Birth Tear 3

© Judy Chicago 1984 DMC floss on silk, 14" x 19.5"

From The Birth Project, design by Judy Chicago.  Embroidery by Rae and Kate Cloud-Sparks.  This piece evokes a lot of emotion, and I hesitated somewhat putting it here.  The thumbnail at left links to a larger version, if you wish to see it.

I don’t know how she got involved with this, actually, but Rae did have lots of friends in both Femiist and Artistic circles, so it is not that suprizing that she would know of Judy Chicago, and the Dinner Party.  I remember that she was excited by the fact that the Dinner Party had embroidery featured in it, as well as the ceramic place settings.  So when the call went around to find folks to help create the Birth Project, she and friend Kate Cloud-Sparks got involved.  Rae worked on it while we lived in Ames, Kate in Iowa City, and they both finished it in Madison, if I remember right.  While in Iowa City, Rae worked with the Emma Goldman Clinic for Women, and was an apprentice Midwife.  Ethan was to be born at home, but when she was 3 weeks late, the Midwives got nervous, the doctors talked us into a hospital birth.  Not very pleasant.  The women in her family all took longer to come to term, her mom used to joke that she had the gestation period of a horse.  So we braved it for Casey’s birth, and that went just fine.  Obviously from this image, and many of the otehrs in the series, Judy Chicago had a somewhat different view of birth.

Rae had done embroidery since her grandma taught her as a young child.  She made some samplers, some really cool designs on a pair of jeans I used to have, and often included embroideries in patchwork quilts.  The techniques she used in this piece developed ofer time, and she describes it as “painting with floss”.

Close up of stitching detail.

From the book produced of the entire Birth Project show:

“This piece was executed jointly by these two stitchers.  Rae did the blended outline stitching in a variation of the long and short stitch.  The blending was achieved through her unique use of as many as seven needles at a time.  Kate used a long and short interlocking chain or satin stitch on the body, working back and forth over the surface.  She used the thread to suggest anatomical forms, as she wanted the arms to show muscle strain.”

Judy Chicago wrote, in the Birth Project book, page 86:
“There are three embroidered versions of the Birth Tear, and each one is quite different.  I hand-drew the images onto silk for the pieces executed by Jane Gaddie Thompson (preceding page) and (jointly) by Rae Atira-Soncea and Kate Cloud-Sparks (right).  The embroidery by Etta Hallock (far right), was begun very early in the project; Etta transferred the black and white pattern I gave her to fabric herself, which makes the quality of the drawing quite different.  I specified the thread colors for all three pieces and did color studies for the piece embroidered by Rae and Kate.”

From Rae:
“Working on this piece and dealing with the energy radiating from this woman, who is obviously torn, made me work through what my hospital birth was like, what my home birth was like, and how birth is dealt with in this country.”

While this piece is technically not one of hers, I know she was proud to work with the other “needleworkers”, to be part of a large collaborative effort.  And I’m sure the experience helped build confidence toward accomplishing other projects that involved slow, meticulous detail.  She knew that the work did finally result in a finished product.  Like the Bridget piece, and the Guadeloupe.

Floss and scissors hanging from embroidery frame.

Sampler/Color Study

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