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Elizabeth Rosenberg: Developing a Successful Quilt Series posted: 3/18/2004
by Carolyn Lee Vehslage Printable Page
Category: Art Method: All Series: In the Studio
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Elizabeth ‘paints’ with thread and ‘carves’ with her quilting needle

Yorktown Heights, New York quilt artist Elizabeth Rosenberg’s new series The Fat Ladies draws its inspiration from rock carvings of the Paleolithic era, or in more common terms the ‘stone age’ when homosapiens began making tools of stone and creating art.

While developing workshops for quilters Elizabeth found herself, “falling in love with African "style." I admired the rich geometric designs, the vibrant colors, the mysterious symbols and motifs, and I developed a deep appreciation for the artistic vision and spirit of Africa and its people.”

Little is known about the ancient artists who carved these women on a rocky side of a cliff in present day Chad, Africa. The largest of the ornately decorated female forms stands a statuesque nine feet tall.

One day while Elizabeth was searching the Internet for African art forms, she came across the rock carvings known locally as "Niola Doa" or Beautiful Ladies. Elizabeth remembers that moment as “love at first sight. I was head over heels. I can't really say exactly why. There was something about those figures that just felt "right" to me. “Maybe I found that I could relate sympathetically to the decidedly middle-age spread of those big, beautiful bodies, or maybe it was the geometric designs carved inside of the hefty ladies that reminded me of the shadow that’s cast by a quilted line. I didn’t know why I was so fascinated by them, but I wanted to find out everything I could about them. Where did they come from? How long had they been there? Who put them there? Why?”

When it became clear there were no simple answers to these seemingly easy questions, Elizabeth turned to her beloved threads and sewing machine to recreate these marvelous images in sculpted cloth.

“As an artist who loves to "draw" with thread and my sewing machine, I was at first fascinated by the richly detailed geometric designs on the large and lovely bodies, imagining how much fun it would be to translate the zigzags, spirals, and stripes with thread -- but as I worked on the figures, I found the body shapes themselves to be irresistible, and so endearing that I've returned to them again and again.”

Elizabeth is enamored with them, “Aren't they spectacular? They just blow me away! There are lots and lots of other shapes and designs in African rock carvings that I'd love to explore in fabric and thread -- and rock paintings are amazing, too. I'll probably try some, but I don't think I'll mix them with The Fat Ladies. They are so special to me that I feel they need to stand alone.”

“The Three Fat Ladies”

Art Statement: This larger version of three of the ladies uses many different shades of red and golden threads to highlight the geometric designs in the bodies.

Many of the photographs that inspired Elizabeth’s artwork can be found in the book African Rock Art: Paintings and Engravings on Stone by David Coulson and Alec Campbell
© 2001 Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

“The Three Fat Ladies”
36”h x 36”w © July 2003 Elizabeth Rosenberg
The Vehslage Fiber Art Collection

When Elizabeth begins a new piece, she usually has a vague overall vision of how she wants the finished piece to appear. “But nothing is ever written in stone,” says the quilter who recreates images carved in rock by sculpting her fabric with needle and thread. “I truly believe that too much planning ahead of time can suck the joy right out of a thing! And the joy of creating is really what it's all about for me.”

“The Little Fat Lady”
11"h x 8.5"w © Sept 2003 Elizabeth Rosenberg

“The Little Fat Lady”

Art Statement: This tiny fat lady was Elizabeth’s "September" entry for the International Quilt Association’s 2003 journaling project "A Page From My Book."

Rock art of the "Round Head" style, found in the Ennedi region of Chad, has been dated to before the seventh millennium B.C. and, because of the tools with which the rocks were carved and the scenes they depict, may represent the oldest evidence in the Sahara of Neolithic industries.

For Elizabeth, the ‘tools’ to create her quilts may be as important as the artwork, “I love thread, and I collect it passionately. I guess you could call it an addiction of sorts. I ask friends and relatives who travel to bring me back threads from exotic places. I have a GREAT DEAL of thread. Many, many, many, many spools.”

