The ‘materiality of maternity’

mat 1 mat 2

I have just finished a fabulous book – ‘Strange Material – storytelling through textiles’ by Leanne Prain (2014). It was one of those reads that makes you say out loud, ‘Yes! I think that too!’, ‘I know exactly what you mean!’ or ‘I do that!’ It examines the role textiles play in our lives and how quilts and textile art can help us make sense of experiences, tell stories or bring us together as communities. Throughout the book there are interviews with textile artists from all around the world, some great photographs, and suggested projects for the reader. I enjoyed the topics covered too – clothing as social history, ‘rugs of resistance’ and how poetry and fabric work together. I found it a really inspiring read and consequently, it made me get out my sewing machine and return to a project I started at the end of last summer, when I found out I was pregnant…

In much the same way as I made a quilt after I submitted my PhD thesis, before my Viva exam ( ), I filled the somewhat similar liminal space between pregnancy and birth with a variety of creative endeavours. One of which was to make fabric squares that told the story of my feelings towards being pregnant, the shift in my identity, feelings towards my work and career, and document my experience with midwives and having a baby. After reading Prain’s book, I was compelled to get back to these squares and have recently started putting them together to tell this story in textiles. I have included a couple of pictures here to show my ‘work in progress’! As is common with these sorts of projects, they grow! And I have decided to tell my textile story in two parts; pregnancy and birth, and my year of maternity leave/ the first year of my baby’s life – both of which I see as periods of transition and liminality.

For me, and for other textile artists interviewed in Prain’s book, it is the ‘time it takes to stitch the piece’ that allows space and time to really think about the experience or memory. Sarah Lynn Wood (one of the artists interviewed) says that hand-stitching words ‘allowed me the time to meditate on what I was writing and confirm it in my memory’ and I feel the same – the act of creating these squares of fabric, with their stitched words, patterns and images commits the memory to something tangible. So far, I have used different colours to represent meanings and feelings, metaphors have provided useful images and I have been able to incorporate some of my drawings in the quilt by using fabric that goes through a printer – handy stuff! I also found my old wooden French Knitting Doll, and have created something that will somehow be representative of an umbilical cord – I think this might be a nice way to think about the connections you make with your baby before they are born.

So, watch this space for more details and I’ll post again as this piece of work progresses. Oh, and a thank you to my friend Fiona, who saw this interesting work and passed it on to me: and thanks too, to my friend and colleague, Jenny Hall – her midwifery quilt is both inspiring and a lovely piece of work to reflect on during my project


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