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.

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.


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.

Celebrate World Embroidery Day, July 30

On July 30, join me in celebrating World Embroidery Day.

Les Chapeaux designed by Judi Alweil of Judy & Co. (See discussion further down in article.)Les Chapeaux Go to Wall Street

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. )

Manifesto 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 textiles in global trade and with it in world peace. Textiles are 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)

As some of you know, it was embroidery that brought me to the study of women’s history. Back in the 1970s, I learned how to needlepoint and created works in the spirit of the political posters of the time. Once I went back to school, my needle and threads were put aside for study, then research and writing and teaching. I didn’t touch a piece of embroidery for almost thirty years but the work I had done surrounded me in my home. Finally, I couldn’t resist the pull and returned to the fold, only to discover that new yarns, designers, ideas, etc. had all changed. It took me several years just to learn about the innovations, and I’m still working on it.

In the meantime, to celebrate World Embroidery Day and to convince some of you that needlework is not just a luxurious hobby, I have included above one of my newer pieces. The design, originally called Les Chapeaux, was created by Judi Alweil of Judy & Co. The magazine Needlepoint Now printed a Stitch Guide by Jamie Prosser and Natasha Higgins in its May/June, 2013 issue. I tracked down the painted canvas and, although influenced by the Stitch Guide, chose my own yarns, a number of the stitch patterns, and then added a twist. If you look in each of the sets of earrings the ladies wear, you will see a message. I have named my version of the piece, Les Chapeaux Go to Wall Street in honor of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

If you are an embroiderer, take some time on July 30 to enjoy our art form. If you don’t know anything about needlework, google it, read about it, visit a museum or art show on fiber arts, or give your favorite fiber arts charity or embroiderer a gift.

New Information on William Lloyd Garrison’s mother, Fanny

Recently I have been in communication with Edward Papenfuse, a former Maryland State Archivist and historian. Now retired, Ed has been looking further into some documents he found concerning the bank activity of Fanny Lloyd Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison’s mother. (I will refer to him as “Lloyd” from here on.) Ed read my article on this website and shared his information which I am now (with his permission) sharing with you. This is new and exciting evidence of Fanny’s activities during her final years in Baltimore. (Be sure to read my article on her tragic but fascinating tale.)

The documents Ed found come from the Maryland State Archives collection of the Baltimore Savings Bank records (MSA SC 4313 1st Fidelity Collection of the Savings Bank of Baltimore.) I am including two of them here. The first is an account in the name of Maria Elizabeth Garrison, Lloyd’s younger sister. A note on the side indicates that the funds in this account were transferred to Fanny’s account on October 7, 1822. This was probably soon after Elizabeth’s death at the tender age of 14. The transaction was approved by one Stephen Williams who might have been a bank manager.


The second image is of Fanny’s own bank account dating from 1823 and 1824. Fanny died in 1823, so I am assuming that the 1824 notations have to do with interest. Ed says that there was an earlier account in Fanny’s name that he is trying to track down.


Ed is working on an even more enticing question, which is, where Fanny was buried. The Baptist Churchyard where she was originally put to rest no longer exists. Hopefully, Ed will be able to track down what happened to her remains, and I will be able to share that information with you.  I cannot thank him enough for sharing this new information with me. Although I am no longer researching the family, I find their story incredibly compelling. I have forwarded Ed’s information on to descendants of William Lloyd Garrison, and they are as intrigued as I am and eager to learn more.

If you have any new information on the Garrison family, please respond through the “Comments” section here or on Fanny’s page.

Martha Plans a Visit to Cortelyou Road

Hello everyone,

This is a friendly reminder. Please mark your calendars. On Saturday, February 24, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. I will be doing a conversation/reading from Martha and the Slave Catchers. It is being held at the Brooklyn Public Library, Cortelyou Road Branch. For you New Yorkers, just take the Q train to Cortelyou Road, turn left when you exit the station, and walk two-and-a-half short blocks to the library. Below is the flier the library designed with its street and web addresses on it.


Martha Plans a Visit to Cortelyou Road

Hello everyone,

Please mark your calendars. On Saturday, February 24, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. I will be doing a conversation/reading from Martha and the Slave Catchers. It is being held at the Brooklyn Public Library, Cortelyou Road Branch. For you New Yorkers, just take the Q train to Cortelyou Road, turn left when you exit the station, and walk two-and-a-half short blocks to the library. Below is the flier the library designed with its street and web addresses on it.


