Freedom and constraints: 12″x12″ art work

Freedom and constraints: 12″x12″ art work

Perhaps it’s habit. Perhaps someone drilled the golden ratio into my psyche. Until Instagram forced me to frame everything in a square, rectangles and circles were my thing. However, little square works are a popular choice for fundraisers, so last year I challenged myself to create more 12″ x 12″ fiber art work.

I’ve started many little pieces. I’ve even finished a few. As a matter of fact, Two Years a Gemini went to the Provincetown Art Association & Museum’s fundraiser this week. You can bid on it here.

2 Years a Gemini Fiber Art donated to PAAM by Alanna Nelson
Two Years a Gemini, a 12″ x 12″ piece donated to the Provincetown Art Association & Museum

As promised, small squares let me play with compositions and supposedly are quick to create (hmm, not so sure about that). I’ve create fabrics made with wet felting, needle felting or both. The square fiber art pieces are dyed, painted and maybe inked. In all cases, stitch is an integral component.

How many layers, which moments, what is the message of this piece? Usually, I need to have these answers before I begin. With these small pieces, intuition and meandering lead me to pause, scratch my head and ask for opinions. That’s different than I usually work.

At our last critique group meeting, I shared a couple of paused squares. What fun to watch the consideration, experience the thoughtful silence and the hear ideas and impressions.

It’s summer, which means I’m trying to work outdoors whenever possible. There’s a temptation to drop small squares and return to larger work that I started. Actually the strongest temptation is to stop writing and get working on anything textile.

Do you follow me on Instagram? You can see square composition updates posted in my feed. Catch you later!

Unravel: Voices of E Pluribus Unum

Unravel: Voices of E Pluribus Unum

” I resolve to make a difference.”

Alanna Nelson hot pink silk quilt in Unravel at Arlington Center for the Arts
Boston Women’s March: Voices of E Pluribus Unum

The Arlington Center for the Arts includes this quilt for Unravel – a fiber art exhibit that sheds light on the contemporary political scene. Difficult to photograph, this quilt shimmers in real life. The messages from signs remind me of the positive, political determination of that day on the Boston Common in 2017. That shot of energy is perfect every day!

The reception is May 17 from 7 to 9 pm, but it’s on view through July 8. The selections cover a wide range of textiles and messages. Can’t wait to see all of this fiber art in person!

Let me know what you think if you get to Unravel

Finestre Migranti at Verona Tessile

Finestre Migranti at Verona Tessile

On a post-travel, post-exhibit, post-finished work high, I am. The 2019 edition of  Verona Tessile ended on April 28. If you are a fiber art or quilt lover, definitely put Verona on your 2021 list. Now, let me try to separate the thoughtful threads currently tangled in my brain….

By their hands, we are fed. Alanna Nelson, 2019. Cotton, wool felt.

Finished and photographed a week before my departure, relief and gratitude abounded as I tucked my contribution to Annamaria Brenti‘s Finestre Migranti project into my carry on duffle (You can read more about my thought and construction process).

What a gift it was to have the time and contemplative moments to create this work. My goal: let this quilt inspire you to savor your next meal and consider how it arrived on your plate. Here are a few detail shots…

Now it’s time to work on other pieces that fermented while stitching. I hope to flat bed scan “By their hands..,” leveraging the hours of work and ideas into other projects.

Finestre Migranti at Verona Tessile 2019

Finestre Migranti Inaugural exhibit at Verona Tessile, April 2019
Wish we had a drone to show the creative installation envisioned by Silvanna Zenatello.

How to display more than 40 contributions totaling nearly 80 meters of fiber art – now that’s a curator’s installation puzzle to solve. Silvanna Zenatello, a key force behind the project, cleverly designed a serpentine path where each quilt flows into the next. Thanks to the Verona Tessile sponsor SEC Events, their crews adeptly installed the support structures following Silvanna’s CAD drawings.

