March 02, 2017

Arts in Medicine Program Offers Healing of a Different Kind

March 2, 2017

Artist-in-Residence Lillis Taylor teaches quilting to patients and families in UAB's Women and Infants Center as part of UAB's Institute for Arts in Medicine.

Stitch with AIM

This month, UAB’s Arts in Medicine program is partnering with Bib & Tucker Sew-Op for The March Quilts project. This is the third year of The March Quilts project, a community art project that sheds light on a theme of human or civil rights through open sewing sessions where members of Bib & Tucker Sew-Op facilitate the making of quilt blocks. Participants gather and discuss aspects of the theme and then create compositions that express their feelings about the theme. Blocks are appliquéd or embroidered, and all materials are supplied at the sessions. No sewing experience is necessary.

The theme this year is the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Loving v. Virginia, which knocked down that state’s anti-miscegenation laws, setting a course for the rest of the country.

In its first year, the project collected more than 460 blocks made by the community and turned them into three quilts. The theme was the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches. One quilt hung in Selma and the other two in Montgomery for the week of March 25. The second year’s theme was gender pay equity, with special focus on the story of Lilly Ledbetter, whose lawsuit against her employer led to the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009.

AIM will host a workshop at the UAB Women and Infants Center, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Monday, March 6, in the center’s second-floor atrium.

A show of quilts from all three years is set to take place on Loving Day, June 12. For more information or to stay connected to the project, visit the Bib & Tucker Sew-Op Facebook page or the group’s website for the events. A full list of sewing sessions is online at
The secret to drawing a koala bear, Lillis Taylor says, “is always starting with the nose.”

Ms. Taylor is Artist-in Residence in the UAB Institute for Arts in Medicine, the first and only program of its kind in Alabama. The program is a partnership between UAB Medicine and The Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center.

Ms. Taylor leads an embroidery class in the High-Risk Obstetrics unit in the UAB Women and Infants Center. Before class begins, she pulls out a thick binder of what she jokingly calls “tattoo designs.” The simple drawings provide ideas and inspiration for parents who attend classes. Ms. Taylor draws the designs onto small square fabric panels, then teaches class participants how to stitch the lines of the drawing with embroidery thread.

The classes offer a place for parents to focus on a simple, almost meditative task, relieving the intense anxiety of waiting to give birth – which can mean a lengthy hospital stay for mom – or having an infant in the High-Risk Obstetrics unit, which can also mean a lengthy stay for baby.

“It not only takes your mind off stuff up here, it takes your mind off everything,” says Linda Sargent, whose daughter was born prematurely at 24½ weeks. On the day of this particular class, Ms. Sargent’s daughter, Mallory, has grown to 6 lbs. 8 oz., and Ms. Sargent is looking forward to taking her home after three long months.

During the months of hospitalization, Ms. Sargent has embroidered a gingerbread man for an ornament, and completed several squares to make a quilt.

Ms. Taylor shows another new mom how to begin. “You want this to be taut like a drum,” she says as she demonstrates how to put the fabric panel in the embroidery hoop.

Activities like this can have a tremendous impact on the emotional wellbeing of patients and family members. Research shows that patients participating in programs such as AIM require shorter hospital stays, less medication, and have fewer complications. Kimberly Kirklin, Director of Education Curation, says, “We’ve found that not only is it about a product – because they love to have the product at the end – but it’s also about what happens during that process and during that journey.”

Because the embroidery lessons are provided in a class setting, patients and family members can find comfort being around other people in similar circumstances, Ms. Kirklin says.

“Not only are they able to focus on the actual artwork, but they’re in a group environment, so it’s a safe space for them to share with other moms and dads the experience that they’re going through.”

Over the past year, AIM has served more than 12,000 patients, their family members, staff and visitors. AIM includes both interactive and passive arts experiences, which can include bedside and workshop activities or performances and visual arts installations in public spaces. Arts opportunities are provided for patients, caregivers, and clinical staff in several UAB Medicine units.

For information about supporting Arts in Medicine: Lili D. Anderson, Senior Director of Development,; 205-934-6196.