In honor of a client

In honor of a client

In our house, she was known as the “Closet Lady.”

Nearly a decade ago, she found me through the grapevine. I repaired and recreated textiles. Her silk Roman shades needed mending, suffering sun damage. She insisted that the repairs happen without uninstalling shades. I could adapt, no problem.

Thus began five years of journeys to her meticulously decorated home. I would sew, repair, reweave and piece together the silk textiles carefully chosen to coordinate with the furniture, paintings and other decorative elements. 

We set appointments on the phone, from her land line only. I introduced her to the pleasures of a smartphone. She promptly purchased one, but I never saw her use it. 

How did Closet Lady acquire her moniker? In her front entry, the coat closet had a door. When you opened it, there was a large gold French passamenterie gold tassel at the end of the light pull. It looked out of place with the wooden hangarars and neatly stacked cloth covered storage boxes on the shelf above. She purchased smocked gold dupioni silk to make a curtain that created a backdrop for the tassel. When she opened the closet door and pulled the tassel light cord, the closet glimmered.”It gives me great pleasure to take my guests’ coats and jackets and keep them in a gracious location,” she mused after I installed the curtain.

Like me, silk and wool were irresistible to her. Silk curtains, silk shades, silk duvet covers, wool paisley jacquard weave upholstery adorned windows, archairs, piano stools. She had worked with a designer to decorate the home when she first purchased it, but clearly she was in charge of the project. To find the exact colors, textures and patterns was a grueling process and she had no desire to do it again.

All repairs happened at her home. Packing up my tool bag, I curated a selection of threads in a range of weights and fibers that reflected the home’s palette. Pearl cottons, silk, wool and cotton embroidery threads, buttonhole thread plus machine and hand sewing threads were neatly lined up in a box. A daylight lamp and sewing machine often traveled with me. Normally, it was a four hour stint at her place.

Of course I should stay for lunch! Dainty dishes, cloth napkins and vintage flatware elevated the deli salad as we discussed Museum exhibits, current affairs and political escapades. A stickler for grammar, she would frequently bemoan errors she heard on NPR or in the New York Times. These lapses were not just noted, but reported to the perpetrator. My conversational contributions were subject to the same scrutiny. 

While eschewing my grammatical errors, she would bring her writing to me for analysis, ever searching for the perfect word and tone. I suggested synonyms and phrasing options for her correspondence. Mind you, this was included in my $35/hr textile tech charges. She encouraged me to charge my editorial hourly rate, but I never did.

Sections of the textiles most beloved to her had more reweaving than original fabric. Did she really want to sink more hours into extending their fragile lives? My schedule was tighter, working deadlines on projects that paid better and were located closer to home. I gave her the number of a great upholstery business that could recover a few of her chairs when she found the right replacement fabric.

We exchanged holiday cards. On occasion, we would send each other newspaper clippings. 

In the summer of 2019, she sent me a letter asking me to please come, as her textiles needed me. She would gladly pay my time in transit and hoped I could fit a trip in as soon as possible. I felt split: this gig didn’t pay much, but her gracious hospitality and appreciation for our time together put this offer in a different light.

I responded that could get there in the fall. If she wanted to drive or have them delivered to me, I would work on them gradually. That summer was so busy, it didn’t occur to me until I wrote her 2020 New Year’s card that she hadn’t responded.

In February 2021, my New Year’s card to her returned to me. “Unoccupied” was scrawled across the envelope.

Discreet as she was, traces of her personal life on the internet are nondescript and few. Deep in a pdf newsletter of Boston club, there was reference to her death. While the exact date wasn’t listed, late summer 2019 is probable.

Knowing that she had no children and her nephew was the closest family member she mentioned, I wonder what happened to her carefully curated home. What about that gold silk smocked curtain? Those gorgeous tassels that she enjoyed every day?

I am grateful to have known her.

 

Pay it forward – Notions & Fabric

Pay it forward – Notions & Fabric

In 2003, someone asked me if I would be willing to take the notions and fabric from her mother in law’s haberdashery. The shop closed temporarily when she had a health problem, never to open again. They were remodeling and just wanted all of this carefully stored inventory to disappear – and be appreciated.

The only caveat? I must take everything.

Two station wagon trips later, my Via Volta studio was full of notions and fabric. With friends, we dissected this treasure trove, giving away, selling, and enjoying for ourselves everything from embroidery floss to shoulder pads, silk velvet to snaps.

