The Mother’s Day Project

War is Personal

Mother’s Day 2009


In our corner of the globe, Mother’s Day arrives at the same time as spring’s most exhuberant bursting forth.  The further north one lives, the more dramatic the show.  Here the greening and flowering and radiant spring light seem to transform our world overnight.  So much promise.  It takes an act of will to stop ourselves long enough to look back and recall the dark months of the past.

The war in Iraq is now in its sixth year with the future of the country and its people as indistinct as ever.  As our troops prepare for an eventual withdrawal, sectarian violence appears to be on the rise.  And, without having had a clear mission for our invasion of Iraq in 2003, it is difficult to measure the effect of our presence in ways other than citing grim casualty statistics.

The mission of The Mother’s Day Project is to encourage a focus that extends beyond those statistics.  Yes, we have focused our attention on female casualties, but every man, woman and child who has died, and those who are still dying in Iraq, belong to us.

The worst crime we can commit is the crime of forgetting.  We stitch letters which become names which become pictures and stories and connections to the sons and daughters and mothers and fathers that are no different from ourselves.  We stitch together the young woman from Iowa who dies trying to help the men and women of Diyala Province in Iraq and know we are all the same.

Despite this season’s happy amnesia, we remember.

Project One Complete


Almost two years to the day from the launch of the Mother’s Day Project, I am pleased to announce the completion of Project One with this brief photo essay.

Since making the decision to abandon the original tote bag design, I’ve struggled with different methods and ideas for joining and bordering the two panels that comprise this first phase of the project.  Habu Textiles to the rescue.  Based on nothing more than a web photo and basic description, I ordered several skeins of a pineapple-related plant fiber called “fique.”  The dark, reddish-brown color and fiber stiffness were perfectly suited for a simple crocheted border.  I hope those of you who contributed to this phase of the MDP agree.

Now, the work of finding a permanent home for this completed project begins in earnest.  Many of you have submitted suggestions and they will all be carefully explored and considered.

Until a permanent home is found, the responsibility of caring for the embroidered names you have so generously contributed rests with me.  If you have a group of people interested in learning more about MDP and viewing the work in person, please let me know.  I am physically located in southeastern Wisconsin, but am willing to travel and work with interested groups anywhere.




The Mother’s Day Project Evolves

Although the Mother’s Day Project began a little over a year ago, I think of Mother’s Day as an anniversary marker for the journey that began in the spring of 2007.

It was a simple idea.  We would, all of us, join together to honor the mothers, daughters, wives and lovers – the female members of the Coalition forces who had died in service to their country while fighting in Iraq.  We would stitch their names onto swatches of muslin, and I would complete the process by fashioning a simple tote bag from the stitched names to circulate amongst ourselves as a reminder of the ongoing conflict and the many thousands of dead men, women and children whose names are either unknown or too numerous to fit onto a portable memorial like a tote.

But, something happened along the way.  Many, if not most artistic concepts evolve and change over time.  Different paths make their presence known.  The light shifts, illuminating new possibilities.  As someone who is most accustomed to working alone, I seldom take note of these changes in direction.  They are part of the artistic process.  A given.

However, with so many individuals participating in The Mother’s Day Project (nearly 200 of you!) the weight of responsibility to stay true to my original concept for this project is something I have taken quite seriously.  I am therefore more than a bit nervous about announcing some changes, but also excited at some new possibilities and pathways that have evolved from the original idea.


The final phase of The Mother’s Day Project will not be a tote bag that circulates among the contributing stitchers.  The construction of the first complete panel of embroidered names has become a work of collage, layers of fabric and hand-applied beading and embroidery that is simply not well-suited to use as any type of bag.  It’s too fragile, too physically heavy and, most importantly . . .

It’s too weighted with emotional significance to release into the world with no guaranty that each home it entered would provide the protection it deserves for the sacred object it has become.  Sacred, because of all of your individual contributions that are now joined together into a whole.

I’ve come to realize (perhaps more slowly than I should have) that this project – in its entirety – has taken on the weight of a memorial with a capital “M.”  It simply would not be fair to the memory of those whose names we’ve stitched, nor to those of you who have contributed to the project to allow the work to be lost in the mail or destroyed or damaged by accident or neglect.  Perhaps it was idiotic on my part, but I did not foresee the project coming together in this way, with this amount of significance.

Your Help is Needed

The question now becomes, how to alter this final phase of the project and still honor the spirit of the original idea?  It is imperative to me that the final work, the collaborative end point of this journey be placed in a publicly accessible site such as a museum, or a traveling exhibit.

Many of you are artists yourselves.  Others have ties to various branches of the military.  All of you have invested energy and emotion in this project.  I am asking you to give some thought to places in your community, or exhibitions and museums you have knowledge of where this finished project might find a permanent home.  Write to me.  Give me a contact name if you have one.  I will do the follow-up.

