Eilieen Cunis: The art of whatever is asked for right now

Eileen Cunis, 67, makes banners for churches. Not those primitive and graceless felt-and-burlap banners that dominated liturgical decor through the ’60s or ’70s, but thoughtfully crafted, dignified works of art produced by a woman who just wants to walk through whatever door the Lord has opened for her.

One of Cunis’ pieces, a processional banner of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, was recently accepted for the National Eucharistic Revival Art Exhibit, and it will travel from Connecticut to Indiana. It is a shining, intricate, iconlike work with many layers of fabric and brocade carefully pressed, folded and sewn into position, the faces and hands of Mary and her baby delicately rendered in paint.

As delighted as Cunis is to have her fabric work honored, she’d really rather be painting. She prefers the freedom and flexibility of working exclusively with paint, and she’s starting to wade into the deep waters of iconography, with its profound theology of light.

“I would love for a priest to say, ‘I have this big wall and I want you to do a big mural, and it’s going to be in the church for 50 or 100 years,’” she said. But it all comes down to how the Lord is leading her right now.

Right now, she’s just finished a set of four tapestries for Sacred Heart Church in Bloomfield, Connecticut, a building that had some vast, empty spaces to fill. It’s a gymnasiumlike structure, and that’s not just a coincidence. The church was built in 1962, when Catholicism in the United States was still burgeoning. The congregation assumed their parish would continue to flourish and grow, so they built the church intending to eventually convert it into a gym for the Catholic school.

“It just didn’t happen,” Cunis said. “People were caught flat-footed, and the gymnasium church remained the church.”

The school closed in the ’80s, a nearby church also closed, and the large, simple structure of Sacred Heart became the main church building for the congregation. It had been decorated and made suitable for worship, but still had a rather bleak facade on the apse wall.

The pastor saw Cunis’ work in a local shop, and a lightbulb went on. The gray space has now been transformed by a small host of angels rendered in shining fabric.

Cunis’ first banner, though, wasn’t designed to enliven a large space, but just the opposite…

Read the rest of my latest artist profile at Our Sunday Visitor

How to sew your own mask at home, it’s so easy

If you have a sewing machine and minimal sewing skills, you can make functional masks to help mitigate the danger of COVID-19 to you, your family, and the rest of the community. Some medical professionals are even using donated homemade cloth masks over their N95 respirators to prolong their lifespan. So let’s get sewing! It’s so easy.

First, cut out two 9×6-inch rectangles of 100% cotton fabric and place them together with the right side facing in. Add a few pins to hold them in place. 

Starting in the middle of one of the long sides, begin sewing, leaving a 1/4″ seam allowance. No, starting in the middle. That’s okay, just keep going until you get to the edgeSTOPSTOPSTOP! That’s okay.

Next, take one of your elastic strips and place it inside the two layers at an angle in the corner, and continue sewing over it to affix it to the fabric, then continue sewing down the short end, stopping before you get to the next 

It’s okay, sewing machines do that sometimes. Just open the bobbin case and see if you can . . . okay, wow, that’s really interesting. We’ve never seen that before. Do you, do you have any other bobbins? That’s great! So just dig out that sort of tassel effect you have going on there. And those . . . tufts. Now load in the new bobbin, and

Dude, it literally has instructions printed directly on the machine. Yes, call your kid over to help. 

A tension problem, ha ha, you don’t say! That happens. Now rethread your machine and let’s continue. It’s so easy. If your two rectangles have come out of alignment, don’t worry. It definitely shouldn’t make you think about your responsibility in the fabric of society coming apart. Just add a few more pins. We’re in too deep to stop now. 

Now you’re going to reach in and grasp the other end of the elastic and angle it in to the next corner, forming a loop. No, the other end. Well, it has to be in there somewhere.

All right, so you’ve somehow sewed the elastic to your . . . pants? That’s all right. Normal people do this all the time. They usually notice before they go back and reinforce it twice, but you were just being thorough, so kudos. It probably wasn’t necessary to use the buttonhole stitch setting, but hey, let’s see a virus get through that! Kudos to you. It’s so good to know that people like you own sewing machines.

The beauty of this project is that it’s so adaptable. It’s really so easy. So what we’re going to do is change gears a little bit. We’ll just forget about the elastic thing and instead make a mask with ties. It’s so easy! Well, many people find it so easy. 

Reach in and turn your mask right side out. Reach in through the little hole you left. You did leave– never mind, it looks fine the way it is. It’s not a beauty contest. Is your kid still there? See if she can get those pins out before you sew anything else. No, we really are going to insist you need to get those pins out. Do what you need to do; we won’t watch.

Now for the ties. If you don’t have a large stash of bias tape or twill ribbon, you can easily make ties by using extra fabric from your large fabric stash using a serger. That’s okay, lots of people don’t have sergers. You can cut a 36-inch strip and iron it down the edge . . . That’s okay, lots of people don’t have irons. Simply cut your fabric

I’m sorry, how can you not have scissors?

Wait, if you don’t have scissors, how did you cut the original fabric? 

You scored it with a beer cap and then pulled it apart with your teeth.


So, at this point we are currently experiencing some shortness of breath. No, we already tested negative. The shortness of breath may be related to . . . other things. We strongly feel the need to isolate ourselves from you indefinitely. We applaud your efforts and would like to remind you that it would be a sad world indeed if we all had the exact same set of skills. Your particular skill might be just sitting there with your thumb up your ass until other people fix things. And look, you already opened a beer. Bottoms up, Miss Domesticity! It’s so easy.