View down Via Volta, Monza, Italia near Cafe San Biagio
My old stomping grounds on Via Volta, Monza

Those were wonderful days! When I left Monza, my fabric and yarn friends made me a wonderful scrapbook of those days. During my March Madness painting spree, I enjoyed paging through this wonderful work of love. But I digress…

I’ve made incredible progress on this gift, but it makes sense to #payitforward again. Here’s a list of the notions and fabric I’d like to give to another creative soul or business.

I’m giving it away, and it’s definitely something that can fit into a small car (it’s about 2 medium moving boxes). I ask that you enjoy, make beautiful things and perhaps consider donating to Follow Your Art Community Studios in Melrose if you are able.

Leave a comment below, or find my on Instagram or Twitter so we can arrange delivery. Everything’s been in boxes for more than a month (kind of like me!), so the quarantine time for textiles has passed.

Stitching Palestine, the movie and the embroidery

Last night, I was lucky enough to see Stitching Palestine at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

 

While the film and its stories held me in its web, I kept thinking, “Where’s the embroidery? I want to see and learn more about the embroidery!”

Well, there’s a story to that…

I missed the real action the night before. For the closing celebration of the Palestinian Film Festival, Clotide Abudi’s embroidery was an integral part of the event. Her embroidery will be on exhibit Tuesday through Saturday (October 31 to November 4, 2017) at the Center for Arabic Culture in the Somerville Armory.

Wafa Ghnaim, author of Tatreez & Tea: Embroidery and Storytelling in the Palestinian Diaspora was also in attendance. And you could see fashion embellished with Palestinian embroidery from the crowdfunded fashion brand Taita Leila .

Once again, Boston is the home not of FOMO (fear of missing out) but YAMO (you are missing out).

I’m looking forward to seeing the embroidery and learning more about Palestinian embroidery.

 

New chairs for the New Year?

Once upon a time, there were two chairs that looked something like this:

Alanna Nelson sews slip covers

With slipcovers old enough for a drivers’ license, it was time to give these chairs a slip of respect. Fortunately, a trip to New York’s Garment District yielded a fine remnant at a fabulous price. It’s time for that fabric to become new slip covers.

So far, I’ve repaired one chair body and made a muslin cover, which gave me a chance to test my pattern. Whew! That was already a chunk of time. Now it’s just repair this chair, make a second cover and sew the two slip covers.

Just….

Will there be at least one new chair for the New Year? I’m off to my studio.

Save

Save

To sew or not to sew

How many times over the last 15 years have I vowed not to make my own clothes?

Alanna enjoys window shopping in Northern Italy
While living in Italy, interesting clothing options popped from every shop window. Why do I need to sew with so many fabulous options nearby?

While focusing on art quilts, accepting reluctantly that there are only 24 hours in a day. Why would I neglect my fiber art?

Then reality hits: Italian fashions are often too short for my limbs, too expensive for my budget.

I find fabulous fashion fabrics that I definitely want in my life! So much for my vow not to sew my clothing. Temptation and opportunity lure me back into paper patterns and fitting sessions. So the zig zag continues. I enjoy sewing my own clothes.

Last winter, I vowed to update my wardrobe with clothing purchases. Shuffling through Boston’s dressing rooms yielded more skinny jeans (yawn!) that stuck to my calves when I stood up. The color palettes suited winter or summer complexions, but not this contrasting persimmon autumn. Really? Can’t I find interesting clothing that fits my lifestyle? What to do?

Summer arrived and favorite duds came out of boxes to save the situation(many of them made by me!). My vow to update my wardrobe pops into my mind as the fall/winter fashions hit the news stands and shop windows. In October, I will buy some new clothes.

During the studio move, all of my wonderful fashion fabric passed through my hands. Scrumptious.

Oh, yes, I will sew this fall.

A Winter Felting Wonderland

springhillside

I love to wet or nuno felt outdoors on a hot summer day. It’s a great alternative to sailing if there’s no wind.  April 1, 2016, would have been a good day to felt even if it wasn’t hot. Spring flowers dotted my garden and the temps indoors and out were identical. Wet felting in my swimsuit was unlikely, but the weather was great. My felting appointment was on April 3.  That same hillside looked like this…
grapehyacinthsnow
At least my faithful feline fiberista was ready to participate, as long as the felting session was indoors.

Studio Assistant

What a delight to open the merino roving that just arrived from New England Felting supply.
roving

Faithful feline assistant approved. She jumped onto the base layer, watching the colors surround her. Covering a chunk of kitchen counter, the layers of wool put up with a lot of tapping, kneading and tossing. At this point, feline fiberista headed to the couch. Soap suds covered the kitchen cupboards.
Feline Felter

I’ll let you see what it becomes later this month…