THREADS latest news

Posted by:  Len

Here is the link to the latest newsletter from Threads.  As you can see in the newsletter, and from the growing list of laurels on the website homepage, the film is reaching a wider and wider audience.  If you know of people or places that should host a screening of this film, please have them contact us or let us know how we can reach them.

One of our next goals is to dub the English portions of the film into Bangla so that we can show it widely in Bangladesh.  We hope to have exciting news soon about when Threads will screen there.

Thanks again to everyone who has supported Threads!  We could not have come this far without your help.

Surayia in a scene from THREADS.  Filmed by Mishuk Munier.

Surayia in a scene from THREADS. Filmed by Mishuk Munier.

“THREADS” — The Story of a Remarkable Woman

Posted by: Kathryn B. Borel

‘THREADS’  Documentary by Cathy Stevulak and Leonard Hill

I happened to be reading David Brooks’ recently published book ‘The Road to Character’ when I was invited to attend the première of the documentary film ‘Threads’ at the Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival in Mississauga.  This well-crafted 30-minute documentary, produced by Cathy Stevulak and Leonard Hill, and directed by Cathy, chronicles the life of Surayia Rahman, a Bangladeshi woman who, in Brooks’ words, discovered her ‘core virtues’.

Like any young person, she had a dream.  She was determined to become an artist.  The road would prove to rocky, but her tenacity never failed her.  She was married off at 17 and had three children.  When her husband fell ill, she went to work and she became the breadwinner for the family.  When her elder daughter died tragically, she carried on.  She seemed to understand that her art, her work, would be the necessary means through which to grieve, to heal and move forward.

Surayia joined a social welfare organization, the Women’s Voluntary Association shop, in Dhaka and worked as a staff artist.  She sketched and painted at home.  She experimented with many media including even painting with mud on fabric.  She also created paintings inspired by the effects of the embroidery stitches on the kantha quilts, the traditional coverlets of Bangladesh and West Bengal made from the fabric of old saris, pieced together and embellished with running stitch1.

Surayia’s artistic skills were recognized and in 1982, along with a Canadian ex-patriate, she co-founded the Skills Development for Underprivileged Women (SDUW) where impoverished women could earn a living by stitching her designs.  This association was to be short lived and in 1986, she was unexpectedly terminated.  Not to be discouraged, she continued working on her designs from her home, a home that she had built from the proceeds of her previous years of hard work.  To her surprise, some of the women with whom she had worked at SDUW sought her out and pleaded with her to continue teaching them.  It was at this point, in her home, where Arshi (Bengali for ‘mirror’) was born.   It had not been her goal to run her own business, nor teach, but such a role was thrust upon her and she found that she had an ability to foster the embroidery skills of the women who flocked to her home.  Surayia’s dream to create her own original works, known as Nakshi Kantha or story quilts, was finally realized.  She drew her designs from memories of the past, stories of her culture.  They were transferred on to silk and using many of the stitches used in the traditional kantha quilts as well as introducing a fill-in stitch called ‘bhorat’2 the young women embroidered her stories .  The finished pieces, having undergone Surayia’s strict scrutiny, would be blocked, stretched and framed thereby moving the embroideries from their historically functional role to that of a decorative one.  It was a visionary move by Surayia. This move changed the discourse around her works from ‘craft’ to ‘art’, with, as a consequence, the enhancement of their value.  Her innovative style became known as ‘nakshi kantha tapestry’.

Today, Surayia’s work and that accomplished at SDUW and Arshi have found international recognition and are exhibited around the world in private homes and museums.  For the young women who worked with Surayia, translating her designs into magnificent works of art, they learned a skill and in the process they earned a living.  In addition, and maybe more importantly, they gained a community, a place to share, a place to learn, a place where they played a significant role and all of this engendered a sense of personal strength and empowerment.

I believe that Surayia’s story is what Brooks is talking about in his book.  She exemplifies those individuals that serve as an example.  She faced many of life’s great tests and she was not found wanting.   I do not believe that this was the life that she would necessarily have chosen at the outset, but it was the life that claimed her and she discovered that she had the necessary mettle to take up the challenge and with joy and satisfaction.  It is a remarkable story of ‘success’, not as defined in our current western terms, through material values, but as Brooks defines as ‘living in obedience to some transcendent truth, to have a cohesive inner soul that honours creation and one’s own possibilities.’

