Breast Cancer And Taco Shots

It has been five and a half years since my breast cancer diagnosis. Little did I understand the impact and changes that would occur within my person and my life because of this. In many ways, it has made me into a better person, fortified my beliefs, made me stronger and more confident. It has also challenged me to my core, stirring uncomfortable emotions that can be difficult to reconcile.

There are the physical changes to my person, my breastlessness. But there is also the side effects of the ongoing drug treatment, depression and anxiety that do not abate. As I have stepped away from acute treatment, and begun to resume life with cancer as one aspect in the over all picture of who Melanie Testa is, I learn to manage these ‘side effects’. Even if I wish I didn’t need to experience them.

My choices related to breast cancer have an effect in my primary relationship too.

In the last few years, I have embraced my overarching goal to help create space for women like myself, who choose not to reconstruct by participating in awareness raising campaigns and photo shoots. I did it because I believe that visual representation for all body types is important.

Melanie Testa photographed by Esther Hasse for perfektUNperfekt

And I have done this while my Man, beautiful person that he is, has floundered to understand and grasp his place in this story. To grasp -his loss- of my breasts. Breast cancer and the effects of treatment are long lasting and far reaching, you see.

Last September, I traveled and met up with 13 other breastless women, people, all seeking to participate in a photoshoot highlighting the diverse beauty and sexuality that we continue to possess, no matter the bodily changes breast cancer has forced upon us. I allowed myself to be the sexy, beautiful person that I am, while striving to take back my own sexual prowess after breast cancer treatment. 

Photography by Esther Haase

We had individual portraits taken, small group photos, and we took to the streets of Berlin, smoke machines, photographers and video cameras in tow, as we made a scene. We dressed as gang members, we didn’t smile, we embodied our toughest persona. We were and are a gang!

Photography by Esther Haase

It was empowering and exciting, to say the least. I balled my eyes out, it was such a huge experience. I met awesome people too. We got some gorgeous photos out of it. Me, in nothing but thigh high leather boots. Never in my life would I have thought I would do anything the like.

So, as we are diagnosed at a younger age, sex and sexuality-post breast cancer treatment, is becoming a necessary field to explore. Our mates and partners need a pathway into this discussion too. They need visuals. Visibility is key in every respect. For the survivor-of course, for our partners and mates, for all of us, really. 

Historically speaking, our sickness has been kept secret, prothesis and reconstruction replace our loss, wigs cover our bald heads until our hair grows back, we move on quietly. This is an acceptable way to go about it, of course. 

But thankfully, in recent years, we have begun to break down this barrier of silence by embracing our changed bodies as simply, the vessels that they are. Intrinsically beautiful. We are questioning and removing the ‘binds’ that stop us from talking about our changed bodies, while we adamantly refuse to be ‘quiet and move on’, because cancer is serious, and we need to find a cure.

And we become good friends as we reach deeply into the wealth of our very person, the beauty of who we really are, while a camera catches it all. Thank you good people, thank you for being my flat friends. Thank you for helping me find my sexy.

photography by Esther Haase

This is perfektUNperfekt, photography by Esther Haase.

P.S. I named this post provocatively, using the slang ‘Taco Shot’ because I don’t seem to shy away from full body nudity. You may remember my Grace portrait. 🙂

One more thing, the larger picture to the above body-positive-post-cancer-treatment essay? Stage four needs more attention. Our stage four sisters and brothers need our help in turning the tide from ‘pink profiteering’ (Komen) to funding research that saves lives.

Check out METAvivor, if you want to donate to breast cancer research.



So this is a whole new dealio. 

I have taken my printing out and about, I am becoming The Free Range Textile Printer in NYC.

In our upcoming book, Carol Soderlund and I contend that all you need to possess in order to begin printing your own fabrics, is a bucket and a card table! And, well? I am here to tell you, you don’t need the card table!! Wooho!!!

