Happy World Embroidery Day, 2021

Dear Friends,

To celebrate World Embroidery Day, 2021, I’d like to introduce you to the first in a series of needlepoint/canvas embroidery pieces I am creating. I call the group, “Look Her Up.” The idea came to me from two sources. First is my 40 years teaching, researching, writing, and speaking about U.S. women’s history. The women I plan to feature are those who I admire for their beliefs, their commitment to human rights, and their spirit. Second is the presence in the embroidery world of two trends: craftivism and “feminist” sayings. Both came in existence long before the COVID pandemic, but they blossomed in the last year or so as a result of the growth in interest in embroidery as a way of working through lockdowns and stress. Craftivists make small embroideries with statements meant to change public policy, especially concerning workers’ rights and climate change, though all issues are on the table. “Feminists” use common expressions to make small pieces reminiscent of samplers. I put the term in quotes because I feel that feminism is much more serious and political than these pieces express, but I like them nonetheless.

Looking at these small pieces, all with the purpose of sending out a message, I came up with an idea which would combine my Women’s History background with my earlier embroideries which I called “political posters.” Some of these 25 pieces now belong to the New York State Museum in Albany, New York. The others are, for the time being, still hanging on my walls, but eventually they will move to the museum. I call my new works “Look Her Up.” My intent is that folks will see a quote from a woman I consider very important in U.S. history and then use the internet or (!) books to learn more about her. First up is Jane Addams. You will find tons of information on her both on line and in print. You can also go to my website (htpps://harrietalonso.com) and click on “Jane Addams, Hull House, and the Devil Baby” for an interesting episode in her life.

The Jane Addams “Look Her Up” measures 10” x 10” and was stitched almost entirely with Rainbow Gallery’s Splendor silk thread on 18 mesh canvas. I chose to do it in basketweave/tent stitches to reflect Addams’s strength and resiliency. The colors echo the suffrage movement’s use of purple, gold, and white (and green if you’re British). Green is also symbolic of hope and peace. The border incorporates the women’s symbol, the women’s equality symbol, and the peace symbol. The women across the bottom reflect Addams’s commitment to both women’s rights and human rights. The quote says it all. The background is done in Splendor S802, an off-white that seems not to want to photograph as it appears in person. The background is actually a nice, clear slightly off-white.

Of course, each piece will take some time to design and stitch, but I hope that before the year is up “Look Her Up” number two will be ready to display. In the meantime, celebrate World Embroidery Day by stitching, reading, and thinking.

Happy Winter Solstice, 2020

“The Needlepoint Cottage,” Canvas and Stitch Guide by Lynn Mason/Needlepoint by Sharese
Cottage Windows “redecorated” by Harriet Alonso; Stitched by Harriet Alonso

Happy holiday greetings!

2020 sure has been one helluva year, hasn’t it? Between Covid 19 and Donald Trump, it has produced one nightmare after another. Let’s hope that 2021 will be better. It will be difficult for us all to get out of the hole we are in, but I know we can do it! The vaccine is here and Trump is on his way out, two signs of better things to come.

For this year’s greeting, I would like to share with you one bit of good news on my front. Last year (2019), I completed an embroidery called “Votes for Women.” I wrote about it in my December 30, 2019 blog post. I entered the piece in two exhibits: the 1919 Annual Exhibit at the American Needlepoint Guild’s Seminar and the 2020 Woodlawn Needle Arts Exhibit. It received awards at both shows which was a wonderful achievement for me. The American Needlepoint Guild is especially careful about copyright. The inspiration for my piece had derived from a 1915 crepe paper banner from the New York State suffrage campaign. (Women in NY State won the vote in 1917.) The designer did not sign the piece and there is no information about who she might have been. That said, my own embroidery fell under the “adaptation” category for both shows and the American Needlepoint Guild asked for permission from the banner’s designer for use of the original concept. I approached Ashley Hopkins-Benton (Senior Historian and Curator, Social History) and Jennifer Lemak (Chief Curator of History), the authors of Votes for Women: Celebrating New York’s Suffrage Centennial (SUNY Press) where I had found a photo of the original banner. Ashley informed me that its origin was unknown and that I could feel free to use it, especially since more than 100 years had passed since it was first designed. Besides, my “Votes for Women” is its own design. (Artists, I have since learned, have no issue “appropriating” other people’s works. Note Andy Warhol’s famous painting of a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can. He did not design the soup can, but no one would question the authenticity of his painting.)