A Reflection on Off-Shore Drilling

I am an avid embroiderer. I love trying out all sorts of needlework, taking classes, and reading about history and technique. Back in the 1970s, I created a group of political posters as needlepoint pieces. Little did I know that one of my 1978 designs, Greetings from Long Island, would become super relevant forty years later. I created this design as a reaction to a newspaper article claiming that there were plans for off-shore drilling off Long Island, New York. The impact it would have on our beautiful beaches and communities inspired me to pick up my needle and yarn to express my concerns. Greetings from Long Island measures 10 inches by 13 inches. It was worked on 18 mesh canvas with DMC floss, perle cotton, and rayon. It hangs in my workroom along with other political posters I’ve designed and stitched with a 30 year gap in time to develop my work as a historian.

Welcome to Long Island

My Conversation with Catherine Franklin

Hello to all,

Catherine Franklin, the educator who designed the Study Guide for Martha and the Slave Catchers, and I had a conversation about the book, its origins, and its uses in the Middle Grade classroom. It has been posted on the Seven Stories Press website under “blogs.” Here is the link: https://sevenstories.com/blogs/74-harriet-hyman-alonso-and-catherine-a-franklin-in-conversation I hope you enjoy it!

Martha and the Slave Catchers is Published

Martha and the Slave Catchers has finally made her debut, and she is very beautiful. As you can see from the book cover image, the original colors have been darkened to a red-orange which really pop. Below are some very positive reviews. Also, please be sure to check out “The Facts Behind Martha and the Slave Catchers” on my website and the Study Guide on the Seven Stories Press site. Catherine Franklin did a wonderful job with the study guide, and I think it will offer many ideas for teachers who might like to use the book and parents who want to take their children deeper into the real world of slavery and the antislavery movement.

The book is available through many on-line sellers and in a number of libraries. Please recommend it to your local library and book store. With many thanks.

Excerpts from Reviews of Martha and the Slave Catchers:

Kirkus Reviews:

“Alonso pens an informative, easy-to-follow adventure story that nevertheless tackles the persistent issues arising from antebellum America, including race and skin color, situational ethics and their devastating consequences, and allyship and using privilege for justice. A tense adventure about interracial adoption that gets to the heart of what’s most important: love.”

Donald Peebles, in School Library Journal:

“Alonso and Zunon have both done a masterful job bringing America’s pre-Civil War years to the page. Readers will sit in suspense as Martha risks her life in the Underground Railroad network. . . The loose ends in this slave narrative leave the door open to a sequel. VERDICT: Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Seeds of America” series will want to pick this up.”

Melanie Dulaney, on Goodreads:

“Author Harriet Alonso writes a gripping piece of historical fiction from a slightly different perspective as other Underground Railroad themed books . . . an excellent choice for students who are interested in Civil Rights, the Civil War, the abolitionist movement, the Underground Railroad and key figures in that historic period. The characters are vivid and the action is fast-paced. I would highly recommend this book to readers in the 5th-8th grade.”

From the Mixed-Up Files . . . of Middle Grade Authors:

“Alonso combines fiction and historical fact to weave a suspenseful story of courage, hope and self-discovery in the aftermath of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, while illuminating the bravery of abolitionists who fought against slavery.”

Elisa Carbone, author of Stealing Freedom:

“The complexities of mid-1800s slave laws and racial attitudes are captured within the pages of a riveting adventure story. The fast-paced plot, filled with twists and surprises, will engage readers and spark discussion of these important issues. Alonso breathes life into the sights, sounds, and emotions of travel on the Underground Railroad.”

Margaret Meacham, author of Oyster Moon

“Harriet Alonso’s gripping tale is steeped in period detail. . . Readers will come away with a clearer understanding of the horrors of slavery, and a greater appreciation for the bravery of those who fought against it. . . Anyone who loves an exciting read and likes learning a bit of history on the way will love this book.”

Jerdine Nolen, author of Eliza’s Freedom Road

“With the backdrop of the horrors of a time in turmoil, through an unjust and cruel system, I learned more about the capacity and self-discovery of the human heart. This novel is a true hero’s journey—about love, bravery, the constancy of family, loss, history, and hope. This is a story about a time and the people who lived through those times we all need to read and know.”

Virginia Frances Schwartz, author of If I Just Had Two Wings

“Middle graders will love the spunk of Martha, the heroine of this novel. . . Rooted in abolitionist history, full of page-turning suspense, mystery, and inner conflict, Martha and the Slave Catchers depicts the disastrous aftermath of the passing of the 1850’s Fugitive Slave Act.

Happy reading!