The headline was shocking: American babies are 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than babies in other rich countries.  The United States’ infant mortality rate is the highest in the developed world.  That statistic shocked me.  It’s a form of American exceptionalism we Americans don’t like to think about.  As the Washington Post put it, Our Infant Mortality is a National Embarrassment.

I thought about the parents of those little ones, whose crushing loss–losing a child before their first birthday–is immeasurable. The loss is emotional, financial, and devastates marriages and families.  The cost of 23,000 infant deaths on our country is unimaginable.

The loss cuts deeper because infant mortality is a problem we understand pretty clearly.  It is not Democrat or Republican, Red State or Blue state.  It’s not about who is President.  The causes of infant mortality and solutions to it are well known.  It is a problem other countries have solved.  And it is something we have ignored.

As a visual artist, I believe in the power of art to change hearts, minds, behavior, and the world.  Think about the famous AIDS Quilt, a community art project commemorating the loss of more than 80,000 lives.  By ‘drawing’ a picture of a problem, we can see and feel the enormity of it.  Our country, our leaders, and lawmakers need to see exactly what infant mortality looks like in America.

My vision for is that each of the infants lost in a given year will be remembered with a unique, handmade, heartfelt little elegy.   I am asking the fiber art community to come together to make 23,000+ pairs of baby booties.  This is the number of American infants who die every year.

Whether sewn, knitted, felted, woven, or crocheted, I am asking for donations of handmade baby shoes in the colors of mourning:  black, white, and gray.  Gathered together, these small elegies will literally paint a compelling picture too big to ignore: a 38′ by 38′ image of a heart with baby feet inside.  This image requires 14,000 pairs of white booties alone.  I love the way this installation plan is like the problem of infant mortality itself:  we all need to contribute to solve this ‘puzzle.’

If you feel strongly about this issue, you may become one of only 225 Panelists, those who collect 100 pairs of booties to create part of the design of the overall project.   If you wish to become a Panelist (you are awesome!), contact me at to get your piece of the picture.  Panels should be completed and mailed by April 1, 2020.  If you can’t commit to a panel, make at least 10 white pairs of booties, and send them to me.  Tell you friends and ask them to help.  Make your booties in memory of a lost child.

Each one of the 23,000 pairs of booties is one pixel of the 38′ by 38′ overall design. Each square of the grid represents 100 pairs of booties. Volunteers will create each panel, which will be a critical piece in the overall puzzle of solving infant mortality in this country.

Here is where we are to date.  Our work will be both a visual reminder of a national tragedy, and what we can do about it.

I can’t do this alone.  Are you with me?

Mary Vaneecke

The Mourning Project is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.  Contributions for the charitable purposes of The Mourning Project must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.  Cash donations are not deductible. To make an online donation, go to

July 31, 2021 Zoom class to learn bootie-making.

Click here to learn all the ways you can get involved.

Click here to become a Panelist.

Click here for answers to Frequently Asked Questions about

Click here for the latest news.

Click here to help spread the word online and in person.

Click here for links to free baby bootie patterns.

Click here to learn more about the US infant mortality problem and solutions.

Click here for the Baby Bootie Permissions Form and Instructions.

Click here if you want to host a baby bootie making party!

Click here for a Brief Talking Points handout about infant mortality.

Are you a yarn or fabric store owner?  Click here.

Click here if you need support in grieving the loss of a child.

How many baby booties have we raised to date?  Click here.  

Get your swag!

Click here for a link to make a donation via our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas.

Click here and join The Mourning Project’s Ravelry group!

Click here to like the Facebook Page.



heart image courtesy of

7 thoughts on “

  1. This project is a labor of love, truly! I made my first pair a couple of years ago and dedicated those to my firstborn grandchild, Jake, who lived just 6 days in the NICU. And I got hooked on making these little elegies to memorialize other grandmas babies.
    I’ve found if I work in batches of booties, say a dozen all alike, it sets up a rhythm. And then, putting the finishing touch on each pair Nd sending them off to Mary is very satisfying.

  2. Hi Mary,
    I’ll make a pair of booties. I’ll also take this information to our art quilt group here in Santa Fe. I, too, was appalled by the infant mortality statistics in the US. In truth, we have a less effective health care system than many other “developed” countries and this is one of the results. I have to be in Houston during Quilt Festival. My husband is having surgery at MDAnderson. Being able to attend Quilt Festival is the silver lining of spending a month in Houston. I hope to see you there.

    1. Thanks so much Mary Jo! I plan to be in Houston to promote this project, so let us plan to connect before then. I hope all goes well with the surgery. And thanks for supporting the project! There is lots of great ways to share the project, online and in person. Be sure to check out the ‘Downloadables and Sharable’ documents under tab.

Leave a Reply to Gerry Murano Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

four × 3 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.