You do need access to water.  But most major parks in NYC have a bathroom! 

See? Easy!!!

This is a fun short post, I will happily go into more detail about small space printing, if you re interested! If so, leave a comment.

I really don’t want to go on about things that are uninteresting!!

Art Quilt Collage: A Creative Journey in Fabric, Paint and Stitch, Book Release Blog Hop with Video Chats!

First, I just want to say, I love Deborah Boschert, her art and her person. I feel blessed to know her and great gratitude that her talent calls her to write about her process. Deborah is just releasing, Art Quilt Challenge, A Creative Journey in Fabric, Paint and Stitch.

Deborah asked me to read Art Quilt Challenge and to have a discussion with her about symbols, which really turned into an eye opening endeavor for me.

Deborah and I both use symbols and symbolism in our work. Deborah clearly lays out how to find and access symbols that resonate with you, helps you attach meaning to those symbols and then illustrates different methods to using those symbols in your work. 


Within the pages of Deborah’s book she uses chairs, a bowl, a ladder. These all have very different meanings to Deborah, than they do for me, or you-probably. Symbols are a means of visually communicating idea. As we learn to express ourselves artistically, it is a good idea to apply meaning to the symbols we use, even if we never tell anyone what our intended meaning is! And, of course, the viewer of the artwork brings their own history, interpretations and personal connections to what they are seeing.


Chairs, in my own artwork, speak to the human form. Chairs are made for humans. Walking into a room with chairs lets you know, you can relax. There is symbiosis between people and chairs. And so, when it comes to my art, when I use a chair in artwork, I am working with ideas related to people, bodies, and -who- might use that perch.


Deborah thinks about the -activity- that can be done in a chair when she describes ‘quietly embracing the opportunity to be restful, but not idle or inactive’. This was an ‘aha moment’ for me, that illustrates, symbols really do have a wide array of meaning, artistically speaking. And each of us applies meaning in ways that are meaningful to us individually.

So, if you are feeling like you would like to explore your own use of symbols, and would like to unpack and use some innovative and fresh techniques, I do hope you will purchase a copy of Deborah book. Deborah’s book covers design, composition, collage, surface design, stitch by hand and machine, as well as finishing techniques, walking you through the entire process, while helping you understand it with deeper meaning. Beside which, Art Quilt Collage is eye candy!

I am happy to be giving away a copy of Deborah’s book! Leave a comment here on the blog telling us about symbols that you often use in your artwork. I will choose a lucky winner on October 7. ________________________________________

Check out the other participants in the blog hop:

September 19: C&T Publishing and Editor Lynn Koolish

September 20: Teri Lucas, Generation Q Magazine

September 21: Susan Brubaker Knapp 

September 22: Sue Bleiweiss

September 23: Lyric Kinard 

September 26: Lori Kennedy

September 27: Maria Shell

September 28: Jane LaFazio

September 29: Judy Coates Perez

September 30: Melanie Testa

This Shrikes my fancy!

I really can’t wait for The Book that Carol Soderlund and I have been working on to come into print! While I can’t go into specific detail about this, I can give broad overviews as to what you might expect to learn. So here goes.


As artists, it is suggested that we find a subject matter we are passionate about and to apply ourselves and our artwork to this. We do this in order to work in series and to show continuity of subject matter. I have chosen birds and even more specifically, the Audubon list of Common Birds in Decline as my focus. (Unfortunately, Audubon has not updated their web site in such a way that all the links work properly, the above link shows the full list of birds, at least).


Loggerhead Shrike is number 18 on this list. Delving deeply into acquiring knowledge of this bird began by drawing a Shrike from the pages of a birding magazine. From there I went on to inform myself about this bird, learning that it is a meat eating songbird who uses tools, like barb wire to kill it’s prey. This bird can sometimes be misidentified as a Northern Mockingbird, because of its color and size. It can also be mistaken for a hawk because its meat eating beak is sharply curved, to make it all the easier to eat its prey.

