stuff and things

31 January 2012

A New Book from Ellen Anne Eddy

Just when I thought I could take a break from holidays I've found a new cause for celebration: C&T Publishing has just published a brand-new book by Ellen Anne Eddy: Thread Magic Garden.

Finally, Ellen's created a new wellspring of thread magic and inspiration!
I love Thread Magic Garden for many reasons. But first, a bit of background.

About 16 years ago, I wrote computer books and articles full time. So did my husband Andy; he still does. To break up our day, we'd often head to a nearby bookstore. Andy beelined for the computer book section, while I gravitated to the fiber arts shelves. At the time, my deadlines kept me too busy to actually experience quilting or fiber arts workshops. But I could buy books, and I did.

One title in particular, Thread Magic: The Enchanted World of Ellen Anne Eddy, changed my entire approach to stitching with thread on a sewing machine. I became fearless!

Thread Magic gave legions of readers and class participants a sense that they, too, could do this!
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Computer writing slowed down, and I found more time for fiber arts. Soon, at a workshop with Joan Colvin, I met Sue. It didn't take us long to learn that we also shared a love for the work of naturalist thread painters Annemieke Mein and Ellen Anne Eddy. Sue was already experienced at organizing workshops with nationally acclaimed fiber artists/quilter teachers, and offered to bring Ellen to San Diego if enough of us showed interest. (Annemieke, being from Australia, was out -- at least for our guild's budget!) Naturally, we clamored for a workshop with Ellen.

Once she arrived, Ellen taught us how to work with rogue threads, glitzy and otherwise unquilterly fabrics, and everything else she knew. That session included a wild and messy "Dye Day" where we learned to build those bodacious backgrounds.
Metallic threads were no longer scary as I worked on my nudibranch.
But the thing I loved best about her book and her spirit was that she wasn't all, "This quilt shows the egrets on Lake Ever-Calm at twilight." No ... her captions and life stories vividly described a relationship's end (the quilt picturing two fish staring each other down ... ); or how a frog quilt expressed her feelings of isolation at a certain party. And then there's the egrets!

Being a fan of personal and real, I related to Ellen's book and her classes immediately. I think she related to me, too. So much so -- maybe it was some sort of a karmic thing -- that we ended waking up the morning of a workshop to watch, right there on my living room TV, the Second Tower getting smithereened on 9/11. You see, for the second time, I was hosting one of her workshop stays here in San Diego.

We made some phone calls. Most of the class members voted to get together despite the horrific attack -- feeling that our common bond with art and fiber would allow the healing process to begin. And it did, although poor Ellen finally had to ride a Greyhound bus in great discomfort to return home to Indiana.

Years later Thread Magic sold out, going out of print. But the demand for it among fiber artists and quilters was so high that a different publishing house reprinted it. One thing I do know a little about is the trade book business -- and having readers clamor for -- and get -- a reprint is pretty rare.

Well, now there's a new Ellen book to celebrate: Thread Magic Garden. Like her previous book, this one covers her art form with detailed, beautifully photographed instructions. New techniques have appeared since then, however, like Angelina fibers and "thread globbing," providing exciting new coverage.

Another big difference between the books: the galleries of quilts in Thread Magic served as pure inspiration, a jumping ground for the reader's own ideas. After all, who would want to copy someone else's art quilt? But in the new book, Ellen rightfully assumes the reader may want to learn how to best represent a given flower. Thus flowers are placed into categories based on their general shapes, each showing its components before construction, the finished composition before thread painting, the finished, stitched flower and leaves in huge close-up, and a photo, often taken by Ellen herself, of the actual plant.

These pages also include a bit of lore on each flower: some mythological, others from the language of flowers. Ellen has the gift of succinct writing so these tidbits never become overdone.

Repeated throughout the book is a compact chart on the main stitch types and their various effects: Slanted for Shading, Straight for Smoothing, etc. These charts are a valuable tool, proving that this somewhat daunting art form doesn't have to be. Finally, the last few pages provide how-tos for frogs, dragonflies and other creatures. It wouldn't be an Ellen book without them.

Lest this sound too much like a rave, I found one drawback: Ellen's Hosta page didn't show the leaves. Would-be English garden people who live in arid areas, like me, can't grow many of the plants she gives us: but now we can stitch them!

Incidentally, over the years we've collected a nice selection of Ellen's quilts. In my next post I hope to share some of these with you. In the meantime, happy stitching or whatever helps your creative juices flowing.