Common Threads- The Pattern That Connects

The Pattern that Connects ,20x20cm embroidery on black cotton , 2022  Niamh Cunningham in collaboration with Dolores Cunningham 


This recent work is part of a patchwork blanket of artworks by Irish diaspora artists and artists with Irish Community links worldwide. It is made in celebration of the first Saint Brigid’s Day on Feb 1st 2023 . (Bank Holiday is on the first Monday of Feb )

The Common Threads project for St Brigid’s day celebrations 2023 is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

This work is currently exhibited at  EPIC, Irish Emigration Museum, Dublin. Feb 1-14th 2023


Below is a two minute video of making the artwork while back in Ireland . 



The Story of St Brigid and the Cloak

She approached the King of Leinster requesting the land on which to build her monastery. The place she selected in Kildare was ideal. It was near a lake where water was available, in a forest where there was firewood and near a fertile plain on which to grow crops. The King refused her request. Brigid was not put off by his refusal. Rather, she and her sisters prayed that the King’s heart would soften. She made her request again but this time she asked,“Give me as much land as my cloak will cover.”

Seeing her small cloak, he laughed and then granted this request. However, Brigid had instructed her four helpers each to take a corner of the cloak and walk in opposite directions – north, south, east and west. As they did this the cloak began to grow and spread across many acres. She now had sufficient land on which to build her monastery. The King and his entire household were dismayed and amazed. They realised that this woman was truly blessed by God. The King became a patron of Brigid’s monastery, assisting her with money, food and gifts. Later he converted to Christianity. It was on this land in Kildare that she built her dual monastery c.470.


“The Pattern that Connects”

It‘s not easy to define “The Pattern that Connects”. Deep Systems thinker Gregory Bateson said nature works in a different ways to the way that people think.

When we separate humanity from other living things , if we separate humans from climate , if we theoretically separate them , scientifically separate them, if we separate them even in concept, we get the problems we have got .

Describing relationships , using contrast and context instead of isolating it with a name . So it is not looking at the substance of an item and what made that part but more about where did the design come from that makes those parts work together and so there are patterns of similarities and differences .

The patterns of recognition in nature , the redundancies , the similarities of things , these are all themed with variation. The combination of theme and variation immediately points you to something behind it …a formative principle

What is the pattern that connects ?…..was never meant to be answered

And so this simple solid imagery of three tree stories cojoined by celtic interlacing aspires to different levels of meaning.

 Video Voice Over

“The Pattern that Connects” is an embroidery work of three tree stories.

An oak , a ginkgo and a willow tree are co-joined at the roots with celtic interlacing . The forest floor is where all the connections happen but also our stories are connected and interlaced and interdependent.

The three tree stories of oak, willow and ginkgo are of St Brigid’s first christian community in a copse of oak, which later became Chill Dara Church of the Oak known as Kildare today. The willow story is of my mother planting a willow 50 years ago in our garden the year my brother was born (who is named Dara ie Oak ) and the Gingko is my story of studying this tree in China where I have lived for the past 12 years. It originates at a time the dinosaurs walked the planet. I have made a series of Ginkgo paintings , three Ginkgo paintings are on long term display in Huaxin hospital- orthopedic centre , Beijing .

The process is a collaboration with my Mother who taught me all my knitting and sewing skills as a very young child in primary school . She is 86 and suffering memory loss and the process of engaging her in this artwork, the skills she used to know to a mastery level , I am learning and making new discoveries with her as I engage with her on this journey of process and connection.

A huge thank you to Mary Hunter from the Irish Patchwork Society , Sophie Rogan of the Irish Abroad Unit DFA , and to the Embassy of Ireland in China .

Special thank you to film maker Gary Mc Hugh for the above video while I was back in Ireland creating the work with my Mother .

Disclosed secret: at the end of the video he told my Mum “ I will let Hollywood know you are available Mrs C ! “ And hence the big laugh at the end of the video clip .


A special thank you to the Cultural  Section in the Embassy of Ireland in China , the Department of Foreign Affairs and The Irish Patchwork Society 


Common Threads Project