When bringing these facts to the design table, it is important to illustrate just the essentials. As you can see, when looking at the stamped image of the print, above, I chose to illustrate the curved beak and this birds propensity to use tools to kill it’s prey. These are two things that distinctly differentiate the Loggerhead Shrike from the Northern Mockingbird.

Note: A ‘strike off’ is a first printing of a stamp or tool.


I love printing cloth to be used in quilts, so the Loggerhead Shrike print was paired with two differently sized feather prints and some commercial solids to help fill out the yardage necessary to make a quilt.

Melly quilt

And while, I have not illustrated how to make the tools for this particular design, the above quilt will be featured in our upcoming book with Crafting a Life, LLC. Directions on how to place your own most favored subject matter into repeat will be covered-in detail.

I know that I often choose some pretty detailed imagery to work with, so I followed Carol’s suggestion to teach the effective use of motif and repeat by using more simple and approachable motifs than Loggerhead Shrikes! That is what working with a coauthor and friend does!! I hope you are as excited to learn these techniques and ideas as we are in being able to share them with you!

mixing for my bucket, while watching textile related documentaries


Friday will be my printing in public debut, so today, I am mixing up a palette and packing up my bucket. I see one bucket apron modification that I would like to make before Friday. I need to make sure the lid stays attached to the bucket in transit. I also need to soda soak some cloth.

In other words, I am having a day in the studio.

In the meantime, I am watching The First Monday in May, which I highly recommend. It is the most perfect accompaniment to working with fabric in the studio. Unfortunately, I did not see the Met show connected to the movie, but I am happy to have watched tthe movie. I cried when they mentioned Alexander McQueen. I was riveted to see Bill Cunningham, who just passed away this year (and if you haven’t seen the documentary called Bill Cunningham New York, you should watch this too). And, I admire Anna Wintour and her wintery, cold presentation. So watching this documentary was a win! 

Oh, and if you have not seen The September Issue? Do.

If you have any suggestions as to what I should watch while working in my studio, please leave a comment.




Buckets’ debut, modest but impactful.

We honor Ganesh here at CASA M&D, so when I came upon his likeness this morning, I snapped this photo. The sun is just beginning to shine upon him. He gave a smile. I gladly took it. I am sitting in a favorite coffee shop to work and blog outside the apartment.  

It has so far, been a very productive day, and it is just past 9:15. 

I snapped this self portrait last night, and just had to share it here. It’s fun to see myself, inside a pig who is wearing a bow.

I have had my first outing with The Bucket. Me and my bucket are going to follow a rainbow together, a very colorful rainbow. This is just the beginning.

We walked a few blocks to Mazzone hardware. The bucket needs some carriage bolts, nuts and washers, so I took the little lady out for a spin. I decided to take the bucket because it helps me understand the weight of the bucket, while placing me in context -with- the bucket. 

Printing in public means I will need to –talk to people– about what the heck I am doing. (Crazy lady things!) 

I mean, I do question going out into the wilds of NYC to print in public parks! But you know what? When I was going through treatment for breast cancer, I kept asking myself, what happens if you don’t do-such and so. What happens if I don’t follow my passions and whims. I could die not having done them, that’s what. And rather than let that happen, I’ve decided to do the things! I can come up with some pretty wild ideas. And this one, printing in public, is pushing me outside my comfort zone. 

My neighbor Dee was sitting outside her place, so I decided to try my crazy out on her. It went really well. Dee wanted to know about my bucket even before I had placed it in front of her and introduced both myself and the item at hand. Phew. That was easy. Dee likes the bucket and the idea. Cool. 

Who doesn’t like a nice bucket?

So this is Mazzone’s hardware. I tried to get one of the employees to pose with me and my bucket, but that was a no go. I think this was a great success anyway! I spoke with the nice lady, told her about my project and I asked if she might want to be featured on my blog. She contemplated the idea, but declined and I went ahead with my recon mission. I feel this was very successful! Part of my mission was accomplished in this exchange. Nice.

