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In Infancy – a crossdisciplinary research study on wrapping blankets

Wrapping a stillborn child is not a new phenomenon. It is an integral part of primary healthcare where each pregnancy and childbirth clinic has its own established routines. Today emphasis is placed on attachment and bonding - parents are encouraged to see their child and take their farewells. The study and the exhibition In Infancy (I sin linda) show a changing approach.

Birgitta Nordström, textile artist and lecturer at HDK - Academy of Design and Crafts at University of Gothenburg, started studying the subject in 2010:

"Certain questions, and things that happen to us, leave a deep imprint in our lives. And this is what happened to me when I was asked to weave small wrapping cloths for children who die during pregnancy or delivery. I then asked myself: What should these textiles look like? What should the texture feel like in one’s hand?"

She began to hand weave the wrapping cloths in wool, silk and cotton – all with their own expression, and tried different colours. In the end different shades of white or unbleached threads appeared the most comforting.

"These wrapping cloths had an important task to perform in a difficult situation where words maybe fail those involved. Could the weave talk and act as words – by touching it and looking at it?", Birgitta Nordström asked herself.

In an attempt to examine this question, a booklet was produced and the wrapping cloths were shown in a number of exhibitions. This made her get in touch with parents who had experienced the loss of a child, as well as the staff in hospitals. Gradually it was time for to take the next step, which was to let the wrapping cloths be tested in practice.

"The material I choosed was designed to be industrially produced. From the basic material that was industrial woven I cut cloths that were of two sizes. I then sewed a hem on them with the help of silk or flax threads that marked a little line where the material was allowed to fray – as a simple, final touch. Frayed and incomplete – of wool and cotton – so as to hold, to give a sense of warmth, and to absorb."

The infant wrapping cloths and sheets are delivered to pregnancy and childbirth clinics that are part of the study, and are used as the midwife finds appropriate and according to the wishes of parents. The wrapping cloths do not involve any cost for the hospitals in question, but are a gift to parents. After a wrapping cloth has been used in cases of death, this is then documented by the staff involved – by them filling in a clinical report form. The questions here touch upon what staff have experienced and observed, as well as them reporting how the wrapping cloths have been used. There are also questions related to the size and characteristics of the textiles chosen.

The work and research that was once carried out by Birgitta Nordström alone has now come to be a process that she share with students, colleagues and friends in a Weaving Research Group at the HDK – Academy of Design and Crafts, University of Gothenburg. Most of the wrapping blankets are woven in pairs – where one is saved for the exhibition, and the other is delivered to pregnancy and childbirth clinics. Warping, heddling, pulling the thread, making a new warp, weaving, looking for material and new colours, cutting down, hemming, washing and felting into blanket texture and into the requested size. Maybe adding a few stitches – or not. Cutting loose ends. And last but not least - sewing a little sheet that is to accompany the wrapping blanket. 

"To embrace, to hold and to wrap are the words that lead us – as we weave on the same loom, and encourage each other on by saying: let’s weave – and let us weave the loveliest we can.", Birgitta Nordström says.

The study will run over a period of approximately one year, and the result is to be published in a descriptive report. 

The exhibition In Infancy (I sin linda) is shown at Småland Museum until October 29. 

Members of Clinical Research Group: Marie Berg, Professor/Midwife, Institute of Health and Care Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Siv Lindbratt Börjes, Doctor of Dental Surgery, Medrconsulting AB, Birgitta Nordström, Senior Lecturer/ Textile Artist, HDK – Academy of Design and Crafts, University of Gothenburg

Members of the Weaving Research Group: SaraMy Bernetoft, Marianne Davidsson, Anna Eklind, Sofie Karlsson, Hanna Larsson, Subani Melin, Terese Molin, Birgitta Nordström, Gunnel Sthen, Barbro Wingstrand