Transformation in Process: Verbal Expression vs. Visual


Floral Arrangement 26

Many of you have followed me as an artist and teacher for the 35 years of my career. I thank you for that. I’ve so enjoyed the ebb and flow of teaching and learning that the quilting community has given me. I’ve loved exploring my art as I’ve had the opportunity of offering you all kinds of new techniques to explore in your own.

But nothing is forever. The world changes and we change in response.

Several years ago, the teaching positions began to dry up.  I really can’t pin precisely when this happened. It was in response to everyone’s tightened monetary conditions. Guilds felt they couldn’t afford a teacher every month. Or a national teacher more than once a year. The gigs trickled down from twelve gigs per year to two or three. It was no one’s fault. The profession I’d followed for thirty-five years was over. I was unable to make the switch that would have perhaps helped me continue. I needed to acknowledge that in a world where I was my own employer, I’d lost my job.


Problem with Princes

My art started years ago as an obsessive hobby and then became a career. But a career wound down does not return to an obsessive hobby. It flows into something else that fits better with the changes of the time. For one thing, I don’t have the strength I used to have at the machine. Or the need to create in the same way. The need for creation never goes away. But it does shift in focus and in substance.

So I found myself writing. I’ve always been a story teller. It’s a family legacy, that run’s through my mother’s side all the way back to Ireland. We tell stories.

Now before that, the bulk of my creativity has gone into visual expression. I’ve spoken in color and creatures, telling human stories in visual ways. Right brain stuff.

In my teaching, I got very familiar with identifying right brain people from left brain people. They needed different things. Right brain people needed stimulation and permission. Left brained people needed a formula they could follow. I worked hard at providing both because I’ve always believed a good teacher teaches everyone, not just the students like herself.

So it’s been a total journey to finally just express things in words. My left brain is pretty lame. But I’ve forced it around the track enough to try to master stories strictly in words.

My family has never been known for written stories. That has been the puzzle I’ve been unlocking for the last three years. How to tell a story that makes someone howl with laughter or shiver with fear. Or simply feel the connection of how we all react to the crazy bits of our worlds.

In my irresponsible tweens I spent time in Boston telling fortunes as a tea leaf reader in a tea room. It was a crazy time full of impossibly odd people and weird stories. It was completely formative. I learned things I’ll never do again. But in the way of all story tellers, I feel a need to share the stories just for the wacky reality of it.

I have not written a memoir. These are fantasized and sanitized for everyone’s protection. But it was not a safe journey or a time of stability. It was a wild unbalanced experience of people who were truly different and also in chaos. At the time, I felt that my reading helped them. Now I know better. But it is the journeys that build us, not by coming to a destination, but by enduring the stress of the journey itself.

So forty-nine stories later I have three books ready to publish. They are the loosely told story of my youth, going into a place of possibly and danger possibly to help those around me, but mostly to find out who I really was. I could not have become either the artist I was or the teacher I was without this journey. They both were formed in the steps towards the world of the psychics and the pathway away from that later.
gifted wSince these stories are all about tea leaf reading, I’ve included a tea cup with each of them. It’s not necessarily what someone would see reading, but just to give you an idea of how it feels.

So, will you join me in my remembrance of this journey?

Sight Unseen what the parrot saidwys My first story What the Parrot Said is available on Amazon for .99. There are other stories ready for you to read on my website,



tea room tales wI hope to have the first book, Tea Room Tales, available on Amazon very soon.

If you are kind enough to read my stories, please tell me what you think. A review is always welcome and the stories are in the long run, there for you. So I need to know how you feel about them.

It’s my transformation, from visual to verbal, from art to stories. Will you come along for the ride?


New Site, New Sights!

Fran Riley at Ellen's Thread Magic Studio in Galesburg

Fran Riley at Ellen’s Thread Magic Studio in Galesburg


I’m delighted to announce that my new web page is up at! I have quilts for you to see and pieces available for sale that haven’t been up for some while.  Check them out and see if there’s something that needs to be under your tree at Christmas. Contact me if you need to discuss pricing or want to buy more than one piece.

