A Michigan Social Justice Warrior Fighting The Good Fight with an Unlikely Weapon: Quilt Making

Sarah Bricker Hunt

A handmade quilt might bring to mind a bygone era in American history — a time when handicrafts like quilting were the norm and long before progressive ideas about gender and diversity had taken root in most of the country.

But the truth is that the art of quilting has been here all along. New generations of quilt makers have learned the craft from veteran artisans, putting a modern spin on patterns that represent life today.

Nancy Bordine, an author, quilt maker and retired nurse and healthcare educator, could be seen as a bridge between generations. Bordine’s new young children’s book, “What Do You See?: Developing New Perspectives with Quilt Patterns,” for example, is on one hand, a colorful nod to the art of quilt making framed in a preschool-friendly style and, on the other, an unapologetic vehicle for social justice advocacy.

The book, Bordine says, gives parents opportunities to discuss both the artwork — how objects in the scenery interact with each other — and opportunities to embark on conversations about diversity and inclusion, complete with guided prompts and study questions.

Bordine has been piecing together quilts since childhood, when she learned the craft at the feet of her grandmother. Over the years, she created dozens of quilts for her own family and became known as “The Quilt Lady” around Traverse City, where she served as a historical reenactor for more than 12 years, presenting quilts, quilt lore and pioneer living to hundreds of local fourth graders, often weaving diversity sensitivity messages into her presentations.

Closer to home, Bordine says, her own family has expanded to include biracial representation. “My husband and I have created a family that includes children more melanin-rich than us,” she explains. This perspective has played a role in developing her writing voice, as has her work in nursing.

“As an RN, I developed the approach that the patients in my care were ‘my babies,’” she says. “And that evolved into my method for coping with some of the distressing behaviors I dealt with as an acute-care mental health nurse. I took on the approach that every patient was ‘a child of God,’ deserving dignity and respect for their humanity.”

After retiring from the nursing field, Bordine developed a foot care clinic for people experiencing homelessness through Central United Methodist Church in Traverse City. “Getting to know their circumstances while caring for their feet reinforced my passion for social justice and inclusivity,” she says.

Bordine’s “What Do You See?” joins a growing list of young children’s books that feature diversity, equity and inclusion messages, including a new book by Juno Dawson, author of the frequently banned young adult book, “This Book Is Gay.” Dawson’s new work, “You Need to Chill,” is geared toward preschool to early elementary grades and focuses on inclusivity.

Bordine’s focus on inclusivity in the book includes the LGBTQ+ community, though in a more subtle way. Illustrations and character biographies include children of multiple ethnicities, family structures, abilities and interests. “I discussed including sexual orientation with my lesbian friends,” Bordine says. “They told me that at the age of my target audience — 3 to 7 year olds — they were not aware of their sexuality and that an LGBTQ+ character wouldn’t be necessary.”

Still, Bordine wanted to add a nod to the community in some way. She landed on borrowing a term she’d heard children in her neighborhood using: “funcle.”

“The children have an uncle with a husband that have dubbed themselves the children’s ‘funcles,’” she explains. “I used that term to describe a character’s favorite toy, an item given to them by their funcles and defined the term as ‘gay married uncles.’”

Bordine’s passion for social justice and early childhood community education came together when Bordine’s writing coach, Stacy Roberts, encouraged her to develop learning activities for her children’s book. “Our country was experiencing a radical political shift, especially regarding marginalized people,” Bordine says. “I wanted my book to be a part of the social shift toward appreciating the humanity in everyone.”

“What Do You See?: Developing New Perspectives with Quilt Patterns” is out now. Learn more about author Nancy Bordine at .