The Prairie Alphabet Project: A Window into the Grasslands Ecosystem

27 September 2023

Sponsored in part by:

Ad featuring a mocked up cover of a book called Quilting, and the words "Essays and exercises for creative exploration. Back the book on Kickstarter from Nine Ten Publications."

Ad description: Cover of the book Sheep, Shepherd & Land, and the words, "THE book about Canadian Wool, by Anna Hunter. Photos by Christel Lanthier. Buy now."

When an artist conceives of a large body of work, it can be helpful to have a structure to constrain the project. A number, a list, or perhaps, the alphabet. Shelly Nicolle-Phillips’s Prairie Alphabet Project is tied closely to a place, and is in that way related to Canadian artist Ted Harrison’s A Northern Alphabet, where vibrant images of northern life relate to each letter of the alphabet. With Shelly’s textile alphabet, we learn about the animals and plants of the threatened grasslands ecosystem of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta while admiring the vibrant pictures depicted in the rug hooked pieces.

Violet In Progress

The clubfoot violet panel in progress. The fritillary butterfly relies on the violet for its habitat.

I don’t remember how I first stumbled on Shelly’s Instagram account, though it was probably the result of a connection I made through Digits & Threads. The first piece I saw drew me in—the rich textures and colours of wool fabric loops made the image of a flower, and a bold black letter in a script font gave a hint of its name. And Shelly’s caption told the story of plant and animal connections in an environment that is largely unfamiliar to me but such an important part of the Canadian ecological and cultural landscape. After following Shelly’s posts for a while, I reached out to her to find out more. We corresponded via email and had a great video chat.

All photos courtesy Shelly Nicholle-Phillips.

Digits & Threads Is a Member-Supported Independent Online Magazine

The articles, tutorials and patterns we publish about Canadian fibre and textile arts, crafts and industry are made possible by our members.

Copyright © Sarah Thornton except as indicated.
Sarah Thornton head shot

About Sarah Thornton

Sarah Thornton is a connector - she loves bringing people and ideas together, especially over local fibres and foods. When not teaching college Biology labs, she knits, spins, designs, teaches, and occasionally weaves in her new studio space on Vancouver Island. She's also a cyclist, skier, hiker, and gardener! Find her patterns and classes at and @sarsbarknits on Instagram.

Related Posts

Learning Through a Lifetime

Learning Through a Lifetime

Designer and instructor Kim McBrien Evans on how she challenges herself to keep learning and growing. Kim shares some of her most powerful and exciting learning experiences, as well as a few of her favourite creativity prompts!

Get 10% off!

Join our mailing list to get special Studio Membership pricing! PLUS hear about new Digits & Threads content and community news.

Subscription success! Well done, you.