I would also like to hear from you about other ideas for carrying on the original concept.  Should commercially produced canvas tote bags be imprinted with photos of the finished project and provided to each of the stitchers?  Would you prefer a photo of the name you stitched as a personal memento?

Please let me know your thoughts.

And, today, as you celebrate Mother’s Day with your children, your mother and all the women who have played a significant role in your life, I know you will be joining me in remembering everyone who has lost someone in the Iraq War.  Hold them in your hearts and continue to work for peace.

Knitters Rock

Back in February, I had the opportunity to participate in something called Charity Night at the Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat in Tacoma, Washington. There, in front of an audience of perhaps 300 knitters, I talked about The Mother’s Day Project, read from letters I have received and showed a five minute video of some of the name swatches gathered from the nearly 180 project participants.

Since I don’t solicit donations for the MDP, I designated two nonprofit groups to receive any donations that audience members felt inclined to give: Iraq Coalition Casualty Count (for the important and necessary work they do to collect and analyze statistical information about the Iraq War, the numbers of dead, wounded, missing, etc.) and Heifer International (for their practical gifts of livestock and other domesticated animals to impoverished people and families around the globe to assist them in becoming self reliant and to develop sustainable communities).

I’ve always known that knitters, as a group, are the kind of people I want to hang with. They’re funny, often irreverently so, usually pretty darn smart (’cause we have to do all that math and visual charting stuff, to say nothing of the advanced hand-eye coordination skills which indicates good left/right brain development) and they’re generous.

Actually, generous does not seem an adequate description for what happened on Charity Night.

Nearly $1,000 was collected for my two nonprofit entities, which included more than enough to purchase a “Knitting Basket” from Heifer International, and a total of $6,645 was raised and shared between all of the charitable organizations with representatives on the stage with me that night.


I’m humbled in your presence.

Tote Preview

Sorry, to keep you waiting so long. The first tote bag is in the construction phase and I’m happy to present you with this preview and short update on the project.

There is still a ways to go since most of the remaining construction – adding more names, incorporating the extra stitchery some of you provided and building upon the layers of collage with embroidery, beading and other embellishment – is all done by hand. However, I’ve made a lot of progress in just the past couple of weeks.

Also, I wish to thank the organizers of the Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat in Tacoma, Washington, for giving me the opportunity to present a short description and video about The Mother’s Day Project at their annual gathering last weekend. The response was overwhelmingly positive and resulted in being able to raise funds for Iraq Coalition Casualty Count and Heifer International. My sincere thanks to everyone who donated money and/or took the time to speak with me personally. I appreciate your heartfelt responses and your support.

One side of tote with approximately half of total names in place

Close up of embellished section

Another close up

Opposite side of tote bag ready for names to be attached

Hope you enjoyed seeing what I’ve been up to. Thank you, everyone, for your lovely stitching and written notes which continue to inspire me daily.

Spc. Ashley Sietsema

Ashley Sietsema, 20, a member of the Illinois Army National Guard serving Operation Iraqi Freedom, died November 12th in Kuwait City. She died of injuries suffered in a one vehicle crash when the ambulance she was driving overturned.

Her life was full of promise, her family and friends said. She married Max Sietsema in April. She had been enrolled at Northern Illinois University prior to being deployed, and hoped to become a nurse.

Ashley Sietsema is the 100th female Coalition soldier to die as a result of serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Christine Ndururi

Spc. Christine Ndururi, 21, died November 5th while enroute to Iraq. According to the Massachusetts Eagle Tribune:

Army Spc. Christine Ndururi of Massachusetts called her family Monday morning to give them the news that her first overseas deployment would be to Kuwait and then Iraq.

The next day the Department of Defense announced that the 21-year-old soldier died of a “non-combat related illness” at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

The family is still waiting for an explanation about how she died.

The public affairs office at Fort Hood, Texas — where Ndururi was assigned to the 4th Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment — released no further details about the death. Spokeswoman Nancy Bourget said it remains “under investigation.”

“She has not been sick,” Ndururi’s father, Wilson Wachira, 45, said yesterday at the family’s home at 46 Woodbine Path. “I’m waiting for them to tell me what happened. She was not ill, unless she was ill after 9 o’clock when she talked to her mother. Before she was deployed there, she had to have a medical checkup.”

Ndururi, an automated logistical specialist, called her mother at 9 a.m. Monday from a pay phone in Rhode Island to tell her about her assignment.

Then the parents heard from the military at 9 a.m. on Tuesday that their daughter was dead.

“To me, she was OK,” said her mother, Mary Mwaniki, 45, recalling the last time she spoke to her daughter. The conversation didn’t last long. Mwaniki, a nursing aide, was at work. She told her daughter to call back, but she never did.

Ndururi enlisted in the Army reserves while a high school senior, her father said. The family moved to Massachusetts from Kenya when she was 16.