Tag: Subversive Stitching

‘Desconocidos,’ for The Migrant Quilt Project

‘Desconocidos,’ for The Migrant Quilt Project

Desconocidos, Tucson Sector, 2015-2016, 94” x 61” by Mary Vaneecke, 2017.

About the Work

This piece was commissioned by The Migrant Quilt Project to honor and call attention to those who died crossing the border in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.  It is made in part with clothing discarded at the border by migrants.  The Project commissions a quilt each year, and the quilt must have the names of those whose have died while crossing, or, in the case of unidentified bodies, the word desconocido (unknown or stranger in Spanish).  It was an honor to make this piece with Julia Moore, a high school intern who worked with me this winter.  TMQP has received a grant for travelling exhibitions of these quilts beyond Tucson.  Watch my blog for the next venue.

At the corner of East 15th Street and Kino Blvd. in Tucson is a monumental equestrian statue of Fr. Eusebio Francisco Kino.  He was the first European to come to the area.  He is, in a sense, our first border crosser.  The statue (by Julian Martinez) looms large above the intersection and for years, I confess, I have wanted to quilt bomb it with an immigration theme.  I am not sure how that is possible without access to a cherry picker.  Not so subtle!   I  made a transparent silhouette of the statue to incorporate into this piece.  The quilt also features a Virgin of Guadalupe, a marijuana-themed bandanna, and 400 pesos (which I found secreted into the hems of two pairs of jeans).  Money and drug cartels frequently prompt these attempted crossings.

The Numbers

The numbers for Desconocidos The Migrant Quilt Project this year?  One hundred forty-four deaths.  The identified are aged 18-51 years.  Ten women, 128 men, 6 unknown.  Three are teenagers.

Techniques and Materials

Materials:  fusing, clothing, synthetic sheers, thread, canvas, felt.

Techniques:  Burning, machine quilting, fusing, embellishing, image transfer.

Desconocido, detail
Desconocidos by Mary Vaneecke, detail
Desconocidos by Mary Vaneecke, detail showing fabric that has been partially burned away
Desconocidos, by Mary Vaneecke, detail.
Desconocidos, by Mary Vaneecke, detail.

No Censorship at THIS quilt show!

The Tucson Quilters Guild Quilt Fiesta! 2017 is all over, but this one was even more interesting that usual for me. One of the show co-chairs confided in me that my entry Abuela Reads the Headlines caused some controversy at the quilt show.  Apparently at least two people asked that it be removed from the show show.  Here is a pic of the piece:

quilt by Mary Vaneecke
Abuela Reads the Headlines, 55” x 84”

I believe the controversial part is the 2015 headlines from mainstream media that appear on the quilt.  They are:

U.S. looks to detain more mother, child migrants, sometimes for months


Judge blasts ICE, says immigrant children, parents in detention centers should be released


Border detention of children shames America

And, what is for me, the kicker:

Cribs replace bunks at new immigrant detention center

But my quilt was not the only one to cause a stir.  My friend Sandy Lambert had an incredible piece called ‘Lest We Forget.’  It is entirely hand quilted and embroidered with quotations by Republican presidential candidates, along with tombstones with the various dates of their campaigns’ demise.

quilt by Sandy Lambert
Lest We Forget, by Sandy Lambert.


Lest We Forget, by Sandy Lambert, detail.


Lest We Forget, by Sandy Lambert, detail

Several people confronted the show co-chair, Reilly Zoda and asked (perhaps demanded?) that the quilts be removed from the show due to their political content.  She said that there was a Quilt of Valor at the show (and that was a political quilt), and a patriotic Baltimore Album quilt, and that was political, and if the show was going to censor political quilts, they would have to take them all down.  What a brilliant response.

I am so proud that the show chairs refused to remove the ‘offending’ quilts.   They were courageous in refusing to censor free expression at the show.  We all know women have long expressed their hopes, dreams, and political beliefs in quilts, and the Tucson Quilters’ Guild honored that part of our tradition this weekend.  The actions of the TQG stand in stark contrast the actions of the AQS over a quilt by Kathy Nida.  (If you are unfamiliar with the case, google it, or click here, here, and here.)

Our foremothers would be proud!

I am holding my breath, however.  I fear that this will be a hot topic at the next board meeting, and there may be a new policy in place for next year….  I will keep you posted.

I know from experience that the guild will hear 10 negative comments for each positive one.  If you agree with their decision to allow ‘political’ quilts in the show, please let them know!