Anyway, in the course of our conversation, Ashley asked if I might consider donating the piece to the New York State Museum which has been developing a fine collection of women’s autobiographical and political work, especially in the fiber arts. I was very honored to be asked. At the same time, I had been thinking about a future home for my other political and autobiographical pieces, most dating from the 1970s and 1980s. Ashley invited me to send them information about that work. I wrote a proposal including photos of over 25 pieces which the museum’s committee decided they would welcome in their collection. In August, Ashley and Jennifer came to my home to pick up part of the collection which had been in storage and to record an oral history about a few of them. The rest of the pieces have been included in a bequest to the museum although any of them can be borrowed if they seem appropriate for an exhibit. I am so pleased to have found a home for these pieces which, for the most part, have been on the walls of my various homes over the years. . . and still are.

For my solstice greeting this year, I am including a link to the announcement the museum made on their website and on social media this month. It includes an image of “My Autobiographical Bag.” Since it was designed and worked in 1974, it does not reflect my years after that. Let me just say that it was learning to embroider and falling in love with the art form that led me to graduate studies in history (particularly women’s and peace history) and a career of 35 years as a historian. For most of those years, I did not stitch, but I returned to it around 2005 and now, in retirement, spend much of my time learning new skills and slowly working on new pieces (such as “Votes for Women”) which combine my two loves—-embroidery and history.

Here is the link to the announcement from the New York State Museum:

http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/research-collections/history/social-history/news/new-acquisition-harriet-alonso-needlework

And here’s wishing you a healthy, happy, and much better year than the one we’ve just gone through.

Happy World Embroidery Day, 2020

Happy World Embroidery Day to all! I submitted the piece above to the San Francisco School of Needlework and Design for its World’s Longest Band Sampler project. The saying is a riff on Robin Morgan’s classic work, Sisterhood is Powerful. I posted the message on a few Needlepoint Facebook pages and sent it to those on my message list. You can imagine my shock when one person sent a message that she was blocking me from her account and I should not try to contact her again. This has led my befuddled self to write the following:

I am very concerned about the world of embroidery right now, especially in the U.S. Too many on-line groups, organizations, and publications are censoring works that have so-called political messages. So, for example, one site on Facebook criticized embroiderers who stitched “Black Lives Matter” into their pieces, emphasized concerns about Covid 19, or even one that slightly referred to former President Obama. Yet these same sites publish images of eagles, American flags, presidents, and other patriotic symbols and messages which are very political. A few media outlets have celebrated the anti-bellum South with needlepoint canvases of Confederate towns and romantic plantations. One even incorporated a Confederate flag. However, these same people have censored other artists, claiming their pieces do not reflect the “fun” of embroidery. I feel that if an artist expresses political views that are non-violent, non-hateful, and positive in intent, they should not be deleted or spit upon. One site went so far as to set down rules that no political messages would be accepted. No images were to have political titles or voice opinions. This was followed by a photo of a stitched, aggressive, bald headed eagle.  I was offended by the rules and the image.

Several embroidery organizations, publications, podcasts, etc. say that our stitching world has no place for political opinions. Yet, they also lament that membership is declining and younger people are not interested in participating. Of course, if these groups are not open to art that expresses different opinions other than those they hold near and dear, then, yes, the groups may dwindle and eventually cease to exist. But perhaps other venues will develop. I, for one, have been looking for a group of free thinking stitchers since the 1970s. If you know of one, please let me know.

