Hidden Mother/ Nursing Initation Cloak

Hidden Mother Nursing Initiation Cloak & Spit-up Stain Artefact 


This project was my introduction to cut-work embroidery and began as a “sampler” as I experimented with different patterns and mastered the technique of cutwork.  I wanted to learn cut-work embroidery because I had recently inherited a series of cut-work linen table cloths that my great-grandmother Julia had embroidered in the diaspora.  The tablecloth being an important item in terms of the ritual of setting the table,  the gathering place of the family every Friday night for Shabbat dinner.  


I used cotton nursing blankets as the ground for my cut-work embroidery.  As I was thinking through pattern development, I liked the idea of using spit-up stains as the basis for my pattern.  As an abstract painter, I liked the idea of using randomness and accident as the starting point for a new pattern.  The embroidery and cutting away of stained areas also creates a narrative around motherhood and nursing and the shame associated with stains and being an imperfect mother. Jenni Sorkin’s essay:  Stain: On Cloth, Stigma and Shame informed my thinking about the role of stain in conveying meaning.  While Nava Waxman’s cutwork embrodery into stains on paintings also influenced my understanding of the gendered associations around stain, embodiment and labour.  I also reference the Japanese method of Sashiko stitching, which is connected to notions around beautifying areas of imperfection and weakness and re-inforcing worn areas and holes in garments.  


I eventually stitched multiple nursing blankets together to form a patchwork quilt that operates as a garment, that can be worn over the head of the new mother. The garment is full of random patterns and holes that simultaneously conceal and reveal the mother’s body and face.  This speaks to the contradictory combination of vulnerability, exposure and invisibility simultaneously felt by the new mother, particularly when nursing in a public space.


In this work I’m also referencing Victorian Hidden Mother photography, a practice in which mother’s were draped in sheets so that they could be concealed while they hold their children as they are photographed with long exposure cameras. 

The covering of the  body with a quilted “baby” table cloth suggests the importance of the mother’s body as the centre of their childs nourishment in the same way that the table cloth is the central gathering place of the family’s nourishment.  At the same time, the covering of the mother, suggests the self sacrifice and subsuming of her personal space and identity that occurs in the nurturing/ care-giving role for a new born.  


The shadows created by the holes on the body, as well as the general ghostly appearance that is created while wearing the garment, reference the spirit realm and the inheritance of ancestral gifts and rituals  as well as traumas and histories.  


This garment can function as both a wearble garment and a stand alone scupture that can be exhibited in a traditional gallery setting, through the use of suspension.