Subversive Stitching is Alive and Well in San Jose

I just had to tell you all about my all-to-brief trip to the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.  I was invited to give my artist talk, Confessions of a Subversive Stitcher, on the closing weekend of Art Cloth Network’s Anything Goes show.  My fellow ACN member Connie Tiegel picked me up at the airport–and brought cake for the reception!  I had never been to the museum, and I was so eager to see how it compares to some of the other quilt museums I have been to.

The first thing I noticed was the space.  The galleries are incredible!  There are multiple large galleries with great lighting, and tall, tall ceilings.  They highlighted another show, THE CALIFORNIA ART QUILT REVOLUTION: FROM THE SUMMER OF LOVE TO THE NEW MILLENNIUM.  That show included work from Kathleen Sharp, who currently resides in my hometown, Tucson.  The show was an eye opener for me.  Did you know, for instance, that subversive stitchers were quilting with dryer lint back in the 70s and 80s? I did not know that!

I was able to tag along on a tour the Curator of Collections Nancy Bavor gave of the ‘back room.’  We saw lots of acid-free boxes neatly labeled with accession numbers and such and learned the rare circumstances under which a piece can be de-accessioned.  There was an area where all incoming textiles were quarantined for 2 weeks before being unpacked.  Why?  Bugs!  Nancy looks for any evidence of insects that could infest the rest of the collection before they can do any damage. Who knew? Nancy is also a quilt historian, and was kind enough to compliment me on my knowledge of quilt history.  It’s an important part of my talk, so I was relieved to hear it.

Curator of Collections Nancy Bavor and I chat at the closing reception of Anything goes at the SJMQT.

The Executive Director, Joan Phillips, is delightful.  She is so enthusiastic about the museum’s greater focus on art quilts, including political works.  The museum has big plans and is growing, it now has its second artist-in-residence, Cristina Velazquez.  I met her was able to see some of her knitted work.  Check her out on Instragram here.

Anything Goes looked fabulous in person.  The next best thing is to click on the link and see the show digitally.  Its next stop is the Kirkland Arts Center in Clinton, NY. Be there, or be square!

Let us eat cake!



Yes, I Have Been Mending

Yes, I Have Been Mending

My latest art quilt, Yes, I Have Been Mending was inspired by 2 ideas.  One is Hazel Hall’s poem, Mending. I recently discovered her poetry through Poets.org’s Poem-a-Day program.  It is great to have a poem delivered to my in-box every day.  I don’t always read it, but it is there!  Hall used stitch imagery in several of her poems, so I was delighted to read her work.

The second idea that inspired me was the visible mending trend.   It’s a lot like it sounds, but check out the link or Pinterest for some examples.   ‘Yes, I Have Been Mending’ uses several gorgeous layers of hand-dyed silks, which I layered with eco-felt.  And then I took an Exacto knife and sand paper to it to create holes.  A bit of a travesty, but that is part of the poem!  I then patched the red quilt with green thread and some more hand-dyed silks.

My favorite line in Mending is the last.  The complete text of the poem is below:


Here are old things:
Fraying edges,
Ravelling threads;
And here are scraps of new goods,
Needles and thread,
An expectant thimble,
A pair of silver-toothed scissors.
Thimble on a finger,
New thread through an eye;
Needle, do not linger,
Hurry as you ply.
If you ever would be through
Hurry, scurry, fly!
Here are patches,
Felled edges,
Darned threads,
Strengthening old utility,
Pending the coming of the new.
Yes, I have been mending …
But also,
I have been enacting
A little travesty on life.


art quilt 'Yes, I Have Been Mending,' 2016, 38'' x 23.5''
‘Yes, I Have Been Mending,’ 2016, 38” x 23.5”


'Yes, I Have Been Mending,' detail
‘Yes, I Have Been Mending,’ detail


America Surrounded

America Surrounded70” x 65”  This piece is my re-interpretation of the traditional Revolutionary War-era quilt block, Burgoyne Surrounded.  I updated it by replacing the traditional square grid with a triangular grid and using paint, printing, and discharging techniques instead of traditional piecing.  Made from cotton fabrics, discharged, painted and screen printed, layered with felt and machine stitched.

Fragment – SOLD

Fragment38”x 32” This piece is inspired by an ancient Egyptian fragment of carved and painted stone.  It depicts a wetland teeming with life.  Techniques include discharged and torn fabric, layered, machine stitched, and hand painted. The gray area is exposed and painted batting.  Embellished with silk ribbon.  SOLD

The Fabric of Our Community After January 8 – SOLD

The Fabric of Our Community
The Fabric of Our Community After January 8, 24 x 24'' SOLD

This is my artistic response to the Tucson shootings.  Techniques include shibori discharging, image transfer, layering with hand and machine stitching.  Embellished with Indonesian silk cocoons.  Stretched on a wooden frame.