Votes for Women: A New Year’s Greeting

2020 is a huge year for those of us who live in the U.S. Not only is it the year for a presidential election but it is also the year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote. In honor of both occasions, this women’s historian and embroiderer offers to you her latest “political poster” in her “Stitcherhood is Powerful” collection.

Designed and stitched by Harriet Alonso

For all you embroiderers out there, “Votes for Women” is a canvas embroidery (needlepoint) piece measuring about 9 x 10 inches. The ground fabric is 18 mesh canvas with two suffragists worked on Lugana 28 mesh appliqued onto the canvas, giving a three-dimensional effect. I used mostly silk threads from Planet Earth, Splendor, Kreinik and Pepper Pot supplemented with Rainbow Gallery’s silk lame and Very Velvet. The stitches include basketweave, slanted Gobelin, four-way bargello, and mosaic. The colors are those from the suffrage campaign—yellow, purple, and white for the U.S. and gold, purple, and green for our sisters in the U.K. The two figures in the piece were adapted from copyright-free images in Clip Art. I chose to use the August 18, 1920, date for the design as that is the date of ratification of the amendment and the date that appears in the Constitution. Many folks celebrate August 26 as the day when the final document was signed, making women’s vote the law of the land.

My design was adapted from a 1915 crepe-paper banner created, unfortunately, by “anonymous” (Please sign your work!) and sponsored by the Empire State Campaign Committee (New York) as included in Jennifer A. Lemak and Ashley Hopkins-Benton’s book, Votes for Women: Celebrating New York’s Suffrage Centennial (SUNY Press, 2017). The original banner belongs to the estate of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Family.

 

 

 

I am very pleased (and proud) to share with you the news that the embroidery received two awards at the 2019 Exhibit at the annual American Needlepoint Guild’s Seminar in Houston, Texas: First Place in the Non-Professional Adaptation category and a Judge’s Choice Award from Mary K. Campbell.

I am hoping that all of you who read this will consider the message of this embroidery. Getting the vote was a long, hard struggle for women that began in 1848 at the first Woman’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York. By the time the vote was granted in 1920, the campaign encompassed women (and men) from all economic classes, races, ethnic groups, religions, and political parties.

We are taught from an early age that voting is something we do throughout our lives. When we are children, our parents and teachers ask us to vote on all sorts of things. How many of you want ice cream for dessert? Who wants to run for class monitor? Who should we elect for our class officers? It is ingrained in us that voting is our right, our responsibility, and our joy. Yet, you may be shocked to hear that after 1968, when a whopping 60.7 percent of eligible voters cast their vote for President, the percentages declined. In 1996, only 49% voted, in 2000, just over 50% did. In 2012, 54.9% of eligible votes went to the polls and in 2016, only 55.7% did. I hope that in the 100th year of women having the vote, all citizens who are of age will register to vote and will exercise that right. Go out and vote, not just in November, but in all elections that affect your lives, whether for your local school board, your mayor, your governor, your Representatives and Senators, and, of course, for the President. Think about this precious right of ours and, please protect it and use it wisely.

And, have a very happy new year!

Happy World Embroidery Day, 2019

Close Encounters of a New York Kind. Created and stitched by Harriet Alonso.

Once again, July 30, is a day to celebrate World Embroidery Day. And once, again, I would like to recognize the origin of the day, reprint the “Manifest,” and include one of my own pieces that, I believe, reflects the meaning of World Embroidery Day. The initiative came from Skåne Sy-d, a local group of Broderiakademin, the Swedish Embroiderers Guild. The first World Embroidery Day took place on July 30, 2011 in Vismarlöv, Sweden. As the founders stated, “The importance of embroidery must be made known and World Embroidery Day will spread around the world. Make 30th July a day filled with creativity for the sake of Peace, Freedom and Equality.” (See the entire Manifesto and photos on www.broderiakademin.nu. )

Manifest for World Embroidery Day
Day 30th of July

Textile reflects our world; embroideries can show the expressions of our time. Embroidery and textiles can focus on the social injustices between countries.

