Category: Experiments

The “Sól” in you

This month I’m working on class prep. Creating new art is, sadly, low on my priority list. But, this gives me an opportunity to reminisce a little. It’s always good to look back every once in awhile so you can appreciate how far you’ve come.

I made this sunflower quilt, “Sól” about 7 years ago. When I see it, I feel like it was just last year. Time moves quickly.

The piece was made as a challenge. Photographs were collected from the local photo club and local artists selected one to re-create using their own inspiration. By design, “Sól” turned out very similar to the photo. The biggest exception is that I used textiles to create my 3-dimensional image.

This was a fun piece to create. The sepals (green parts) were fuzzy on the photo and I wanted to recreate a similar effect. I decided to use green felted wool and added some fuzzy white roving (wool) using needle felting. The petals of the sunflower where stitched on fabric, cut out and then sprayed with a fabric stiffener product. I let them dry so they would stay wrinkly (and a bit stiff) when I sewed them to the background.

I am still very happy with this final rendition. This piece is now in the private collection of a friend. He saw it during the show and had to have it. I’m honored to have participated in this challenge and to know the piece is cherished in my friend’s home. Some of my best art has been created by challenges like this. Have you ever participated in an art challenge? They can bring out the “Sól” in you!

See my artwork:
Sacred Threads
July 11-28, 2019
Artist Experience weekend: July 18-22, 2019
Floris United Methodist Church
13600 Frying Pan Road
Herndon, VA 20171

Challenge yourself

I really do have a plan for this summer, but I’m experimenting a little too. I spent so much time last year creating new artwork, that my brain is kind of in a fog about what to make next. Part of my problem, I don’t have any external deadlines to drive me with a purpose. I’ve been muddling along a little bit and experimenting with some new techniques. It’s always a good idea to have creative play time when you’re feeling a little stuck.

I entered a call for entry last week for “Eye Contact: creating a connection.” It’s an art installation that will be part of the Sacred Threads exhibit July 11-28 in Herndon, VA. The call for entry asked to for a 23″ x 5″ art piece that features human eyes. This was a little bit of a stretch for me, but I had a photo of myself looking into a mirror and thought it would be an appropriate subject for this exhibit. When I saw myself in the mirror, I noticed the lights that framed the mirror reflected in my eyes making my pupils look square. It fascinated me, so I snapped a selfie and rendered it into this art quilt.

It is a bit different from what I normally do and that’s OK. In order to grow as an artist, you must continue to challenge yourself.


See my artwork:
Sacred Threads
July 11-28, 2019
Artist Experience weekend: July 18-22, 2019
Floris United Methodist Church
13600 Frying Pan Road
Herndon, VA 20171

Doesn’t hurt to try

Boro stitching

Do you ever wonder what’s the point in trying?

Recently I had a conversation with someone who mentioned that she was exploring so many things that it felt like she had an attention deficit disorder. I wondered if there is anything really wrong with being attracted to new ideas and creative outlets. Do you have to stick with just one? What if you try something and you don’t like it? Is it a failure if you don’t want to continue with a project?

From a young age, I was exposed to all sorts of creative outlets. I loved the diversity of it all. Crochet, needlepoint and counted cross-stitch were big things in my life when I was a child. Loved them all! Then forget all that when I found knitting in my 20’s….my passion! Then in my 40’s, there was quilting…the traditional (piecing fabric blocks) kind. Oh boy! I was hooked…until I wasn’t. Seriously, I really hated it and ran away from it all. I was too much of a perfectionist. Those matchy-matchy seams drove me Cr@Zy!

So, then I moved on to mixed-media and started exploring polymer clay, stamp carving, surface design, paper mache, collage, needle felting, weaving, Was I going insane? No. Eventually all this creative play brought me to where I am today. I have things I started and will never finish. I frequently donate my unloved supplies to school art supply drives or charity-based thrift shops.

But hey…I’m still trying new things…I always will! Why? because I love the thrill of trying! And as an art quilter, every so often those old skills come in handy. I love having this overflowing toolbox of resources!

Currently I’m exploring boro stitching, which is a Japanese method of hand-stitching used to mend fabrics. I’ve always hated my hand stitching, but I’m allowing myself to embrace my imperfection. It’s such a meditative process to mindlessly run stitches through cloth. The finished results are so intriguing.

In trying new things, you’re figuring out what works for you (sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t). It’s OK, if you decide you don’t like to do something, then just let it go. If you hate it, toss it in the trash and donate the supplies to a friend or charity. Just remember, it doesn’t hurt to try.