Alanna's ready to help install Finestre Migranti in Verona
On the steps of Gran Guardia, ready to install!
SEC Events unloading at Verona Tessile 2019
SEC unloading show structures
Morning shadows and art at Verona's Gran Guardia
From the landing outside the Finestre Migranti exhibit at the Gran Guardia

Installation took a big chunk of the day, even with excellent preparations and layout instructions. Fortunately, Emmanuela, Katrina and I are tall enough to reduce ladder climbing. Sigrun became a master Pinner, and Maddalena dashed to wherever Silvanna asked. Silvanna brought many quilts with her from Roma and Lazio. Others were delivered to Ad Maiora in Verona, still others delivered on installation morning.

Finestre Migranti – first public exhibit, many emotions

After working alone on my Immigration Windows/Migrating Windows project, I relished hearing experiences and emotions that mirrored and differed from my own. With contributions from Chile, the US, Italy, Kenya, and Gambia, the artists presented universal and timeless perspectives on immigration. I reunited with Lazio quilters from my Frascati days. Many quilts were delivered by hand, so new friendships developed, including SAQA member Shoshi Rimer.

Our shared experience making an Immigration Windows quilt created immediate kinship even if it was the first time we met. We had a fun meal out together after the opening day, and I found myself stopping by the exhibit just to chat with whoever was white gloving.

Katrina Montesanti
Katrina Montesanti answers questions about her quilt
Condor Pasa at Verona Tessile
Textile artists from Chile created “Condor Pasa” piece
Bimba a Finestre Migranti Verona Tesille
A young visitor reads messages in a quilt. Many included words as part of their piece.
By their hands we are fed quilt by Alanna Nelson in Verona exhibit
The inner wave opens the Finestre Migranti exhibit
Finestre Migranti quilts at Verona Tessile
Looking from away and up close
Nadia a Verona Tessile
Nadia shares stories that inspired a quilt

Visitors responded thoughtfully and with great interest to the project. Nadia, a dynamic interpreter, was like a pied piper leading groups through the exhibit. In addition to enjoying the visual aspect of the work, visitors definitely enjoyed hearing the stories and understanding the techniques. With the artist statements and techniques in Italian, English and Spanish, people could alternate between the stories and the art.

On Friday morning, the Chilean textile artists gave a talk about the creation of their gorgeous contribution to the project. I shared strategies to encourage quilters to consider a conservation perspective when creating their quilts. We honored the young Italian residents with international heritage who explained the meaning behind their Finestre Migranti quilt.

Ragazzi artisti a Verona Tessile
Young artists and their supporters were honored at the Finestre Migranti

Immigrants to Italy also visited the exhibit. I met three young men who are living in limbo without passports or an easy road to immigration. The enormity and duration of their endeavor was palpable in their demeanor.

“Forza,” I encouraged them. “Each day seems heavy now, but resolution will happen.”

Of course, resolution will happen. But when? How? How can I bolster and support people who are living in transient times? This window on immigration was living, not in textiles.

The opening day, April 25, was a national holiday, commemorating Italian liberation at the end of World War II. With the Festival taking place during the week after Easter and with free attendance, turnout included local, national and European contingents.

Annamaria just posted a video that followed the waves of the Finestre Migrante exhibit. Take a peek.

With Verona Tessile 2019 over, the next objective is to send the exhibit on the road. There are definite ideas and connections being made, so stay tuned for more details!

With those first threads of my travels untangled, it’s time to get back into the studio. I’ll share more people, sites and stories about Verona Tessile soon!


Do you laugh when you hear “Knit-In”? Let me call you in.

Do you laugh when you hear “Knit-In”? Let me call you in.

Loretta Ross at 2018 Local Environmental Action ConferenceIt was my lucky day. I attended Local Environmental Action 2018, where keynote speaker Loretta Ross emphatically (in her folksy way) made her case for all aspects of human rights.  Loretta would like to see a culture where we can “call in” and build connections rather than “call out” and isolate people.

In group sessions, I marveled at the different paths life leads us and heard motivations for attending the Conference. International approaches to reducing our carbon footprint and adapting to the change inspired me to keep moving forward. Strategies learned at a session inspired by research from NNOOCI give me a framework to communicate in ways that can build consensus. I even won something in the silent auction!