By the means of embroidery we can draw attention to the necessity of engaging in the force of textile in global trade and with it in world peace. Textiles is a power and let us use embroidery as an inspiration for people to engage in creativity that leads to a better understanding between countries and between people.

To embroider is a peaceful occupation. It can be traditional made from a common remembrance, drawn designs, from a pattern, or from your own imagination. You embroider for joy, beauty, decoration and for the creation of identity.

Stitches can be decorative, beautiful, comforting, repeating, healing, telling, pleasurable, rebellious, caressing and perfect.

People embroider out of joy, as a hobby, professionally, for the bare necessities of life and as an act of freedom. You embroider together with others or in meditative solitude.
We want to acknowledge embroidery as an act of free creativity, which can lead to free, creative thoughts and ideas. We want to tie our embroidery threads from the privileged northern hemisphere together with stiches that are sewn by embroidering sisters and brothers all over the world.

We want to be part of a joyfully creative peace movement. (www.broderiakademin.nu)

This year, I have included a photo of my 1978 needlepoint, Close Encounters of a New York Kind. Originally, the piece was designed as part of the Embroidery Guild of America’s Master Craftsman program. The assignment was to applique one size of embroidered canvas onto another size canvas. In this case, I stitched a UFO on 18 mesh canvas with DMC floss and then appliqued it onto a 10 mesh canvas street scene done in Paternayan Persian wool. The canvas measures 13 ½” x 13”. My idea was whimsical, playing on the popularity of the film, Close Encounters of a Third Kind. Today, my work takes on new meaning. My home town, NYC, is a sanctuary city. We welcome all peace-loving beings (and others?) to make their home here. In that spirit, I wish you all a happy World Embroidery Day!

Trailers for Martha

Every now and again I wander through search engines to see if anything new pops up about my work, especially Martha and the Slave Catchers. Just recently I came across two delightful video trailers that were made for the book. I do not know who created them except that they are credited to “Cole” and “Ava.” I believe they were class projects as the You Tube videos say “Tamar’s Class.” I did a bit of searching (I’m a historian after all) and believe they may have derived from a college in Alberta, Canada. However, I’m not sure. So, if Tamar, Ava, or Cole see this, please contact me at halonso@ccny.cuny.edu. Meanwhile, for all the rest of you, enjoy Ava and Cole’s work. I sure did. But, also, please remember that you should ask permission from Seven Stories Press to use the images. In this case, Elizabeth Zunon should have been asked for permission to use her copyrighted art work.

https://youtu.be/abrmCu3pNzs

https://youtu.be/x36Qo_GUuZw

 

Happy Solstice, 2018

 

During this Solstice season I have been giving a lot of thought to our collective home, the Earth. This is the nurturing (and sometimes punishing) orb that gives us life and sustains us for the years we are alive and which we help to sustain once we depart. Yet we take it for granted. With global warming and climate change, it is urgent for us to step up and do all we can to protect her. In the spirit of the Solstice—whether Winter or Summer—I wish you all a happy new year, one of peace and caring.
Earth

I designed and stitched this needlepoint in 2009 at the very beginning of my return to the art form. It began as a doodle, much like my Bargello Oz, but its intention was to review and reacquaint me with stitches I had loved in the 1970s and materials I was familiar with. I began with a four-way bargello in the center that, in the end, reminded me of the sun. From there, I moved to the upper left corner and created a sunrise. Next to it is a thunderstorm and then clouds. Underneath there are mountain peaks. In the center left panel are leaves and on the right are trees. The lower left panel includes a strip of soil, ocean waves, and the deep ocean with fish. On the right is a sunset. Earth, as I call it, measures approximately 18” x 18” and is worked on 13 mesh canvas in Paternayan Persian wool.

