Posted by:  Cathy and Len

The Textile Museum of Canada  in Toronto has an exhibition, “Telling Stories,” that includes one of Surayia’s works, Georgian Times.  Curated by Roxanne Shaughnessy, the exhibition will run until mid-April, 2014, so please go see it if you are in the area.  You can view an image of Georgian Times from the Textile Museum’s collection at this link.

Here’s the description from the Museum’s website:

“The art of storytelling extends beyond the written word, encompassing a myriad of forms. Whether through the illustration of a myth or legend, or the recitation of an epic poem or song, cultures have devised inventive and elaborate methods of recording and depicting their rich histories through the centuries. In this exhibition of artifacts from the permanent collection of the Textile Museum of Canada, textiles perform as instruments of communication, offering narratives that unfold in the making and materiality of each textile. …. Telling Stories presents extraordinary materials of everyday lives that reflect the inordinate richness of cultural histories as well as the human impulse to capture real and imagined experiences.”

Thank you, Roxanne, for a beautiful and timely exhibition.



Posted by: Len

We are very excited to be a few days away from what should be the last filming session for Threads: The Art and Life of Surayia Rahman.  The site scouting has been done, the brilliant field producer and crew are ready. We really appreciate all of the support and help that people are providing.

If you would like to join us in this effort and help to wrap up the production of Threads, please read this letter to the supporters of the film, or go directly to the International Documentary Association and make a donation.

Thanks to everyone for your help!

Posted by:  Cathy and Len

Surayia and women of "Arshi."

Countdown to filming!   Help us to complete the final three days of film shooting in Bangladesh for the inspiring Threads story.

Women artisans, once destitute young mothers, have supported their families over the past twenty-five years, stitch by stitch, by creating exquisite embroidered tapestries depicting social and historical stories of their time. Crossing rivers during floods, riding for hours in rusted buses over muddy roads, these women came together to learn their craft and to work.

Just as each stitch has made a difference in their lives, so every donation you make – small or large – will help us complete the film that celebrates their many accomplishments.

These women are going beyond embroidering visionary art together. They are

  • educating their children,
  • purchasing land,
  • continuing to teach others to make their own livelihoods,
  • and keeping their traditions alive.

Against many odds, they are taking their lives into their own hands and creating a better future for the next generation.

We need your help to raise a total of $3,400  for 3 final days of shooting to complete this phase of the documentary.

We already raised $1400 in one week to celebrate International Day of the Girl on October 11th — and donations are still coming in!    Thank you SO much!  We want to start the shoot at the end of October and we still need to raise $2000.

Make a tax deductible donation to Threads through International Documentary Association now — $20, $50, $100, whatever you can afford (trust us, each donation makes a difference!) — and celebrate women and girls by helping bring voice to the stories of these amazing women of Bangladesh and inspiring countless other women and girls around the world.

Read more about the amazing story of the women in Bangladesh at

It would be great if you would share the story with your friends, too.

Thank you!

Posted by:  Cathy and Len

How many lawyers and rhinos are there in Surayia’s work “The Raj?”  The answer is:  One … and two, depending on when the piece was designed.

The original "Raj" with one lawyer.

The original “Raj” with one lawyer.

In recent weeks we have had several fascinating conversations with Andreas, a friend of Surayia’s who encouraged her to design a nakshi kantha tapestry based on her experience as a witness to the last days of British rule in Calcutta.  Surayia mentioned Andreas to us some months ago, saying that we should get in touch with him.  Asked where he was and how to contact him, she said: “Oh it shouldn’t be hard to find him, he’s a German man.  Ask in Germany.  He gave me a leather book once.  Ask at the bookshops, they will know his address.”   Fortunately for us, an internet search turned up contact information for a man who seemed to be a match, and an e-mail to him asking if he might be the person Surayia mentioned brought a quick and gracious reply.


The updated "Raj" with a second lawyer.

The updated “Raj” with a second lawyer.

Surayia tells us that, when she was encouraged by Andreas to design the tapestry that she called “The Raj,” it had a hunting scene with one rhinoceros, and a courtroom scene with one lawyer.  This design was produced under the auspices of the Skills Development for Underprivileged Women project.  Surayia later was let go from SDUW.  The project retained her original designs and applied to the Copyright Board for ownership.  When some of the women from the Skills Development project came to ask her to help them, Surayia formed her own organization Arshi, and needed to re-create the designs.  With the copyright proceedings looming, Surayia tells us that she was advised to make her designs with a difference.  So … the single rhino is the hunting scene became two rhinos.  And the single lawyer in the courtroom gained a colleague.  As she tells us in one of the interviews that Mishuk Munier filmed in Dhaka:  “I never saw a courtroom before but I did a perfect courtroom scene, with two lawyers.”

For thirty years and continuing today, Surayia’s designs in both versions are the center of livelihoods for many artisans of Bangladesh.    The Threads film is a story that goes well beyond ‘one’ or ‘two’…it is a story of how one person, with creativity and sharing skills, can impact the lives of communities for generations.   The artwork is not the only legacy; it is the children who are schooled, the women who are empowered to buy their own land, and those who are teaching others to stitch beauty for a future.

"Raj" with one rhino.

“Raj” with one rhino.

"Raj" with two rhinos.

“Raj” with two rhinos.











Photos by Tino Sieland.  Used with kind permission of the owner.


Posted by: Cathy and Len

Collage of quilts from the "Why Quilts Matter" homepage.

Collage of quilts from the “Why Quilts Matter” homepage.

We recently had the chance to watch a very interesting nine-part series called: Why Quilts Matter.  Hosted by Shelly Zegart, the series of half-hour programs covers the history, art and politics of quilts and quilting, primarily in the U.S., as well as collecting quilts and the market for them.  There is a segment devoted to the quilts of Gee’s Bend, which we were first exposed to several years ago through an excellent documentary film of the same name.  Why Quilts Matter is informative and well worth watching.  We checked the DVDs out from our local library; PBS stations in the U.S. have rights to air the series through 2014, so it may be broadcast where you live — check your local listings or ask your local PBS station.  You can also buy the DVDs online.

We knew from our research for Threads that there were more than 20 million quilters in the U.S.  Why Quilts Matter goes into detail on the numbers and economic impact of quilting.  It was also interesting for us to learn more about how quilt shows in Japan attract huge numbers of attendees.  Going back to our research for Threads, some of the first customers for the “nakshi kantha tapestries” that Surayia designed were Japanese, and throughout her career Japanese customers were consistent buyers of her work.  Reflecting the strong interest that people from Japan have shown in her,  about 10 years ago the Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh interviewed Surayia on video about her life and work.

Not long after we watched Why Quilts Matter, Cathy had the opportunity to have a conversation with Shelly Zegart.  Shelly is even more engaging and interesting in person than she is on film.

Why Quilts Matter got us thinking about the many quilting traditions around the world, including nakshi kantha in Bengal.  Quilts in North America are now being documented and valued as both historical objects and art.  Will that happen for other quilts before the traditions are lost?