I went on to photograph my bucket in front of the store instead.  

I don’t know how to utilize these just yet. I did not purchase them. But… Don’t you think Bucket needs wheels? 

My hesitation to include the wheel starts with the added weight, but it is also contingent on another factor, the bucket must remain viable to holding water. There will be no holes in this bucket. I think this means that I might need a wooden platform to apply the wheels to… And again, that means added weight to carry. But wheels mean movement and that sounds like fun. I could also see pulling my bucket like a pull toy.

And here is bucket in the bolt aisle! It looks comfortable, don’t you think?

The other question I keep asking myself is, what does it mean -to you- to be a textile artist, in NYC, in 2016? 

And to this, I continually respond, it is totally up to ME, what that means. 

So if I want to use NYC as my studio, alright. And if I want to use motif and textile design to explore my world, so be it. This is my art form.  But as I begin to print in parks around the city, I want to have a secondary goal. The secondary goal is that I want to design a print based on the entire experience. I want to see a NYC landmark in the print. I will take pictures at each park and use them as motifs in the print. 

I hope you will follow along as I do! This is going to be fun.

Overall this was a great first outing.

Nudity, Art and Quilt Art

Recently the quilt world was aflutter with talk of penises, and I became embroiled in the discussion-of course.

The American Quilter’s Society, known as AQS, chose to pull Kathy Nida’s artwork titled, I Was Not Wearing A Life Jacket, from a SAQA show because of a complaint that there was a penis depicted. In Kathy’s own words, ‘There was no penis‘. Abby Glassenberg wrote a great essay on How AQS Mishandled the Online Fallout After pulling Kathy Nida’s Quilts, which is a great introduction to how the story unfolded. SAQA responded with this statement, which, in my opinion, is serviceable with a noticeable wish to connect and explain. AQS, on the other hand, buried its head in the sand.

In an effort at full disclosure, I am hesitant to speak about SAQA’s part in this debacle, because I stopped renewing my membership with the group years ago- and I feel my points would be stronger, were I to be an active member. Even still, I have been reevaluating what groups, magazines and venues might help me get my work seen while also helping me connect to our shared community. I have not yet renewed my membership to SAQA, though they are top on my list of possibilities.

I would like to back up to 2007 or so, when I put the label on Gentle, seen below.


When I began making Gentle, I was a member of SAQA, and I was showing a lot of work with my local group. It was fun, I met great people, we were able to find some great venues, and my confidence bloomed while my resume grew. This is everything an artist could want in a membership of this type. 

While quilting Gentle, a friend remarked, “Why make an image of a nude male with penis visible, it will never get shown in the quilt world”. 

And alas, it never did.

I entered it into as many shows as I could, both through my SAQA group and in the larger quilt show community. But it never gained acceptance into a quilt show. Conversely, Repose and Wandering in the Garden have not had any problems with gaining visibility or acceptance into shows or magazines. But, we are conditioned to see and accept the female nude body, so it is easy to see why they both gained acceptance.

I understand that AQS has their own agenda, one that does not seem to be aligned with embracing artistic expression to the degree that Kathy’s artwork might require. SAQA, at least, took ownership of their part by admitting their contract allowed for this to occur and suggesting that they will continue to look for galleries and museums to show works.

But, the fact that the artwork was taken down?

That is censorship. 

Women and women’s art isn’t always pretty, it’s not always easy to view, but it -is- pretty hard to see (this Gorilla Girls poster was created in 2012). Head over to the Gorilla Girls website for more interesting but sad facts about women’s art getting seen. 

Gender Reassign text new file re link

I must acknowledge, the quilting world does a great job of getting quilts seen. So when a show instantly backs a single viewer and removes a piece of art without question, it’s it is both startling and disheartening. And for them to remove a piece of art for containing -a nonexistent- penis, is questionable (and sad too). 

