Friday, March 19, 2010

Eleanor Levie does it all!

Eleanor Levie has a gift for laughter as well as the skill of a fine 'needler.' She fits right in with Subversive Stitchers everywhere. She has been a part of the quilting community for so long she made a Timeline quilt to document it -- oh, that's the history of quilting....

Check out her website for more fascinating details concerning this fun and imaginative quilt!

She also writes books and teaches and lectures and whew. she's one busy quilt lover!

You know Eleanor is in a room -- just follow the laughter. Yet her quilts often have a more serious message, such as her poppy quilt below. --Dawn

Speaking out loudly in fabric and thread,
Art from the heart, never spread on a bed,
Planning precisely, then slicing and skewing,
Mistake and surprise rarely seam my undoing!
Making a statement in free-motion cursive…
Ahhh, that's the life of a stitcher subversive. --Eleanor Levie

I'm a big fan of Dawn's blog: As a runaway from a goody-two-shoes childhood, I'm always thrilled to be labeled subversive in any aspect of my life or work. Hey, you know it's more fun to break the rules than follow them, right?

Exhibit A: During the decades I have edited quilt books, and hung my reputation on the hook of clarity and reliability. However, I can't, for the life of me, follow directions. As an editor for McCalls Needlework & Crafts in the '80s, and as the freelance producer of the Rodale's Successful Quilting Library series at the turn of the new century, I really do know the right way to do all aspects of quilting. I just get sidetracked with the voice that says, "What if I do this instead…?".

Exhibit B: In chronicling the third revival of our craft in American Quiltmaking: 1970-2000, I've gained a strong appreciation for our legacy. Plus, I've taken classes with the best of the best, innovators, artists, those who have developed personal strategies for turning tradition on its head and subverting it. But I'm not patient or practiced enough to follow in anyone's footsteps. I confess: I'm a dilettante who clowns around in just about every quilting technique. I defy anyone to look at my "body of work" as it were and recognize Eleanor Levie running through it! The truth is, everything I've done is more overcompensation for inferior work or an inferiority complex than it is subversion.

Exhibit C: I can't possibly compete with the stellar talents who do absolutely, drop-dead- gorgeous flower quilts. Any quilt I make that has a flower for its subject needs to have other subject matter to con the viewer into giving it a second glance…i.e., a personal or political statement. My "Poppy Dilemma" conveys, through photo-transferred articles, the awful choice Afghani farmers face-- giving up a cash crop of opium poppies and taking what the government will dole out--hardly enough for their families to survive on, or getting four times that amount from the drug lords.

My choices aren't life and death, but I do choose to forego square, 90 degree angles. Another flower piece that subverts the square is "What's Your Body Type?" I made this memory quilt (43" x 21") in 2005 for a show at the Allentown Art Museum. Part of an invitational exhibit, it supplemented entries for a contest sponsored by P & B Textiles to promote a reproduction toile fabric collection. A triple "self-portrait" represents my body at three phases of life: the slender bud vase of my budding youth, the bulbous pot as I burst with life and voluptuousness during pregnancy; and in pear-shaped, big-bottomed maturity. Despite the ridiculous messages society screams to be skinny, skinny, skinny, aren't all women beautiful?

My skinny memory quilt, titled "Stringbeans" (14" x 56", 2008), pokes fun at how skinny everyone in my gene pool started out. Sun-prints of stringbeans, sliced in half and pinned to the painted fabric, suggest how scrawny the lot of us were, almost like Diane Arbus shots. Transfers of old photos on sheer fabric, vintage lace scraps, and wallpaper florals convey nostalgia.

Tormented by images of svelte fashion models, and knowing I'll never be tall, and no longer skinny, I take comfort in knowing that my quilts can be both. Stretching the square and the imagination, I love to make what I call Skinny Quilts. Hung on a wall or spread over a horizontal surface, Skinny Quilts can be art. Or craft: the inimitable table runner. These have always appealed to me as the perfect gift, providing something to dress up a décor, and keep tabletops from getting scratched. Besides, I know I can get just as much gratitude and appreciation from a slender slice of a quilted project as I can get from a king-size bed quilt, so why NOT go skinny? And speaking of gratitude and appreciation, I can't say enough about the amazing and diverse talents who have contributed to my Skinny Quilts & Table Runners books (I and II).

Within the last few years, in no small part due to my son's passion for ecology, I've looked to quilting and crafting to call attention to the urgency of lifestyle change to repair the earth. We've got to stop contributing to the making of and the mountains of plastic bags. And if you're like me, you need help remembering to bring your reusable cloth bags into the supermarket. Hence, my latest book: Unforgettable Tote Bags—20 Designs Too Cool to Leave in the Car. Again, I looked to celebrity quilters to provide inspiration and variety. Here I am, shopping locally, with my 14-Carrot Gold bag.

These days, I'm taking the reuse, recycle, repurpose shtick in another direction. Foil-lined plastic bags that hold a crease, such as bags that hold coffee and single tea bags, are the staples of my current stash. Counting the weird top, a stabilizer, and a felt backing, it's three layers, all right. And it's pieced, appliqued, and free-motion quilted...but a quilt? Your call.

Subversive? Maybe. Stitched, yes, indeedy. A message? Well, certainly a mess of fun.

This is a first effort in this direction -- any suggestions? Advice?


juanita said...

These quilts are great!! And your messages resonate with me!! Quilts with a social conscience and a sense of humour. What could be better than that? 14 Carrot Gold Bag - I'm still chuckling.

I love this site!

Sam's mom said...

Thanks, Juanita! -- Yr Soul Sistah in subversive stitching...Eleanor

Suzanne Gwynne said...

The REUSE quilt is great, Eleanor. I am so happy to see your skinny quilts, too. I need to feel that my art either "say something" or "do something" so the skinny quilt/runners are very appealing to me - they do both!
Thanks for sharing. I'm off to your website to see these more closely.
Suzanne G in NC

Susan said...


Fabulous blog! You are such an inspiration as always! I can't wait to check out your newest book!

Susan at The Village Quilter
Mt. Holly, NJ

Sandra said...

Fabulous quilts and interesting blog; thanks.

Linda said...

You rock, girl!!! now I'm off to your site!