Cut up your failures

Sometimes its nice to take a break from what you’re focusing on and play around with an idea. I belong to an art exchange group where I use the opportunity to do just that … play. I usually have some very specific ideas about what I’m doing. In this exchange group I’m much less inhibited about what I do. Each month we are tasked with making a 10″ x 10″ artwork in whatever medium we choose. This year we have a theme: Construct/Deconstruct. Yep, its a pretty broad theme.

Because I’m focusing on my solo show later this fall (see below), my brain has really struggled coming up with ideas for this group exchange. I had focus early this year, but that creative energy left me. This month, I remembered a cloth bag (pillowcase) that I had stashed away. In the bag are quilts that I have outgrown. They either need to find new life as a donation to a charity fundraiser or be re-purposed into something else.

Looking in the bag, I found two pieces that inspired me for the group exchange (image upper right). I thought, what if I cut them up and reassembled them into something new? (Deconstruct/Reconstruct).

I remember when I made the bamboo quilt, it was early in my journey as an art quilter. I really liked the idea, but I hated that the bamboo looked so flat (2-dimensional). This quilt set me on a journey that improved my quilting style and eventually got me published in Quilting Arts Magazine twice for 2 of the techniques I used in this piece.

Anyway, I no longer loved the bamboo quilt and had to do something with it. So, I cut it up into 10″ x 10″ blocks and added cut-up portions of the other little quilt into the arrangement. I remember it was fun to make the original pieces, but it was equally as fun to re-purpose them into something else. To me, the end result of this creative play produced something much more interesting than its original incarnation. I don’t know if I’ll every continue with this multi layer collage technique, but it was fun to play. It got my head out of a rut and luckily produced something that I could re-purpose. So remember to play, because its OK to cut up your failures.

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





Looking for more

I’m working on a group challenge this year that is forcing me to look at the details of an object.  So, what do I really see when I see something? There are a number of ways that I look closer at an object.

Sometimes I do it with binoculars. I see the birds at the bird feeder and pull out the binocs to look at the details of the wings or feather coloration. Today, I saw a bird fluttering about the feeder and I wasn’t sure, but thought I was seeing blue. With the aide of the binoculars, I clearly saw that it was a male indigo bunting. That was exciting to to see and felt like I’d won a prize.

Another way I see details is to plop myself on the ground and look close. Frequently, as I sit on the ground, I’ll use my cellphone camera to take micro shots of tiny objects. I get as close as I can and zoom in. Its amazing the fine detail you can see with these photos.

Once I have a good image, I’ll look for more details by zooming in on it with photo editing software. For example, this week I opened up a photo of a Monarch butterfly that I took several years ago. I zoomed in and cropped the photo to show just a portion of the full image. I find it interesting because you see things that you might not normally see.

I printed the cropped image on photo transfer paper, then applied it to fabric. I guess I could have moved on from there, but the process of stitching the image forced me to look even closer at the details. As I stitched, I paid close attention to the shapes, lines, and colors in the wing. So many layers of detail. As I delve deeper into this project, I realize I am consciously and unconsciously looking for more.

All pieced together smoothly

So its time for me to start a new art quilt. I guess you could say that I’ve been working on this one for over a year already. I was inspired to make this during a visit to California I made almost exactly 1 year ago.

As with all the art work I make, this one is not going to be a “cookie cutter” design. I’ve decided to do some piecing of the background this time. Trying to get the fabric to have this curve (see photo) took a bit of effort. I had to sneak back to my sewing roots and experience in traditional quilting. Oh dear, I even needed to match seams when I sewed the wedges together. The process of making this quilt top reminded me of how much I don’t love this part of quilting.

Thankfully, I had enough fabric to accomplish the task and extra thankful that I didn’t make a mistake cutting. Yikes! Its not easy for me to buy fabric here in this little town. If I ran short on fabric, it would be weeks before I could move forward on this project. Or I’d have to re-group on the entire construction concept. Lucky for me, it all pieced together smoothly.


Waiting for some realism

On October 25, I posted a photo of my Eastern Towhee in progress. I start with a basic line drawing which I use to cut out the fabric pieces and fuse them to my background fabric. I hinted that there was more to the process. Today I’m going to share that with you.

The one thing I’ve noticed about most fusible applique techniques is that the pieces look flat and cartoon-ish. I’m far from being a realist in my artistic style, but I do crave more realism in my work. In life, objects aren’t 2-dimensional, they reflect light and shadows. That’s what I want to see in my design.