I don’t really think the censorship we have experienced with AQS has much to do with male nudity but rather with difficult, uncomfortable, and devisive subject matter within a predominately female artistic media. To remove Kathy’s work based on the false premise of a penis depiction, is tantamount to saying, ‘that is not pretty enough’, ‘that makes me uncomfortable’, because there was no penis

I love and appreciate that we quilters have made a huge community of traveling quilt shows and venues. We have created our own subculture and we are making sure that quilts get -signed and seen- as the art they are. But I would hope that we would think long and hard before censoring the subject matter we see at these shows.  All it takes is -walking past work that does not resonate with you-.

Kathy’s artwork was removed because of a false accusation. AQS did not question the validity of the claim, did not contact the artist, and it refuses to acknowledge the issue through social media. This type action can result in questioning the content we choose to explore as artists, forcing us to answer difficult questions like, ‘Do I make this piece, even if I won’t be able to get it shown?’ ‘Is this subject matter too difficult?’ ‘Do I follow where my muse takes me, or do I make work that is safe and acceptable?’

I know from personal experience that these questions have great impact. I have not made another male nude because I was so bummed about not being able to get Gentle seen. 

Fortunately, this will soon change. Spool owned by Maddie, Flaun and family, have invited me to show Gentle along side Kathy Nida’s two pieces, I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket and Fully Medicated, during AQS Quilt Week, September 14-17 2016.

Social media has had a unifying affect on the quilt world. I have been really excited, invigorated and happy to be a member of the quilt world in the face of these happenings. The rift created by Modern Quilt Guild (I am talking about the derivative discussion) paired with this AQS debacle have shed light on the passion, connection and strength contained within our diverse community. It also serves to illustrate introspection and a willingness to grow and change. 

All great stuff!

Because of all of this, I want to stress, DO NOT allow the censorship of Kathy Nida’s artwork to have an effect on your willingness to discuss difficult subject matter in your quilts and quilt art. It is not our job as artists to appease our audience or to make our work palatable to venues (and viewers) who do not have our best interest in mind.

And, you never know, you may find an advocate for the beauty of the human body, wanting to show your work, during the same week as the AQS show. All because you showed up, voiced your thoughts and opinions, and you care.

And to that I say:

Spool Kertay Penis

Please stop by Spool to see Kathy Nida’s two works, I was not wearing a Life Jacket and Fully Medicated and my own piece, Gentle! Say hello to Maddie and Flaun.

AND! They will have pins with the above sentiment to wear to the AQS show! 

I would love it if you wore a pin, photographed yourself in front of Kathy’s work and post it to social media with the hashtag #AQS. You might also choose to point out the penis in Gentle, to give them an anatomy lesson. ♥

Busking! Two buckets, an apron, freedom.

I have always valued a good bucket.

Opportunity for creativity never strays far from a good bucket. I mean, when there is a bucket near by, you can rinse brushes, soak stamps, do low water immersion dyeing. And that’s not all! When I was a kid, my dad upholstered a lid that fit perfectly on a 5 gallon bucket providing us a cushioned seat to rest on while fishing. I have never lost sight of this ideal scenario and it seems, I have cottoned onto an adult opportunity to utilize and make a new padded throne!


See the mad glimmer in my eye? I just spent upwards of 25$ on a:

5 gallon bucket

2 5 gallon bucket lids

1 2 gallon bucket

and a 

Bucket Tool Organizer Extreme


And I am about to upholster my bucket lids with Melly fabrics….

So, what, you might ask, is Melly up to?

I am going to try busking, as a textile artist in NYC!

Sometimes, you get a weird idea, that just won’t let you go. And when it happens, you kinda just need to do it. So, I am.

I love public displays of art. I love doing art, embroidery, stitch work and drawing in public, so why not try printing while out and about? I mostly work solitary, staying in my studio, but, recently, I have come to thinking, “maybe there is a way to be less solitary, and to still be able to print!

