looks from this side, because in a little bit I will be covering it up with the batting layer and backing fabric. Once that’s finished you’ll never see this view again.

This quilt has been a bit of a challenge (sometimes they behave that way). While I was working on the foliage, I noticed something visually happening with the background. It truly bothered me, so I had to think about it for awhile. What do I about that issue? Hmm?

I don’t make cookie-cutter quilts designs. Its layer, upon layer of processes. Each quilt deserves a different treatment because I’m trying to represent different subject matter. You just can’t build a tree the same way you build a bird.

Some of my techniques are similar, but I’m literally winging it on every quilt. That’s why it takes me so long sometimes to complete these larger pieces. I have to look at what I’ve done and figure out how to do what’s next.

The good news is I’ve moved passed the tree foliage and I’m working on texturizing the tree trunks with thread painting. The problem has apparently been solved for now. Progress.