Threads of my Grandmothers

For my graduate course in Multi and Intermodal Expressive Arts in Fall of 2017, I was tasked with developing an expressive arts project that would demonstrate my understanding of expressive arts and the meaning of these multi, intermodal processes.  I had been wanting to do a piece honoring my grandmothers, and  I felt drawn to make that this project.  I wrote a very in-depth paper on this, and I thought about posting it here, but it is very personal and I decided to just include the artist’s statement, which gives you an overview of the work.  

Threads of My Grandmothers

By: Robyn Heydari

I created fabric portraits of my grandmothers for my course in Multi and Intermodal Practices in Expressive Art Therapy.  The evolution of this work involved a mystical and passionate process that compelled me to explore deep within myself for ancestral roots and connections.  I spent time exploring my relationship with each of these matriarchs, what their stories represent to me, and the way their influence and legacy lives through me.  Some of the multi and intermodal processes I invoked in bringing these portraits from my mind’s eye into tangible reality included dream work, meditation, symbolic exploration, authentic movement, and introspective writing.  The final and most transformative part of the process included sharing the portraits with my family members and witnessing their reactions.  I was surprised and forever changed by the emotional connection I felt when I shared the completed work with my family, who knew and loved the subjects of the portraits.


I created the portraits by printing vintage photographs of each of my grandmother’s faces on cotton muslin fabric.  I used hand and machine appliqué techniques to surround the photographs with a patchwork of significant and sentimental textiles.  I worked to balance the sepia toned images of the photographs, as well as my memories with the colorful world of my imagination.  I used cotton, silk, and metallic threads, as well as 3 dimensional embellishments to bring the imagined scenes to life. The final portraits are backed with linen and framed with bias edging.


My maternal grandmother, the closest to me of these three women, who I cherished throughout my childhood and who passed on from this world when I was 19.  I am very much like her, in form and substance.  We shared a love of poetry, of the arts, of history, and of times spent together at her home on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay.  She taught me to be myself, to be proud of my curves, my unabashed loudness, and my bookworm nerdiness.  She brought me little spoons from places she visited all over the world, and always saw the best in me, even in the darkest depths of my teen rebellion.  Bernie was a woman ahead of her time, and a confident and dynamic individual.  I feel her spirit with me often and treasure her memory in the most sacred part of my heart.

طاهره  “Tahereh”:

My paternal grandmother, distant and completely unknown to me in physical form.  She lived in Tehran, Iran, where my father was born and raised, and she passed on before I was even born.  My father’s entire family lives in Iran, and aside from a few childhood visits from relatives, I grew up completely apart from them.  In adulthood, I have begun to connect with my cousins through the internet.  It is amazing to learn what we have in common, perhaps most significantly, a love of sewing!  I also have learned that Tahereh was a rug maker and made complex mandala rugs – a strong parallel to my work with creating hand dyed mandala tapestries.  Some of the symbolism in this portrait includes

Shir o Khorshid “Lion and Sun”: An ancient Zoroastrian astrological symbol, and a national symbol of Persian heritage.  This symbol was on the Iranian flag for most of my grandmother’s lifetime, up until the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Seven Pomegranates: Pomegranates are also a symbol of Persian heritage, and the fruit is abundant and well-loved in the Tehran region where my grandmother lived.  Seven is a highly auspicious number in Iran, most commonly associated with the Persian New Year, Nowruz, the day of the Spring Equinox.  Since ancient times, Persians have put out a table for this occasion known as the Haft-Seen or “Seven S’s”.  Seven symbolic items are placed on the table to bring good luck in the New Year.


Goldfish in Pond: Also a Nowruz symbol.  A goldfish in a bowl of water is often placed on the Haft-Seen to represent life.  The goldfish are sometimes let go into public ponds and fountains on the 13th day of the New Year, Sizdah-Bedar, when families all spend the day outdoors in the park to ward off bad luck associated with the number 13.


Gol a Bolbol “Rose and Nightingale”: A recurring motif in Persian poetry, literature, and art.  It is a historic symbol and has multiple meanings. Encyclopedia Iranica describes this symbolism:

“Alone, the rose served as a literary metaphor for perfection and beauty, and might figure the beloved (either worldly or spiritual), the prince, or the Prophet Moḥammad; the sweet-singing nightingale might represent the lover, or the poet. Together, rose and nightingale are the types of beloved and lover par excellence; the rose is beautiful, proud, and often cruel (roses do, after all, have thorns), while the nightingale sings endlessly of his longing and devotion.” 

To me, this symbol represents my longing to connect to my Persian heritage, to which I feel a great deal of reverence and devotion.


My husband’s grandmother, who raised him as if he were her own child, so thus, also my grandmother-in-law.  Who I knew for only a short time, but who impacted me on a profound level.  An absolute class act, the very image of grace and kindness, she welcomed me and accepted me as if I were her own, too.  She loved Christmas, and she was truly devoted to her faith, inspiring others by living a life of example, and never passing judgment on anyone. Her massive collection of Santa figurines was the stuff of legends…this portrait is only meant to represent a small portion of her collection.  The gifts are reminiscent of the many gifts she gave me, both through my relationship with her, as well as my relationship with my husband, who she raised to be an incredibly compassionate, kind, and gentle human being.  The symbol atop the tree represents her nurturance of him, as well as her faith and her devotion to living in service to what that represented to her.

By Robyn Heydari

Threads of my Grandmothers

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