5 Squares for the Violet Protest

5 Squares for the Violet Protest

 Respect for the other   Citizenship   Compromise 

 Country over party and corporate influence 

 Courage   Candor   Compassion   Creativity
Core American Values promoted by the Violet Protest

Can we agree on these American values? Artist Ann Merton thought so, and sought to remind the 117th Congressional delegation of their obligations to their constituents. With that, the Violet Protest launched.

Calling out to those who create with textiles, red and blue 8″ squares were gathered in hopes of creating a violet wash of expression. Knitters, weavers, quilters, crocheters, embroiderers, surface design textile artists of all kinds stepped up. More than 2,000 people from all 50 states and many Canadian provinces made at least 5 squares.

I’m one of 229 people in Massachusetts who donated squares.

Did you notice only four squares? As I photographed before sending them off, a flared edge on a knit square caught my eye. I pulled back the bind off and chose a different technique then popped it in the mail! At least it got to Arizona by the deadline.

Creating the five squares was straightforward, in principle. My stash yielded fabric, felt, thread and yarn that fit within the Violet Protest’s framework. But how to best express the seven principles and the message of the protest?

Probably too much energy was spent on this topic. As the deadline neared, my goal switched to imbibing each stitch with the unity, determination and good will of the project. I thanked Congress for their work. I scolded Congress for the divisions that they represent. I gave a pep talk and promimsed to do my best to embody those values in my civic life. And I finished those squares within the framework, by the deadline.

Violet Protest squares on view to the public

Squares that reached Arizona by January were included in an exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. It looked glorious, and yet not all of the 13,500 squares donated had arrived yet.

After the exhibit, Ann and the team packed up 24-25 squares and an explanation of the project for each of our 435 members of Congress.

Did the Representatives see them? Did they feel them? Will they feel the mandate demanded?

We don’t know yet. But each of us can hold those values to guide our own behaviors. There’s a lot to do, and each of us can contribute to civic life.

Thank you, Ann, for working so hard to create this project. She hopes to make a documentary about the Violet Protest, and if you’d like, you can donate to that effort.

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.


Comparative Art Forms: A Week of Inspiration

Comparative Art Forms: A Week of Inspiration

In a season known for gratitude, events this week permeated my heart with thankfulness. It all began last Wednesday, when the Museum of Fine Arts Textile and Costume Society friends met for an evening of contemporary art. Tomie Nagano and Marilyn Pappas shared works in progress and outlined their work flow.

Long an admirer of Tomie’s quilts, the peek behind the stitches was much anticipated. However, Marilyn’s embroidery and collage were new to me. I am now completely a fan. While their creative process varies tremendously, both artists devote copious time to each piece. Clearly both women savor the process despite the gradual, meticulous nature of their media.

Tomie collects used textiles from Japan (fortunately, she says, this started when few appreciated the gorgeous silk kimono and obi or the cost would have been prohibitive!). Seeking to create an emotion, she cuts narrow strips, creating traditional patchwork blocks. She decides the size of her work, places each strip and block, numbers it all. Next, Tomie organizes each block into layers laid out in boxes, separated by tissue paper. Hand stitching and hand quilting the entire work, she methodically moves through the process. Her current project is enormous!  A silk quilt displayed for us on her bed simply shimmered. This was one of the many advantages of the evening being hosted at Tomie’s home. I do love viewing bed quilts on a bed. Not to knock displaying bed quilts on a wall, but it’s a different experience.

Marilyn’s approach is more free form and yet equally time consuming. Her early work included textiles, but for many years, collage was a favorite mode of expression. Inspired by classical sculpture, she draws a rough outline on linen and begins to paint with one or 2 strands of cotton embroidery floss. The shading, the vivid dimensionality, the sheer quantity of stitches is mind boggling. She brought several pieces from her History Lessons series. We are not talking about small works of art.  The torsos are often life size.

Can I ever embroider again without thinking of her?

Image of Tomie Nagano buffet MFA textile costume society After feeding our souls with their creative energies, Tomie led us to a magnificent buffet that she had prepared for the group. From the sushi rolls, stuffed avocados to delicious salads, the table was a visual and gustatory delight.  A quick camera phone photo could only capture half of the bounty! A thank you note felt so flimsy after Tomie and her husband offered such hospitality. I am truly grateful for the evening.