I have scoped out Washington Square Park, which I think will be a good entry into doing this. I may need to ask some gal pals to come visit and help me, at least the first time. But, I am going to do it.

I have bought the items, and now I will whip up a quilted blank to upholster the bucket lid! Wish me luck. I will keep you posted.


Selfies in Stitch

Self Portrait of Melly Testa

We currently live in the era of the ‘selfie’. Participating in social media is almost akin to sharing a life in photographs. ‘Selfies’, photos taken of the self, by the self, are the go to method of getting images out there.

As a young artist going through school to obtain a degree in textile design, I was encouraged to make artwork based on self portraiture. We were shown images of artists who had simply painted themselves as if looking into a mirror, we talked about artists who painted themselves into the periphery of the painting- as say, a member of a crowd, and we discussed depicting ourselves well outside the identifiable, as perhaps a rabbit or a monster, relying on emotion and myth rather than depicting a realistic clearly identifyable image. 

At first, it felt egotistical to use the self as inspiration for artwork. Do you hang the piece in your home? Sell it? Would anyone want to purchase an image of your mug? Do you make self portraits and store them for posterity? How do self portraits fit into the context of the artists overall portfolio of work? Does any of this matter?

Over time, I have come to see the value and the sheer possibility of connection or communion with self when working with imagery that is just so known-to me. It is almost as if I am journaling, digging deeply and using words to explore ideas. But because I am a visual person, I instead get to slow down, take a single stitch and use that time to explore a moment in my personal, visual herstory. 


An Exciting Reveal: Crafting a Life LLC, Carol Soderlund and Melly Testa

It has been pretty quiet here and today is the day to break that silence.


A project I have been working on, with my good friend Carol Soderlund, is coming to fruition. And better still, we can now reveal, we are working with Pokey Bolton and Crafting a Life, LLC to bring this project to life!

We are writing a book on multicolor printing using Procion MX dye, our favorite medium! My smile is so big, I can hardly stand it.

Carol and I are both fiends for color, we love quilting, cloth, printing and motif making. And we seek to lure you into our printed fold! In writing this book, we strive to present a seamless and easily approachable foray into printing cloth and using it-in your next quilt. (I would love to go on making puns, but, I will stop there. It gets tiring!) But it is true. Carol and I have been ironing out the descriptives to some pretty awesome techniques! (The puns!!!)

Soon, some time soon, we will have a printed book to show for our efforts. And Crafting a Life, LLC is printing our book. Can I say, OMG? Pinch me, please! 

We are all quite excited to tell you about this project!!


This book will discuss motif making, loose and formal repeat printing and many other printing techniques. And it will act as a printers workbook. 

The materials used to print the cloth are readily available; carving rubber, fun foam, stencil plastic and Thermofax screens. We present a simple method of working with color and gradation that is both unique and accessible. Basically, we have removed the learning curve related to mixing and using color and set the stage for you to begin printing your own unique textile designs with ease.


We’ve been diligent in finding solutions for those who have little space, but are still drawn to expressing themselves creatively by printing unique and personalized cloth. And we present methods to enable you to print yardage too. 

Fabrics combined with commercial fabrics

To say this makes me happy is an understatement. To work with Carol is an honor. To have finally figured out how to print in repeat without a fancy studio or special equipment? Priceless. The fact that Crafting a Life, LLC and Pokey are supporting our efforts by printing, what I believe will be, hope will be, the surface design book of a generation? This is a complete and total blessing.

Thank you Pokey.

As we come closer to day when you can hold this book in your hands, we hope you will visit our blogs and social media accounts. I will be printing and piecing a quilt top as blog content, with updates to my personal FB, my Melanie Testa-Artist page and my Instagram page.

Follow Carol’s blog, Living Color, here. FB. Insta

Read Pokey’s Ponderings, and her post about Publishing Again. FBInsta