Seven Days

With Needle and Thread, India Tresselt Engages in the Art of Resistance

Susan Larson Mar 4, 2020 10:00 AM
Luke Awtry
India Tresselt

Days after the 2016 election, India Tresselt was watching HBO's "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" when the host urged viewers to remind themselves every day, "This is not normal."

The Westford fiber artist, 61, took Oliver's words to heart the only way she knew how. On Inauguration Day 2017, she made her first resistance cloth, stitching "This is not normal" in black embroidery floss on denim. "We can't normalize Trump's craziness by getting used to it," Tresselt said.

The resistance cloths are constructed from various fabrics and range in size from four by five inches to eight and a half by 11 inches. When 100 were complete, Tresselt mounted them on two 56-by-62-inch banners.

She made one unique resistance cloth for each of the president's benchmark first 100 days. There's an embroidered playing card with a joker and the text "This is not normal." There are designs with the phrase in various languages. There's one with the Twitter bird logo embroidered in blue on black cloth; the text "#thisisnotnormal" is stitched in a speech bubble above its beak.

It took Tresselt hours every day to execute one and plan the next, all while maintaining her business, called Yarndance, of making and selling knit scarves and shawls and temari — traditional Japanese balls made with intricate embroidery.

On President Trump's 101st day in office, to make her resistance practice sustainable, Tresselt switched to making flags; every day she embroiders one line of "This is not normal" on repurposed standard-size pillowcases. She's currently working on her fourth flag.

As Christmas 2018 passed and the New Year loomed, Tresselt felt that she needed to do something to offset the reactive, angry nature of her resistance art. Inspired by Canadian fabric artist Kate Bridger's Made on Monday challenge — which inspires artists to make one new piece every week — she decided to create a 5-by-5-inch peace-themed artwork weekly through 2019.

Tresselt embroidered each square and highlighted many with appliqué, weaving and knitting. Some examples: the words "Peace Blooms" stitched into a square along with a vase of flowers; a pie cut into a peace symbol and the words, "Everyone Deserves a Peace of the Pie."

Tresselt's first three Flags of Resistance and her 52 Small Meditations on Peace, the latter assembled into 13 panels, are part of "Women Speak," an exhibit this month at Richmond Free Library.

The show also includes resistance artwork by mixed-media and doll artist Meta Strick and watercolor, acrylic and mixed-media artist Sarah Rosedahl. It's a reprise and expansion of the trio's two previous exhibits in other Vermont venues. "Our work has a complementary synergy," Tresselt said.

She fell in love with fiber art as a child. Tresselt and her mother, Blossom Budney Tresselt, spent every June in Nantucket, where master embroiderer Erica Wilson had a shop. Each summer, young India would buy an embroidery kit and teach herself the basics.

Embroidery by India Tresselt

Tresselt's godmother, Annette Lep, taught her to knit. As a young mother years later, she perfected her techniques using better yarns and more difficult patterns to knit everything from mittens to sweaters and blankets. When her kids were little, Tresselt said, she discovered temari balls in a catalog, ordered a book and starter kit, and began to create the colorful orbs, as well. When her youngest son, Connor, entered first grade, Tresselt joined the staff of Kaleidoscope Yarns in Essex Junction (now closed) and taught knitting.

Tresselt has a bachelor's degree in history from Middlebury College but no professional art training. Making art was relegated to hobby status during the years she worked as an editorial assistant for the American Diabetes Association journal Diabetes Care, and then — while raising her two sons — as a freelance copy editor and proofreader.

Blossom Tresselt had attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, worked as a commercial illustrator and designed exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. After Blossom died in 2012, Tresselt and her sister were looking through their mom's art-school sketchbooks when she came to a conclusion: "I decided the best way to honor my mom was to pursue my art full time."

Tresselt's older son, Loren, helped her design a Yarndance website and launch Facebook and Instagram accounts. Part of her daily routine now is posting pictures of her work. "I'm a poster child for the benefits of social media for an independent artist," Tresselt said. She has followers from around the world.

Her work is inspired by color, then pattern, texture and text, Tresselt explained. Words were important in her family, as both of her parents were writers. Her father, Alvin Tresselt, was a children's book author — his White Snow, Bright Snow, one of 14 books produced with illustrator Roger Duvoisin, won a 1948 Caldecott Medal.

"Making anything in a bad time is a political act." India Tresselt tweet this

Language is important to Tresselt in her work, too. "Stitched text is powerful, because you live with each letter and each word for several minutes," she said.

Her love of puns led to her business name. Tresselt plays the fiddle, and her husband, Andy Fulton, plays the banjo. They used to play for dances, and so "barn dance" became "Yarndance."

Today Tresselt alternates among what she calls "the three threads": embroidery, knitting and temari. Her temari are available at Grand Isle Art Works; temari and knits can be found at ArtHound Gallery in Essex Junction. Temari, knits, resistance posters and postcards are available on her website and on Etsy.

When Tresselt first began making her resistance art, she said she sometimes felt guilty about creating during a time of political turmoil. Author Chuck Wendig's Twitter thread, reposted by Medium as "25 Reasons to Keep on Making Stuff," encouraged her. "You make art in difficult times because it gives you relief; it gives other people relief to see it. It's the artist's responsibility to speak out, and making anything in a bad time is a political act," she recapped.

Tresselt's fans on social media also encourage her. "People see my work online, then tell me it inspired them to do something," she said. "My giving voice to 'this is not normal' helps other people find ways of resistance."

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