Italian ceramics provided a glorious setting for Giardini di Sole’s Meet and Eat this week. Giardini di Sole curates a collection of beautiful and useful Italian home dec and garden tableware, lighting and stone tables (simply beautiful things! And in all transparency, I assist with their marketing and events). Goddess of hospitality, Josephine Wennerholm prepared multiple examples of starters, salads, main dishes and desserts with Elatia Harris of Lucy’s Mom Cuisine. The lively crowd left satiated both spiritually and physically! Jo believes in the ties created by sharing a meal. I know that nothing can be more inspiring than happy people enjoying and a good time together.

Each of us has the creative spirit, expressed in all kinds of ways (providing that we take time to listen). In the knitting classes I lead, the creation process simmers, coming alive in stitches or in thoughts while knitting. This week, we celebrated many new finished objects. What joy when your first knit sweater looks great on your tot or you wrap your first scarf around your neck! How stunning to see the color combinations felted into tote bags. What a vision when a beautiful scarf catches my breath as a knitter walks into the room. How cozy winter evenings will be with that newly completed afghan. I’m delighted to see their accomplishments.

As Fred Wiseman noted in his question and answer session at Sunday’s MFA showing of National Gallery, his documentary was a study of comparative art forms. My week was a study of creative expression. From stitches to squash, ice crystals to philosophical notes, I’m grateful for the perspicacity in my life.

Imagination Meets Reality, Part 2

Amethyst and gold bead embroidery on silk hi lo dress.

The road to the finished dress was serendipitous!

Set, snip and go! It didn’t take long to cut out the Thai silk evening dress and its lining. I also cut another neckline piece on which I would practice my machine embroidery. Beirut, here we come! With 2 weeks until our departure, I was ready to knock this dress off my to do list. As any good project manager would do, the timeline was prepared:

  • After a meeting on Monday night, I would sew the lining and most of the dress body.
  • On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I could work on the machine embroidery and complete the construction.
  • Give the dress a few days to hang (silk lining and silk show fabric need time to adjust to the bias cuts and pleasure of its new life) while I was at the Vermont Quilt Festival.
  • Hem the dress the following Monday and perhaps even take it to the cleaners for a good pressing.

Or at least, that was the plan.

Jazzed to sew after the meeting on Monday night, I came home and my daughter said, “Mom, I was working on my dress and all of the sudden the sewing machine stopped working.  Going through my punch list of machine maintenance, I eventually concluded that the machine’s timing must be off (hmm, did someone tangle some threads and then yank the mangled fabric from the feed dogs… perhaps?).

There was no sewing on Monday night.  On Tuesday, I rearranged my day to drop my beloved sewing machine off at Nashua Sewing Center, pleading to have the machine back within a week.  Ruthie thought it would be possible.

Keep calm and carry on.  You can still finish the dress next week, I told myself.  Be flexible. Rearrange your to do list.  Think about Vermont Quilt Festival.  (You can read my round up on the weekend here.)

I’d almost forgotten that I’d signed up to take a class with Nancy Eha.  What a fantastic getaway… sitting in a quiet space, imitating embroidery stitches using beads.  Within 45 minutes of  being shown the first technique,  possibilities for interpreting the machine embroidery in beads on my dress multiplied. Now I know why my sewing machine timing went out!  I hadn’t been completely comfortable with the machine embroidery idea.  But I could easily convert the largest lozenge motif into beaded embroidery!  I’d couch some of the Kreinik Threads and complete the hand of Fatma using gold work techniques.

Serendipity is simply splendid.  I bought some  Golden Threads Quilting Paper, traced out my new motifs and headed to Bead Gallery on Monday for beads to match my threads. Genvieve looked a bit dazed as I described what I wanted to do.  Once I brought over the fabric and my design outline, she quickly suggested some amethyst bugle beads.  I also chose some gold seed beads size 7.  Then it was a quick trip to Nashua to pick up my sewing machine and check out the Bead Room for other bead possibilities.  Now I was ready to go!

First, the practice piece:

Alanna Nelson Embroidery and Textiles
Then it was time for the real thing:

Bead Embroidery on Clothing by Alanna Nelson

Most of US Independence Day was spent creating the amethyst and gold bead lozenges along the neckline. By Friday, I was madly couching gold threads onto the Hand of Fatma. On Saturday, I added the auspicious fish and beads and sewed the center front to the rest of the dress.

My plans for letting the dress hang for a few days? Um, how about 24 hours? I hemmed the dress on Sunday night and rolled it into my suitcase. It could hang in the hotel closet, right? I ended up rehemming the lining before the wedding, as the silk lining stretched more than the Thai silk show fabric. But mission was accomplished, and the dress looked great for the 12 hour wedding extravaganza. What a cute couple! What a great party!