Bargello Oz: An Homage to Yip Harburg

 

Bargello Oz

How many of you recognize the name “Yip Harburg”? I would bet that your eyebrows just lifted into question marks and your brain rapidly went through its name directory but all to no avail. Yet, I would venture to say with great confidence that every one of you knows this man’s work.

E.Y. “Yip” Harburg was one of the most popular lyricists in the great American Song Book. He wrote the words for some of the most iconic songs in our history. Test your knowledge on these: “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”, “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “April in Paris,” “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe,” “Old Devil Moon,” or “Right as the Rain.” Ok. Still drawing a blank? Then how about all of the songs in the film, The Wizard of Oz? “Over the Rainbow,” “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead,” “If I Only Had a Brain (a Heart, the Nerve)”? Of course you know his work!

In 2012, Wesleyan University Press published my book, Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist. The press had asked me to write a book for their series on Music and Interviews. Would I use any and all interviews I could locate on Yip and create a narrative around them? I told them that I was in no way an expert on music theory or structure. Just a fan. They knew that, they said. They were asking me because of my writings on peace movement history. I had always wanted to work on a project around Yip and so jumped at the chance. With some help from Yip’s son, Ernie Harburg, who allowed me free access to Yip’s archives at the Yip Harburg Foundation in New York City, I chose a somewhat biographical take on Yip as a human rights activist who used his tremendous talent and intellect to write scripts and lyrics that addressed world peace, civil and human rights, economic justice, and runaway greed.

After the book came out, the embroiderer’s side of me led me to do a bargello piece on Yip and the book. I call it Bargello Oz and it is pictured above. The piece is a 12” x 12” representational abstract of The Wizard of Oz and what I call an “Homage to Paternayan Persian Yarn,” which at the time seemed to be on its way out. Stitched on 13 mesh canvas, the design shows the yellow brick road, the field of poppies, the Emerald City, and the rainbow. Now it hangs on my wall and always reminds me of the hard work and fun I had in putting together both a book about Yip and a needlepoint celebration of his work.

Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist is available in hard cover and in a kindle version. You out there who admire Yip’s work might enjoy it.

Fanny Garrison’s Embroidery from 1810 Newburyport, Mass

Here’s a little story about a poor woman in 1810 Newburyport, Massachusetts, and the one piece of embroidery she left behind.

writing_gua_15

Piece of Embroidery, January, 1810, file folder 689, “Ephemeral,” Garrison Family Papers: Houghton Library, Harvard University. 

Frances Lloyd Garrison (Fanny) is best known as the mother of the boy who became one of the U.S.’s most important antislavery leaders. William Lloyd Garrison (Lloyd to his family and friends) published his weekly newspaper, The Liberator, from 1831 to 1865. He was also a well-known speaker, organizer, and proponent of major progressive causes including racial and gender equality, dress and food reform, improvement in healthcare and a zillion other issues. Fanny died long before her son became an abolitionist star but in time to see two daughters die, a son become an alcoholic seaman like his father, and to suffer all the hardships that single mothers experienced in the early nineteenth century.

In a nutshell, here is Fanny’s story. Born in 1776 in New Brunswick, Canada, early on in life Fanny Lloyd broke with her family by rejecting their strict Episcopalian beliefs in order to follow the new wave of Baptism. Thrown out of her childhood home, she came under the protection of an uncle in Eastport and there became one of the few literate women to conduct religious meetings when the Baptist minister was officiating in another town. She soon met Abijah Garrison whom she married in 1798. He was a well-meaning seaman who hit upon hard economic times. In an effort to improve their lot, the pair moved their small family to prosperous Newburyport, Massachusetts, where they lived in harmony until war and U.S. embargos on trade that began in 1807 forced ports like Newburyport into economic depression. Abijah turned to drink. Fights ensued, and Fanny kicked him out of their home. She never saw him again.