“I love all kinds of thread. I love natural fiber threads like cotton and silk, synthetic threads like rayon and polyester, metallic threads of all kinds, and thick threads that don’t fit through the tension disks, which can be worked from the bobbin! And beautiful, lumpy or fuzzy threads that can be couched down are wonderful, too.”

“The Fat Ladies After Dark”

Art Statement: This smaller piece is an experiment with using a light thread color on a dark background. The yellow thread glows beautifully on the dark, solid black background, making the ladies look almost electric!

Scholars find the carvings "remarkably similar to the clay-and-water patterns used by the Surma people of southern Ethiopia, who ritualistically paint their bodies to intimidate opponents during battles."

“The Fat Ladies After Dark”
24"h x 18"w © October 2003 Elizabeth Rosenberg

Elizabeth loves to use free-motion satin stitching as a design element in her artwork. “I don’t know of any other quilters that use it quite the way I do. My favorite tool is my sewing machine. I love the way it feels, the way it sounds, and the way it sews. It’s just perfect. I’ve had it for about eight years. I know it quite well from its limitations to its strengths.”

“One of my favorite things about quiltmaking is that "Zen" moment that can only be described as a type of meditation. I've heard other quilters talk about it, some claiming it comes to them during the methodical act of piecing, others referring to the sensation of fabric under their fingertips or the rhythmic rocking of the needle while they are hand quilting. But for me, it's the hummmmmm of the sewing machine when I press my foot on that pedal. It blocks out everything else, not just sounds, but problems, difficulties, pain, or whatever else might be bothering me. It's just pure joy. No thought at all is involved.”

“The Pink Fat Ladies”
37"h x 37"w © Nov 2003 Elizabeth Rosenberg

“The Pink Fat Ladies”

Art Statement: Dressed up in many shades of pink, these Fat Ladies have escaped the desert for a new home in the savannah, surrounded by lush quilted growth below their delicate little feet. Yellow ultra-suede trim dances along the pink side borders.

Materials: cotton hand-dyed fabric, commercial fabric, ultra-suede trim, and cotton batting

Techniques: machine thread-painted with rayon thread, appliquéd, and quilted.

Elizabeth finds that when she’s creating and designing a quilt, the time just seems to slip away. “Sometimes, when I get engrossed in a piece, I'll look up at the clock and realize an entire day has gone by and I haven't even realized it!”

“The Blue Lady”

Art Statement: This lady is blue, although she was inspired by an ancient painting in red. The original figure, painted thousands of years ago, lacks breasts or any other determining features.

My blue lady is modestly covered in beads and thinly veiled by a transparent lacy fabric appliquéd with free-motion satin stitching. The mysterious plume rising from the top of her head might symbolize some great spiritual power -- or perhaps she was having a bad hair day?

“The Blue Lady”
21.5"h x 15"w © Jan 2004 Elizabeth Rosenberg

“I just finished a little quilt called "The Blue Lady" which is based on a different rock painting. She’s a bit of a departure from the series in that the inspiration is a rock painting, not an engraving. Although the figure is presumed to be a man, to my eye it has a very feminine quality.”

Photo Credit David Coulson

The Future of The Fat Ladies series?

“I have a few sketches in my journal that were inspired by the “white skirted lady”

“The colors within the engravings were recent additions by locals using chalk and charcoal, in an attempt to tap into their ancestral power. Perhaps the white skirted ladies will be the beginning of a new series for me in the future!"

“I haven’t decided on what color schemes I’ll use for future quilts in the series, or even what the subject of the next piece will be. It will depend on the mood I’m in when I’m ready to grab some fabric off the shelves in my studio! I usually choose color intuitively, without much planning or forethought. I believe that color can express many moods; it can be joyful, or somber, or what-ever mood is exactly right for the moment!”

Elizabeth considers the quilts in The Fat Ladies series to be a tribute to the unknown ancient artist who craved out the mysterious nine-foot tall ladies from the rocks in the Ennedi Mountains of the Sahara desert.

To see more of Elizabeth Rosenberg’s artwork or learn about her lectures and workshops, visit or contact her at

©2004 Carolyn Lee Vehslage

Carolyn Lee Vehslage’s award winning artwork is in private, corporate, gallery and museum collections around the world. Her latest computer series are viewable online at

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