Wednesday, 12 March 2014

A red cross

Stitching the Wars: Workshops 

During the Second World War fabric and clothing rations were just as severe as food and fuel. The 'Make Do and Mend' campaign encouraged thrift and recycling- sewing patches on elbows and trousers, darning socks, making peg rugs and patchwork quilts. From the Canadian Red Cross, Britain received patchwork quilts for evacuated and homeless families. The wool pieces embroidered together with a bright blanket stitch by Maureen on Monday evoked the red cross for me.

red cross quilt detail

Maureen with her wool quilt 'red cross'

Mondays session was with the 60 Not Out group at New Mills Volunteer Centre, the session mixed reminiscence and embroidery. The subject of THE LAND, and how it was impacted by the war brought a range of responses: 

Was born in 1931. Everything was done by hand, we had a mixed farm, poultry and pigs. No pay, hard conditions, ill treated, slavery. You could have servants as well, that was cheap labour. All ill treated and abused. My mother was 6 when her father died, killed when felling a tree. Had to move get out. The family was all split up, my mother was taken by a pub, told she was going to ‘play with the children’ but wasn’t, she would get up at 4 o clock, gather the spittoons from the saw-dust covered floor, empty those, clean them out, clean the floor, ready for 6 o clock. Families had to give children away, they’d send them out to work rather than go to the workhouse. They dreaded the workhouse.

Most were turned out at 13, would have to go out to work. My brother had to leave home at 15, work like a slave. They’d give the children away if the father died.

My fathers uncle had 6 children all given away when his first wife died. Then when the next wife died he gave away another 7 children, gave them all away.

Many people talk of farmers having to supplement their income with a second or even third job:

My dad always did 3 jobs, had the farm and saved up for a horse and cart, everything was carried by horse and cart. In 1936 the jubilee year, he put in a contract to be the ‘muck man’, carting out the toilets. A drum on wheels, he called it the ‘jubilee mug’, for shovelling shit. 

Our toilets where up in the field next to the pig plate, a pail with a slate over it. On a winters night, light a storm light and always wave it about to scare the rats away.

Other members of the group had opportunities to work on the land, but decided on another path.

Born 1921 after WW1, working on the aircraft, called up in my teens. Could have gone in the Land Army, but wouldn’t be doing with cows… 

stitched piece work

On the tables I arranged piles of the hexagon and triangular pieced patchwork, left without instructions, to see what people would do. I was delighted to see without prompt, people picking them up and arranging them into patterns. When given a needle and thread, pieces where sewn together. As I hoped the quilts are beginning to take on their own lives.

Flo with her embroidery
Yesterday Phil and I worked with the Age UK Bakewell group, again we mixed reminiscence, embroidery, with the addition this time of some aural history. Flo carefully wrote out her name to be embroidered, the word taking on a range of meanings when in the context of THE LAND quilt...  the flow of water, the flow of time... Audrey challenged her self to have a go at the 'wheatsheaf' style embroidery, half remembered from childhood. 

Flo's embroidery

Audrey's 'wheatsheaf' embroidery

We finished off talking about the process of embroidery and stitching, from the mundanity (although for others it was a pleasure) of darning socks, to loosing oneself in creating something from nothing...

You’d buy different transfers, buy them in the shop or buy material with the pattern on, or you’d do it free hand. The fabric would have a blue line printed on, the pattern gave you no idea of the colours, so you did your own. You’d split the silk into 3 and 3. those silks cost 3 ha’pence each.

You’d while away your Sunday, I wasn’t allowed to do anything but sewing or reading a book or visit Church- 2 or three times on a Sunday. My parents they were extremely strict, Victorian. Wasn’t allowed to go anywhere till I was 19. Couldn’t wear make up, only ‘loose women’ wear lipstick. I made up for it later.

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