At the closing keynote, Mariama White-Hammond encouraged everyone to protect our progress, build connections in our community and envision a future that will result in a more equitable and sustainable future.

It was an inspiring and tool building day.

There was a moment when my face wrinkled:  When Carol Oldham praised the efforts of Jane Palmer leading a knit in to protest a proposed pipeline in VT, she had to pause while many in the audience giggled. Oh, dear, not again.

Does “knit in” make you laugh? Let me call you in (a chance practice what I learned).

I cannot deny the stereotype of knitting as an activity of the elderly women, which is somehow not perceived as cool as… Beyoncé or Juan Manuel Santos. Not that many years ago, knitting was a necessary activity done by all ages. In the US, knitting and protest trace back to the Revolutionary War. While the decline in handwork was dramatic in the 1950s and 60s, activity rebounded beginning in the 1970’s.  In this millennium, motivation and passion for not just knitting, but all kinds of creation are growing in a new way.

Even Stephen Colbert half heartedly recognizes this, making a short attempt to learn to knit on air.

Mariama encourages gestation of a new vision that will include everyone. Perhaps the 2001 Manifesto of the Revolutionary Knitting Circle provides a framework for local environmental action.

We hold that all communities should have the means necessary to meet every essential need of their own people.

To that end, the Revolutionary Knitting Circle calls upon people everywhere to take up the struggle through the tools of local production. We shall bring forth not only our voices raised for global justice, but we shall rise together, with the tools to liberate local communities from the shackles of global corporatism.

By sharing in the skills and resources of our communities, we shall become free to cast off dependencies on global trade for our subsistence. In so doing, we shall all be able to enter fairly into meaningful and equitable trade of not only goods, but also those cultural intangibles that are necessary if we are to bring about understanding, justice and peace to truly enrich our individual lives and our communities.

I do not know exactly why Jane Palmer chose to knit at Vermont Gas. Perhaps, like me, she enjoys making each moment productive and doesn’t leave the house without her knitting. Perhaps the rhythmic, repetitive movement of their hands calmed everyone’s minds. Perhaps they were creating an installation to raise awareness of the proposed pipelines’ pathway. Whatever their motivation, knitting is part of their activism tool box.

You, too, can learn to knit. I’d be happy to teach you, and lead classes at Lucky Cat Yarns. If you’re not nearby, find your local yarn shop, pick up a book at your library or look online for videos to begin your journey.

Thank you for your consideration.

Making mordant

Making mordant

It is time. Time to stop reading, planting, nurturing and foraging. It’s time to start my journey into natural dyes. My first bite into this aromatic and interesting exploration is to make a mordant from rhubarb leaves.

“What is a mordant,”  you ask?

The water based, delightful tonic binds the color to the fiber – chemistry in action.  A mordant’s role in dyeing fiber is particularly important as natural dyes tend to fade. If I spend my time on an art quilt, longevity and conservation are paramount.  I’ll do what I can to ensure this piece will be around for a long while.

As in many journeys, where would we be without our support network? Thanks to a dear friend who shared 1.5kg of gorgeous rhubarb leaves (and even stalks to eat!).

Alanna Nelson natural wool dyes in Boston

My young rhubarb plant doesn’t have nearly as many beautiful leaves, so I’m grateful for this contribution.

With an enamel pot found at a Savers, my “elixir” topped my camping stove on Saturday night. It’s not exactly singalong or s’more style, but the desired results were attained (or at least, I hope so… wait and see the final results). After simmering for several hours and sitting in the bath all night, I hope this mordant will do the trick.

Alanna Nelson quilt artist uses natural dyes

I’m gathering pokeberries and putting them in the freezer to create a dye bath that hopefully will not be too fugitive… using a recipe from Chris MacLaughlin’s  A Garden to Dye For: How to Use Plant from the Garden to Create Natural Colors for Fabrics and Fiber.

Next up? Picking up acorns before the squirrels get them all! Wish me merry mordant making.

Alanna Nelson art quilter makes acorn mordant