I’m also celebrating my new studio being up and running. This is Fran Riley from KWQC who did a great  video spot on my studio and my work. Watch it here!

new-blue-fishHere are some of the things I’ve been working on. I’ve been in a fishy state of mind.


But I’ve also got dragonflies on my mind.







All in all it feels good to be back sewing again and to be back in my studio at work.



Thread Magic


Olly, Olly Oxen In Free: The Flip Flips

Lady Mantis 2

Lady Mantis 2

I’ve been recovering from a number of changes these last couple of years. Change is neither good nor bad, I suspect, except how it works out in the end. I suspect also that the definition of that is where you put the end.

This last month, for perhaps the first time in my life, I’ve been over political. I’ve had strong opinions and I’ve posted them broadly and widely. In truth, I’ve felt like I was fighting for our lives. As it works out, I think we all lost a lot in this election but time will tell.

Be that as it may, I am sure you’re opinion probably hasn’t changed. Neither has mine. I think I still will point out happenings that make me nervous and convince me something bad is happening. I’ll do my best to run them through snopes so it’s not nonsense. I hope you can do something similar.

But I’m tired of asking folk why they’ve made the choices they have and I don’t want to debate candidates anymore. Mostly I’m exhaustably tired of nasty angry men heads on my Facebook page. Yuck.

I wrote earlier about the flip and my high school reunion. It turned out to be pretty prophetic. I did have a pleasant time. Part of that was due to a choice on my part to offer an unspoken amnesty to people who hurt me in high school. If I can’t get over it in 45 years, I’m doing something wrong.

The election did stimulate that for me. The idea of ANYONE in a corner berated, battered, hounded, hated brought me right back home. But this time my fear was that I too would be standing in the crowd whistling dixey and be afraid to stop it. I’m afraid of becoming one of the people who permitted the abuses I’ve lived through.

What stops this kind of abuse? I’m not sure, but we’re going to have to figure it out or live with it. I think it may simply be the witness of people who actively don’t approve or permit it.

Years ago, when the Bosnian community moved into Chicago, I worked with a family there. One of the boys ran off to play ball with his friends. That, in that part of Chicago wasn’t great, but the park had a reputation for drug dealers and junkies. I went rushing off looking for him. I found him in the park, with a number of Bosnian children and adults ( by the way, these people are Muslim. And lovey, I might add). watching to keep everyone safe. Not a drug dealer in sight. Honest people who disapproved of them had moved in and taken the space.

So that being said, My studio is up. My web page is back up. I am back doing art. I forgive you if you said some smug, crude thing to me for not thinking the way you do. I hope you can forgive me for whatever I might have said that hurt you.

I would rather, in the end, be able to say you were right than I am. I’m not sure we’re going to survive this political clime as a democracy. I don’t know what will be left after the rapine that seems promised by our president’s elects’ choices.

So what else is left? Do art. Take care of the people in front of you. Write the best truth you can.

My apologies all around.


Waiting for the Flip


Within  a week or two I’ll be going to my 45th high school reunion.

I’m told I don’t have the right attitude about  my high school memories. I’m sure there are people for whom high school was a happy magical place of growth and possibilities. I don’t know any of them, but I think I know people who would say that anyway. I often wonder what they do remember. And what they need to forget to make themselves whole.

Do they remember the day someone threw me into the bleachers during a dance class? Or the day I was beaten with books by 5 classmates in a hall room? Or the young Christian girl who observed that even people like me were of some value? Or being celebrated as the queen of Saturnalia (fools) for a Latin club event? As you can imagine, I have some mixed feelings about the memories.

Bless us, I suppose there’s a part of that these people who probably define all this as high spirits and a lack of humor on my part.

Did I have friends? I did. They were dear and they were rare. I hope I recognize them.

I believe that what forms who we are most is the stories we tell about ourselves. We define ourselves as legends in our own minds. Perhaps that’s normal. Who else can best tell your story but you?