Surayia is now in her 80’s and her hands are no longer nimble.  The women she has trained, and there are many, have become her hands. In 2008, Surayia gave Arshi to the Salesian Sisters of Dhaka.  It is under this banner that Surayia’s students, now accomplished embroiderers, carry on the work of Arshi.    Thanks to Surayia, and the tenacity of these young women, now skilled and working, that all lead autonomous lives, able to care for their families, educate their children and walk with pride.

‘Threads’ is the story of a life at work, a success story of the most profound and far-reaching quality.  What is captured on film, and what I loved most about it, is the harmonizing of an inner voice with the outward actions.  Early in the film, there is a snapshot of Surayia as a young girl.  She has a beautiful, open face full of joy and optimism.   The latter scenes of the film show Surayia in her 80’s, and what catches your attention is that this luminosity still shines forth.   Brooks speaks about such people as if ‘they radiate a sort of moral joy’.   Surayia Rahman does, undeniably.

So, if ‘Threads’ is being shown anywhere near where you live, go see it.  You will be moved and inspired.  Also, by extension, you will be supporting the documentary film industry.   Often, and ‘Threads’ is no exception, the financing of these films is limited.  So supporting the film,  particularly through a donation, would show a commitment to producers like Cathy and Len allowing them to continue to promote the film and ensure its long life.


   1   Running stitch is a series of continuous small stitches

2   Bhorat stitch is a filler stitch similar to Romanian stitch.

This piece originally appeared in Kathryn’s blog Embroiderer’s Diary.  We thank her for permission to post it here. You can see more of Kathryn’s work at

A new trailer for THREADS

Posted by:  Cathy and Len

We will be posting some good news about film festival and other showings of Threads soon.  In the meantime, check out the new trailer for Threads that co-producer Catherine Masud has just completed.  Thank you, Catherine!

Please feel free to share the trailer widely.  If you prefer to watch and share on YouTube, you can see the new trailer here.

Traditional Boat.  Surayia Rahman design.  Photo used with permission.

Traditional Boat. Surayia Rahman design. Photo used with permission.


Celebrating International Women’s Day

Posted by:  Cathy and Len

We are happy to join people around the world celebrating International Women’s Day March 8.

On this day, we particularly salute women artists who open doors to economic opportunity, preserve culture and foster creativity and community development.   Artisan enterprise today is the second largest employer after agriculture in the developing world, and, as Threads shows, the work of artisans can have a ripple effect, positively impacting the lives of generations.

We encourage everyone to think about handmade goods when making consumer choices and to support living artists whenever possible.  We believe that a world without poverty is possible, and that each of us can make a difference toward this goal.

Surayia and the women she worked with share their skills and together create timeless art. With creativity and determination, they feed and educate their children.  We salute their accomplishments.




Last chance to see “Telling Stories” in Toronto

Posted by:  Cathy
“Telling Stories,” an exhibition at the Textile Museum of Canada (TMC), features a work designed by Surayia Rahman and embroidered by artisans of Arshi in Bangladesh.  This link shows the range of textile art featured in “Telling Stories,” which will be closing January 25th.  This link takes you to Surayia’s work in the Textile Museum, a piece called “Georgian Times,” based on her experiences of life in the last days of the British Raj.  The intricate embroidered stories include tea harvesting, shown in a detail (below) from the TMC website.
If you will be in Toronto before January 25, don’t miss this opportunity to see Surayia’s work on view with other fascinating storytelling textiles.
Tea Harvesting, detail from "Georgian Times." Surayia Rahman design. Photo by Textile Museum of Canada.

Tea Harvesting, detail from “Georgian Times.” Surayia Rahman design. Photo by Textile Museum of Canada.

Color and Beauty for the New Year!

Posted by:  Cathy and Len

Happy New Year, everyone!  Here is the latest Threads newsletter.  You can get a copy as soon as it comes out by subscribing at our website:  Thanks to Anil Advani and Rita Meher for the photos.

Mustard field, photo by Anil AdvaniMay you find color and beauty in each day of the New Year

What an extraordinary year!  As 2014 comes to a close, we send our thanks and good wishes to you and other supporters of Threads around the world.  With your help and the dedication of our film team, we completed and launched Threads!

Threads recently screened for the first time at a film festival and won the Audience Choice Award for Best Short Documentary.  We are very pleased with the positive response that this inspiring story is receiving and we look forward to bringing it to diverse audiences in many countries.