Here’s a few views of the embroidery:

Goldwork and bead embroidery on silk dresses

Wishing that I had packed a good pressing cloth! I didn’t have the courage to send the dress to an unknown local cleaning for pressing. But the show went on!

Many thanks to Moussa Al Ahmar at Salon Glow for the fantastic chignon that stayed in place despite hours of dancing outdoors with searing summer temperatures!

Imagination meets reality

Ah, dear reader… when we last met, I was off to play with my sewing machine and a variety of silk and metallic threads.  Skip, hop, jump,  and what a cheerful night it was!    I took my teal colored Thai silk,

Alanna Nelson creates custom formal dressesbacked it with Sulky’s Solvy water soluble stabilizer and popped it into an embroidery hoop.  I tried circles, straight lines, zig zags, couching, free motion.  I had collected Kreinik Japan Thread #7 and some embroidery braid from In Stitches and the Silk Sampler set  from Superior Threads. Hmm.  The silk sampler set was a lot of fun, and I”m definitely excited about using their Kimono thread as a bobbin thread for couching.

From the night of play, it looked like I would choose a few simple motifs: lozenges inside parallel lines and perhaps a hand of Fatima.  Symbols of protection and good tidings sound like auspicious choices for an evening dress.  Hopefully this would protect me from the possibilities of a big mess.

Alanna Nelson creates textiles with historic symbols

From the web site, hamsameaning.com

And so it seemed: a long wrap skirt decorated with metallic embroidery topped with a portrait colored blouse with princess seams. More machine embroidery would follow the princess lines of the dress.

I coasted to bed that night a bit apprehensive about my machine embroidery skills (I’d much rather do this by hand), and ready to read New England’s sources of Kreinik’s Japan Threads.

Then imagination met reality.

My four yards of Thai silk was really 2 pieces of 2 yards, with a very strange discoloration about 6 inches in from the selvedge, not immediately noticeable, but there were also some different tensions in the weaving, leaving striations in the fabric.  Careful piecing on the horizon.  Hmm.  And I remembered the silk velvet dress I made in 2004, thanks to the able pattern drafting skills of Theresa Andrew, custom dressmaker in Milan (after 25 years in the business, she’s moved onto the world of translation).  A Vintage Vogue pattern from 1934.

vogue2609  Oops, sorry, you’ll need to click.  I scanned and saved it to pdf and not jpeg.

The last time we made this, Theresa and I decided that all of those godets were an invitation to misery for my dress made of bias cut silk velvet.  So we turned the dress into a high low hem, creating the flare in each piece of the princess seamed dress.  We also incorporated the cape into the center front panel.

Instead of tying at the back, I wanted to create a flowing cap sleeve that attached at the dress back.  Pulling out Pellon non woven pattern paper, I traced out the pattern piece from my velvet dress and put it on Ducky, my trusty duck tape torso.  Snip, snip and my muslin was cut out.  I planned on sewing a set of snaps to the modified cape in order to attach it to the back of the dress.  Fortunately, sizing was the same from 8 years ago ;)!

The original pattern shaping is on the left. The modified pattern is on the right.

I lined the dress with teal colored silk habutai. It was time to cut the real thing!

Those Goldwork Currents

So what on earth led me into this gold work phase? We could start with my first trip to Tunisia in the 80s, when a friend’s mom dressed me up in traditional wedding clothes of Ksibet El Medouni.

Fine Fabric and Fiber Creations by Alanna Nelson

Each town in Tunisia had its own bridal style.  If you’re from Hammamet, you’d wear the Hammamet style wedding clothes.  If you’re from Ksibet El Medouni, you’d of course wear something like this.  There are many layers to their traditional clothing, which is topped with a long woven “malia” (this link  gives you an idea of the variation of styles).  Two things are common to all Tunisian bridal wear: jewelry and gold work.

This summer, I’m going to a formal wedding in Beirut.  They are a lovely couple… so cute to see how excited they are about bringing their lives together.  I’d love to wear something that reflects my ties to Tunisia.  Goldwork certainly would be lovely.

Having perused all of those lovely books, I decided that whatever I make should definitely be something that I can wear again. This means real gold is out.  Never fear, I’ve already started imagining a couple of projects where I’ll use the real thing. I have a dark teal silk mix fabric in my stash.  Metallic machine embroidery on a “fouta et blousa” style two pieces ensemble is the thought of the moment.

Ok, I don’t think I’ll get this fancy, but step back and let your imagination wander

So think of me this weekend, making the  muslin, playing with stabilizers and putting my sewing machine to work.