Had I been braver, tougher, tighter, smarter, and prettier, I might have had a different experience. There was a lord of the flies quality to high school that I’m still trying to get over. How did they define me?  Was I a victim? A snot assed scholar? A mental bully?  An antisocial art princess? A writer with several books under her belt? There’s  no going back, to change what was. I’m waiting for the stories to flip.

I’m waiting on my perception to change. Perhaps I can see how afraid they were they might have been lumped in with me as a person to focus on. Perhaps they were afraid all the time too. Perhaps I made them feel less able or valuable. Perhaps there’s a space where we can see each other differently. Perhaps the stories can flip.

So I am going hoping to see these folk in a different light. I’m hoping to see me in a different light. I’m hoping for our stories to flip.

I’ll be in a wheel chair for some of this. I’m not exactly crippled, but I don’t do distance standing and walking. Try not to add it to my story. It’s not how I define myself. It’s just the mileage.



The Sorting of Stuff

studio 1 I’ve never really doubted my dyslexia. Actually no one does. I still can’t spell or find where the punctuation marks go or for that matter, be sure about the directions my ps and bs take.

But what seems to be hardest is the whole process of sequencing things. When I was younger I found it terribly hard to tell a joke or a story in a linear manner. I’d tell the end, then the middle then the beginning. It still makes sense to me that way but I do know better.

But I’ve also found it has to do with the organization of stuff. Last year when I moved the studio I managed to pack the same box 46 times, I believe. It contained thread, scissors, odd books, dirty cups and very peculiar yarn. I seem to keep opening one box exactly like the other.

It’s organizational, as I said.And I believe it’s my dyslexia rampant. But my dyslexia also allows me to unravel yarn, and to think in different processes from one end to the other without being lost in sequence. Because sequence doesn’t matter if you can’t follow it.

Dyslexia is a gift. It’s a view from another country. It’s the ability to do something different because you see something different. But it doesn’t help at all as you unpack. I fear I’ll have one drawer exact like every one of those 46 boxes.

Of course, since they’re full of beauty, why should I care?


Art-Life. Life-Art



It’s been a while since I’ve blogged anything. There are times when you live your art. There are times when your art is an effort to live your life. I think most artists swing between those two points. With all the changes coming down, I’m hung somewhere between packing and planning. The art there is the art of putting it all into a box.




don and iFor those who’ve missed the punchline. I’m getting married, November 21st, to Don Bowers, a dear friend from college who somehow, miraculously has become my love. And I’m moving to Galesburg, IL.

wedding inviteAt that point, I need to pack up and move my home and studio and plan a wedding. At 62.

I’d given up. I’d given up so often I could have written a book on giving up. Surprise.

Will I still teach? Yes if I’m asked. So ask. Will I still do my art? How do any of us stop doing are art? Art is not a process. It’s a by-product of an artist’s life. As we live we express ourselves in many ways. Art is just part of the expression.

What is today’s task? Emptying the dead and quite scary freezer to make room for the new one. There’s art for you. Bring out your dead. Find what’s still living. Hand the rest to Mo.

herculeTangentially, we’re having a mouse problem. The mice are a problem. Mo, the munificent and very messed up 14 year old cat is doing his best to show me that he is a magnificent mouser. I just wish he would stop putting them in the kitchen and in my bed. I always wanted breakfast in bed, but please. Not while it’s still warm.

I’ve had the privilege of sharing so much of my life with you all. It seems strange not to. So I’ll be writing a bit about this as I move, make room for the changes, start to merge with someone in a strange space.  We are all artists, by genome, by birthright. And sometimes our lives are simply the art of trying to make sense of our lives.

If you’d like more information about the wedding, please check our web site on The Knot.  If we had a failure of mail or brain pressure and you need to be with us on that day, let us know and we’ll put out more fudge for you. (Yes. I made ten batches). And if you have a moment, say a prayer for us. It’s a lot of changes.



783-07 Hopscotch Boogie


Hopscotch Boogie

Hopscotch Boogie


Hand-dyed cotton, direct appliqué,  hand dyed cheese cloth,  polyester,  metallic, nylon threads


Free Motion Applique, Direct Applique , Quilted,


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