We anticipate an exciting year ahead for Threads.  Our top priority is to find sponsors for a trip to Bangladesh to show the finished film to the resilient women who are in it and to screen the film as widely as possible in Bangladesh.  We are also applying to film festivals worldwide.  Getting into festivals is an exciting opportunity to have the film seen by more and more people, including critics and distributors, but it is also a lot of work: we will need to prepare exhibition copies of Threads, create press materials, and refresh the website.

As we continue work on this project, we speak with Surayia regularly and update her on our progress.  She has seen an earlier cut of the film, and we hope that the day will soon come when she can see the finished version of Threadswith her family and friends.

We wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful 2015 and hope to see you at a screening of Threads soon.  We will keep you updated on screenings through our newsletter and website.   We are always happy to hear your ideas , so please keep in touch and tell your friends about Threads.

Cathy and Len, photo by Rita Meher
Cathy and LenEmail Cathy

            Donate Here Today

Threads has come this far with your support.   Thank you!  Just think what we can do together in 2015.   Please help us to bring Threads story to audiences around the world.

A wonderful evening at MAIWA

Posted by: Cathy

It was an honor and a pleasure to show Threads and answer questions about the film at the MAIWA Symposium in Vancouver, BC, recently.  I was particularly happy that a number of people who know Surayia or helped with filming in Canada could attend.

Here’s a review of the event on the MAIWA blog.  Thank you!

Woman embroidering kantha.  Surayia Rahman design.  Photo used with permission.

Woman embroidering kantha. Surayia Rahman design. Photo used with permission.


UPDATE — Threads news: first film festival screening!

Posted by: Cathy and Len

We are very pleased to announce that Threads is finished and will have its first festival screening at our hometown Gig Harbor Film Festival.  Mark your calendars:  Saturday, October 18 at 12:55 PM at the Galaxy Theater in Uptown Gig Harbor.  Tickets are available at the GHFF office next door to the theater, and online at Eventbrite.  We will be there to answer questions after the film.

The Gig Harbor Film Festival is a wonderful community event that has been growing each year.  Volunteers are the backbone of the GHFF, and we are proud to be part of the volunteer team.

Many, many thanks to everyone who has helped to make this day possible.  A huge thank you to our donors:  friends, family and total strangers who contributed time, photos, advice, and money to this project.  We look forward to showing you the film.  And of course we could not have done anything without the constant support of Surayia Rahman and her children and grandchildren.

Keep checking back for updates on additional screenings of Threads.

GHFF 2014 Laurel gold- official selection






Picture Lock!

Posted by:  Cathy and Len

Threads has reached a major milestone, picture lock.  We’ve finished editing and changes to the film’s story line.  Now we’re moving to the final but crucial part of post-production:  final music, color correction, sound mix, and making the masters for future copies of the film.  So there is still a lot to do, but the time when we can begin showing the finished version of Threads to you and the world is in sight.

We are thankful to everyone who has supported Threads over nearly five years.  Your help and encouragement has carried us this far and will get us across the finish line!

You can find the film finishing campaign at this link. Some of the friends of Threads tell why they have supported the project.  Please share this link with people who are interested in a film that tells the stories of unconventional women who followed a different path to economic self-sufficiency and that challenges some common views of Bangladesh.  There will be more stories from friends of the film in future posts.

“Threads” coming to Vancouver, BC

Posted by:  Cathy

I am very honored to be presenting “Threads: the Art and Life of Surayia Rahman” at the Maiwa Textile Symposium, September 25 at 7:45PM on Granville Island, Vancouver, BC!  The Maiwa Symposium is an amazing series of workshops, lectures and events hosted each year by Maiwa Handprints.  I have long admired the work of Maiwa’s Charlotte Kwon, and her devotion to textile art and artisans.

Registration for the Maiwa Symposium begins on June 23.  I’ll be sure to post a reminder, and would love to see friends there.

Also in September,  I will be jointly presenting a paper on “Surayia Rahman: The Refining of a Domestic Art”  at the Textile Society of America Symposium, “New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future,”  in Los Angeles with Professor Niaz Zaman of Bangladesh, one of the foremost authorities on nakshi kantha.  Niaz has known Surayia for many years and has been a strong supporter of the documentary film project from the beginning.  Niaz will follow her TSA presentation with ones in Seattle and San Francisco on other topics related to nakshi kantha.