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Fiber artist and New England native Alaina Varrone creates enigmatic embroideries to help her understand the world.

by Andrew Salomone
Oct 31 2016, 3:30pm

Images courtesy of the artist

This article contains adult content. 

As New England settles into another autumn, not only do the days get darker, but so does the work of a particular fiber artist. Connecticut native Alaina Varrone embroiders enigmatic narratives as a way of understanding the world and, as Varrone tells The Creators Project, locations and seasons have a profound impact on the work she makes. “I'm particularly moved by autumn here and that's when I do the bulk of my darker pieces. There's an atmosphere here unlike anywhere else that lends itself to those creepier pieces, and I want anyone who sees those embroideries to feel it too.”

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Several factors inform the imagery that Varrone chooses, including: “folk tales, mythology, the occult, current fashion trends, personal relationships, the season.” All of these influences combine to create narratives aimed at understanding the human experience. “I like to make up stories, and though some characters don't look like me, they tend to be autobiographical. I grew up in a haunted house, it influenced the way I saw the world, I saw and felt and heard this unseen world that so many didn't, those experiences have stayed with me. So they come up in my work a lot.”

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Even in her more innocuous-looking works, Varrone gives the viewer the distinct impression that something dark might be going on just beneath the surface of the imagery. Whether it’s a group of teenage girls gathered for an informal chat, or just people drinking and relaxing in the water, her images appear to be snippets of a story in where something is just a little bit off, like a scene from the beginning of a horror film. The villain may not have been revealed yet, but Varrone’s work often suggests that they might be hiding in plain sight.

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The process of embroidering thread onto fabric can be seen as simply a way for Varrone to get the stories out of her head most effectively. “Embroidery definitely forces me to work smaller, and more details emerge the larger the canvas gets. I have the most fun with this medium because you have to problem solve as you go; it's not formulaic by any means, at least for me. Even though embroidery is slow and limits impulsive decision making, the final product is never faithful to the initial drawing. If you pulled all the stitches out you could see all the redrawing atop the first version.”  

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Considering New England’s colonial history and the prevalence of hand embroidery in colonial times, along with the emergence of ghost stories from the same era, it seems very appropriate for Varrone to use embroidery as a medium to comment on the spiritual side of contemporary life. “I love living in New England, all that history and layers upon layers of human experiences, deep emotional imprints on the very streets we walk on.” And, although a lot of things may have changed since the days when New England women famously hand-stitched samplers of their homes, we’re all still subject to human nature. “The world isn't what it seems, people aren't either. Some are monsters, some are ghosts inhabiting flesh, some can eat your energy, some you can hold and love with your spirit while their body is far away. It's not always spooky, sometimes it's lovely. But it's all human.”

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Keep an eye on Alaina Varrone’s enigmatic embroidery at her website and follow the progress on Instagram.

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