A Thread of a Different Color

I am an only child. I was usually more comfortable around adults than other children, used to the gentle progressions of conversation, safe in the shadow of my mother. My extended family was small; there were no scads of younger cousins to follow, entertain, and torture. I wasn’t used to hitching a child on my hip from a young age. When I did babysit, it was for short stints, while the mother busied herself in other parts of the house or ran to the store quickly. I was not one of those girls who had planned out the exact size and shape of her family, fixing the outcome of games of MASH. I figured the fates would sort that all out for me. I didn’t goo and gaa over pudgy, pinched faces at the grocery store. I didn’t swoon when a teacher brought a baby to visit a classroom. I was relatively unimpressed. They were little people. We all were once. Even when I was pregnant and attended a family function (on my husband’s side) where extended relatives tried to pass off babies, telling me I should practice, I declined, saying I’d be getting plenty of that soon enough. I didn’t want to hold other people’s babies; I wanted to hold my baby.

And when I held my own child, it was a different experience. Sure, I still had misgivings about my performance, about baby’s well being– as all new mothers who are finding their way do – but there was no doubt I was totally devoted to the cause. This was my baby, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones. I didn’t have to worry about breaking someone else’s child. She was all mine, totally my responsibility. I decided how to raise her and why; what to do with her and when – and most importantly, I was totally comfortable with her.

The idea of a certain mold all mothers are meant to fit into is where trouble begins. Because of the vision of motherhood society had shown me, I grew up doubting that I had the skill set and temperament to be a mother. If I had stuck with that vision and hadn’t tried motherhood, I’d have missed out on a truly life-giving, life-altering process. And the world would’ve missed out on a truly amazing kid (and two subsequent others).

This brought all this to mind.


1871 by Joe Cunningham

1871 by Joe Cunningham


Joe Cunningham is not only counterculture because he is a male quilter, but also the content of his quilts. It’s modern art on muslin, mind boggling batiks. The piece above looks to me like a full-scale photograph or an etching – and yet it’s tiny stitches that form the image. If Joe Cunningham had listened to society’s prerequisites for quilters, the art world would’ve missed his cotton canvases. Joe Cunningham’s quilts wrap my argument up in a nice, neat package, as well, because they turn a predominantly female practice, done as part of homemaking duties, on its ear.

There is room to function and flourish outside the confines of stereotypes. I can swaddle my child just as well as the “perfect” mother – even if I didn’t make the quilt myself. Each and every type of mother should craft her distinct square to add to the quilt of our calling. And our catalog should be as diverse as Joe Cunningham’s portfolio.

It is a fallacy to think that original design can only be achieved after years of training. 
Inspiration of Embroidery, Constance Howard, 1966

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1 Comment

  1. danielle

     /  May 6, 2014

    That quilt is so beautiful. Joe the quilter rocks!



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