• Ellen Harris

#1 Fiber Art Threads of Gratitude: Growing, Learning and Discovering the Fiber Artist in Me

Updated: Aug 17

Fiber Art Threads of Gratitude express satisfying and joyful reminders of our connection to the Earth through the design of colorful weaving, quilting and other cultural artistic patterns that connect to our creative spirits. This why I love textiles. Through my travels, I have a collection of textiles from Africa, Central and South America, and Asia.


Years past, I used to do a lot of sewing. My father bought me a Singer sewing machine in the cabinet when I was 13 or 14 and I’d sew my heart out. Once I started a project, I’d sew through the night to finish it until my mother would say go to bed. I sewed my prom dress, my wedding dress and even took a pair of my husband’s pleated pants apart to create a pattern. He was 6’4’’ and loved how my pants fit him. Sometimes I laugh to myself because my non-stop sewing habit continued as an adult and my husband got way too used to having new pants in a day or two. That drove me crazy! Eventually life and other priorities got in the way and I stopped sewing.


Slowly the desire to create with fiber is coming back. In many ways, it comes naturally. The women on my maternal side of the family worked with their hands. My mother did needlework and some quilting. My grandmother and great-aunt, her sister, quilted. It’s in my bones and like learning to ride a bike, you don’t forget. I’m just happy the spirit gives me the wisdom to start creating again.


Four years ago, I started Saori weaving, a Japanese improv technique. While in other parts of my life I’m typically very analytical, my creative side doesn’t like rules and structure. Saori does that for me. Weaving on a loom, you don’t have to go in a straight line, can work all kinds of other elements into your piece, and I add an extra touch by embellishing a final piece with beads, Adinkra or yoga symbols, and other implements. Now that I’ve started quilting, I’m going to figure out how to meld the two fiber art forms. With that background, now to get to the point of this post.

Last August 18 – 22, I participated in the Gee’s Bend Quilting Retreat in Canton, MS at the Gray Center; a rustic, tranquil center run by the Methodist Church. I arrived on a late Sunday afternoon in time to settle into my room, set-up my table in the Chapel sewing room, and head to dinner. For four days, you live in dormitory-style or cabin rooms; eat delicious locally grown and procured food; walk the grounds, lake and labyrinth; talk; and quilt.

If you aren’t familiar with the ladies of Gee’s Bend, AL, look them up. They’ve created hundreds of beautiful quilts and are known worldwide. The MS retreat is facilitated by a beautiful spirit, Ms. Anne Robertson. She’s been connected to the ladies in Gee’s Bend for several years and created this retreat with two of them. Ms. Mary Ann Pettaway and Ms. China Pettaway are cousins and for four days they shared their wisdom and artistry with us. They don’t tell you to do this or that; they tell you to do what you feel. For me, that was especially wonderful because remember I don’t like rules. And even though the Gee’s Bend technique is all about improvisation, they constantly encouraged me and were pleased to see my finished piece.

I, too, was quite happy with my accomplishment. It was the first time I’d pieced a quilt. Thanks to www.Kiangaart.com I had beautiful swatches and bundles of African fabric. I followed a picture for inspiration but picking the fabric, matching the colors, cutting and sewing the fabric for my Meditating Yogini was all me. By the end of the retreat I was busting with pride and joy over my creation.

And even though some procrastination got in the way, my quilting frame got ordered and arrived this week. This morning, I unpacked my piece and attached it to the frame. Now, let the hand quilting begin!





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