A few years ago, on a whim, I decided to take a Prismacolor pencil drawing class from a local artist and friend, Frank Pierce. I enjoyed the class, but didn’t think I’d every use what I learned. Then, I had the ah-ha moment of, “I wonder if I could use the pencils on fabric?” That started me on a mission of exploration. These colored pencils gave me a tool to add the shading I was looking for. But as with any discovering, I realized there was more to it than just coloring. If you want to know more about my specific process, then you might want to pick up a copy of the Dec17/Jan18 Quilting Arts magazine. There’s an article in there where I explain the techniques I use. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of using these pencils in my art.

This little bird still isn’t finished. There’s some stitching that needs to get done, but I’ll share that later because right now I have another bird in the works waiting for some realism.





See my work and discover my process of “Creating Highlights & Shadows
Quilting Arts Magazine
December 2017/January 2018
available book stores or online at Interweave Press

Stop playing

No matter how accomplished you get in doing something, I believe there is always room for improvement and growth. Maybe some people can admit that they’ve reached the pinnacle. Not me.

The world is constantly changing. People’s interests change, fashion changes, and new technologies are created. If I could say I have it all together, I suspect in a few months…maybe a year…what I do would become out-dated, old, and uninteresting.

So my issue is to keep figuring things out. It’s a difficult process, because you can never stop, even if you get tired. My feelings right now are I need to improve my quilting skills.

I have a fancy machine, but that doesn’t do the work…my hands and brain do. Lately, I’ve noticed that when I quilt my pieces I fall back into what’s comfortable. I’m bored.

Recently what has wowed me in other quilts is the beautiful mixture of different motifs on one quilt. The backgrounds are rich with varying designs. That’s what I’m loving and want to do. I’ve been trying to think what’s holding me back and I realize its time. I don’t allow myself time to play … play feeds inspiration. Play also allows you to try something new without worrying about failure; “Oh well, I was just playing.”

This week I played. The results aren’t typical for me, but I was able to experiment with some new designs. Then, because that wasn’t special enough, I experimented with Derwerts Inktense pencils to add some color. I won’t show you the fails, just know that there were a few.

My take home message from this is to allow yourself time to play and experiment. You don’t have to be so serious about everything you do. Just remember as this applies to our art: “we don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.”

Continue to experiment

As promised, here is the peacock feather I was working on in my last post. During the process of rendering my design into fabric, I found that my stabilizer didn’t work as well as I had hoped.

What’s interesting is that there are so many variations to creating thread sketched pieces. I have options to finding something that works better. I don’t usually put backing fabrics on my pieces when I thread-sketch/paint. Sometimes the backside of my art quilts look messy, so adding the backing after the fact hides some of the ugly. I do use some sort of stabilizer which helps keep the fabric from shrinking up too much when you add the layers of stitches.

On this particular piece I used fusible fleece batting as the stabilizer. I don’t think I ever tried using fusible fleece before. What I realized is that this brand of fusible fleece is acrylic and the more I stitched the more grip (resistance) it created on the sewing machine bed. It was almost like the acrylic fibers were melting a bit from the friction. When you free-motion stitch, your fabrics need to move smoothly under the needle. If they don’t, you’re stitch lines won’t look as fluid. I’m happy with the final piece and I’m ready to ship it off to its new owner. This is, however, a reminder that there’s always lessons to learn and I should continue to experiment.

Fabric and thread

This week, I’m working on a process to demonstrate thread sketching. Thread sketching is just like making a sketch with pencil and paper. Sketches are pretty quick and often made of simple lines. Instead of paper and pencil, I’m using a sewing machine and thread to sketch.

I want my example to be reproducible, so I need to start with an image. For this example, I decided to use  a peacock feather as inspiration. I initially drew the design on paper (right) and I probably could have just made copies, but it looks a little sloppy from all my erasing and redrawing. To clean things up, I scanned the drawing into my computer and re-drew it using Adobe Illustrator (left). The line drawings I can make in Illustrator are known as vector graphics. I like working with vector graphics because they can easily be re-sized and changed without effecting the quality of the image itself. If I tried to enlarge the scan, the image would get more blurry the larger I made it. With vector graphics, I can enlarge or shrink the image as much as I want and have the same quality for all projects. I can also tweak the image to change how it looks.  It definitely is a bit time consuming, but since I plan to reuse the image for several projects, I feel it’s worth my time in the long run.

Stay tuned, because next time you see this it will be rendered in fabric and thread.