Mater misericordiae – mothers, grandmothers and foremothers

In my work Mater misericordiae I combined textile painting with embroidery. I played with shade stitching as a painting technique searching for gradients and contrasts. While working on this piece I reflected on grandmothers, maternal lines and Mariology. The name of the work refers to the hymn Salve Regina that is dedicated to Mary, Mother of God.


Detail picture taken while working on Mater misericordiae, 2015.

Yellow, and more yellow, the yellow phase then, I suppose.

I should stitch, I thought. I just should go on and stitch stitches one by one, right next to each other, in order to keep up the rhythm, the continuity of making. I had started developing a mixed method combining painting and embroidery and I saw that I needed to keep on doing that, even though the path that I was on seemed to run in shadows.

Earlier, I had made a small sampler trying out diverse stitches on blotches of paint. Although a sampler, I titled it as “Stains”.


In part the making of this sampler inspired me to start working on a larger canvas, but in part I was only just longing for the feel of continuous stitching. Like a runner might yearn for the rhythm of steps, I was yearning for rhythm of shade stitching.

That I now had got in touch with embroidery, I had realised the important role that the choosing of fabric for embroidery project has. To some extent, I like to compare oil painting with embroidery, in that both processes start with preparing the canvas. However, I tend to think that painting the canvas with gesso mutes the fabric. Instead, embroidery starts an interaction with the fabric that is worked on.

When I return to the choosing of fabric for this project I like to think that I maybe was looking for a feeling of safety, the same kind of that I had looked for hiding behind my grandmother’s back. She lived far away and we never had many chances to meet. Yet that one afternoon in 1980s, the nap I took, lying safe behind her back on the wooden sofa of traditional Finnish style, has been enough to leave a memory, in which are entangled not only the journeys to granny’s, the sounds and scents of her house but also the heritage of her loom.


Coffee time in grandmother’s kitchen.


In grandmother’s kitchen

So I took in my hands a towel my grandmother, Aino, had woven sometimes in 1930s or 1940s, throwing cotton weft into linen warp and using the basic twill structure. Of course, I went through a negotiation in my mind: Would I dare to make use of this fabric in my embroidery project? Am I allowed to? Am I able to? What would she, grandma Aino, say?

But I continued on my path, that hardly to be seen, I took the colour yellow and painted. “You just need to start again, you just need to go on”, I assured myself.

At the time of working on this embroidery project, I took interest in Mariology. For the love of Finnish public libraries, and out of the habit for doing bibliographic searches, I read about Mary, a saint and an ideal Christian but also an empowering character for many women. In theological interpretations the roles of Mary can nevertheless remain contradictory – mothers, also Mother of God, are often expected to be strong in tranquillity, full of mercy.

I thought about women’s craftwork, about domestic artwork, and about chains of mothers. Some years ago, my mother gave me a present: a frame with the pictures of my mother and grandmothers, a maternal line of five generations. Looking at the pictures of my foremothers I relate to the stories I have heard about them and to the times that they lived and endured. They lived through the years of dearth and growth, they saw the imperial time and the break to independence. They witnessed cruelties of wars, and they led their everyday lives with the everyday chores. I like to dwell on the thought of the run of days, sparkling with their distinctive dialect or them giving it all a plain sneer.


He came back.

Looking at old photos I can glide above the run of time and generations, but in the end I can only land in my own place in the chain. Obviously, the maternal line exceeds the times of photography and the times of parish registers, and I am left wondering about the more conceptual virtues and about the more mundane survival strategies that yielded me my position in the chain. My embroidered work Mater misericordiae is not an image of any mother as such, but the play with intensities of colour reflects the strength and power, the persistence and the mercifulness. These thoughts I laid on the towel that granma Aino wove.

Later, I heard about a call for entries for an exhibition of contemporary embroidery in Finland, the PISTOT (Stitches) exhibition. I decided to dare to try and sent my application. On a cloudy autumn day, sitting in my car on a petrol station parking area, I read in my emails that I was welcomed to join to exhibition.

“Listen, Aino, we’re taking off to the big city now!” I sent my elated greetings to the stars. I could hear her sneering back, but it seemed like light was glimmering between the curtains of those heavy clouds.


Mater misericordiae, 2015
Size of the work (incl. frame): 83cm x 56 cm
Fabric: linen-cotton (50/50), a home-woven towel cloth
Image: textile paint and cotton threads (DMC mouliné)
Technique: shade stitching by hand

The PISTOT 2018 exhibition was coordinated by Taitoliitto (Taito Group Finland) and the artworks were selected by artist Ulla Pohjola. The exhibition included works from 30 artists. Opening of the exhibition took place on 12 January 2018 at Craft Corner, Eteläesplanadi 4, Helsinki, and lasted then from 13 January to 24 February.

After Helsinki, a part of the PISTOT exhibition, including my work, was put on show in Jyväskylä, at Finland’s Craft Museum where the exhibition lasted from 6 March until 22 April 2018.

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