Fanny’s life as a single mother drove her into desperate poverty. She had three children to support and no real job opportunities. She drummed up some work doing what we would today term “homecare,” but basically, she lived off the generosity of her landlady who watched her children and didn’t demand the rent be paid on time. When Fanny was without income, she made molasses candy which she gave to sons James and Lloyd to sell on the streets. In more desperate moments, Lloyd was sent to a mansion of a wealthy family on State Street to pick up meal leftovers saved specifically for Fanny.

Eventually, Fanny left her children in the care of others in order to move to Lynn, Massachusetts, and then Baltimore, Maryland, to eke out a living. The separation tortured her, but she saw no other way to survive. She kept in touch with Lloyd and her daughter Elizabeth but often lost touch with James who had run off to sea. Within a few years, she grew ill, probably with lung cancer, and died in 1823 at the relatively young age of 45. You can read all of Fanny’s story on my website at http://harrietalonso.com. Just go to the top of the main page and click on “William Lloyd Garrison’s Mother.”

Now, what does this all have to do with us embroiderers? When I was researching and writing my book, Growing Up Abolitionist: The Story of the Garrison Children, (2002) I became enthralled by Fanny’s story. It was one of the few stories I had seen at that time that told of the struggles of a single, abandoned mother. And it was my good fortune to be working on the Garrison family’s story for they preserved their family’s papers well. In terms of Fanny, there were a number of letters written by both her and Abijah and some recorded memories from Lloyd and James. But outside of these, there was little other tangible evidence that she even existed—no photos or daguerreotypes, no paintings or sketches, no clothing, jewelry—nothing but a small piece of embroidery I came across in a file marked “Ephemeral” in the Garrison Family papers at Harvard University. This one item told me much about Fanny’s life that it might not have told other historians. It was my unique combination of being a historian and an embroiderer that allowed me to enter the world of that piece.

We all know about the beautiful samplers moneyed girls worked on as part of their education. We can look at beautiful bargello pillows and embroidered chairs, crewel embroidery, goldwork, lace, etc., etc. But when it comes to embroidery done by less fortunate women of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, we have little. We know that they learned how to darn and monogram and sew, but there is little proof of whether they liked to embroider for pleasure or for art. That is why Fanny’s piece is so moving to me.

The item you see pictured above is a piece of crewel embroidery, inscribed in pen on the bottom, “a Present from Mrs. Garrison, Newburyport” and then in pencil, perhaps added as an afterthought, “jan. 1810.” Just the fact that this part of the work was handwritten and not stitched told me worlds about Fanny. Let me continue the description, however. The piece itself consisted of two sheets of paper held together by large and crude long and short, stem, and back stitches in the shape of a vine with leaves, big flowers, and a bird on the ground. The yarn was fairly coarse and came in three shades of green, a small amount of yellow-green, and two shades of rose.

When I took the piece out of the “Ephemeral” box and held it in my hand, I could see a haphazard pattern of knots and crossed threads on the back, a sure sign of an unskilled or unsophisticated stitcher. I touched the coarse fiber and ran my fingers across the paper, and as a sister embroiderer, I felt the care and attention that went into the work. This piece of embroidery gave me a real sense of Fanny’s poverty. Who but the very poor at that time would embroider a gift on a plain sheet of paper? Who would not even have a scrap of fabric to use? But it also told me of Fanny’s dignity. Perhaps to show gratitude to the family on State Street who gave her food, to a church member who helped her out, or to an acquaintance who showed compassion, Fanny wanted to give something back—and that something was a piece of herself. We all know that any piece of embroidery takes time and care, and while being created, we often think about its purpose and its recipient. Embroidery is our personal statement. We hope that the person who receives it will take note of the time and skill it took, and I seriously doubt that any embroiderer would give a piece of her work to another person if she did not feel at least some pride in it herself. Fanny, of course, probably thought about that, for the piece was most likely never given to its intended recipient. How else could it have been in the Garrison archives? But, I wonder, did Fanny make other mementos for people she appreciated? Sadly, I doubt we’ll ever know.