Monday, 29 September 2014

Libraries are our friends

'Without libraries what are we? We have no past and no future.' Ray Bradbury.  

I'm passionate about libraries, what they have given (and continue to give) to generations of readers, writers, kids, students, researchers, local history searchers... the list goes on and on.

My local library Hayfield, in the High Peak, has just given me a little more,  I've had 5 sessions there as artist in residence for the project Stitching the Wars. 

Stitching the Wars always had an exhibition tour of Libraries in Derbyshire planned, but not workshops whilst the project was in full flow. However plans have to change sometimes, I've never had any problem gathering wonderful, electric, eclectic, reminiscence- the groups are always happy to talk and talk- but the stitching of the quilt was getting behind schedule, there is no way round it, hand stitching is time consuming! I needed some more concentrated 'making' time for the quilt, time to take stock of the work so far and gather together some volunteers to help stitch. This came with abundance at the library. In addition it gave me an opportunity to exhibit the artwork (in progress) to an audience who might not normally venture into an art gallery, or come along to one of arthur+martha sessions.

Hayfield Library is a warm and welcoming place, thanks largely to friendly, relaxed and helpful staff and a light an airy space. Most days there was a fairly constant stream of people visiting my sewing/art table, some after seeing the posters, some making a repeat visit, some happening on the event by chance. It was a much needed productive and relaxed time.

Whilst I was undertaking my artist residency, there was also an informative exhibition to mark the Centenary of the First World War, wonderful to see all of the historic documents, a useful and moving addition to 'Stitching the Wars'.

I'm off to take back that overdue book first thing tomorrow....

Thanks again to Christine and all the wonderful staff at Hayfield Library. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Needed at home

What follows is the 2nd poem made by one of the members of the Rural Craft Group at the Farming Life Centre, for the project Stitching the Wars, a wonderful example of the humour we see in every session:

Grandad was undertaker, beautiful cape and bonnet made out of a shroud
"Don't put the lid on, don't put the lid on!"
He put me in the coffin once, he was a joker
Loved to see him in his splendid top hat
Mum went with him to lay out the bodies
Put me in the coffin once, he was a joker
They wouldn't let him fight, he was needed at home
"Don't put the lid on, don't put the lid on!"

Farming Life Centre (Rural Craft Group)
24 Sept 2014

fabric waiting to be sewn into the quilt

Thursday, 25 September 2014

From Sewing to Sowing

The Farming Life Centre run various groups, yesterday we had the joy of working with the Rural Craft group in the morning and The Social Group in the afternoon (more on that later)

Phil worked with members of the group to create poems based on their reminiscence for the project Stitching the Wars:

From Sewing to Sowing

Trousers, the seams full of lice
My father in the 14-18 war, in the trenches, like many
Seams binding sad memories, seams binding good
Trousers, the seams full of lice
Trench dirt, everything impure
Camouflage nets, weaving strips in a set pattern and then
My wedding dress made from parachute silk
From sewing to sowing
A town girl marrying a farmer
Trousers the seams full of lice
Seams binding sad memories, seams binding good
Life carrying on, to be sewing
Sowing the seed, new crops, new life.

Barbara and Chris
Farming Life Centre
Sept 24 2014

Chris with her mother Barbara's wedding dress, made from parachute silk. 

The day started with a moving reading of Barbara's fathers poems written whilst in the trenches during the 1st World War. There was a constant hum of conversation inspired by the themes of Stitching the Wars as the group sewed their individual embroidered artworks into the quilt. With consideration, thought, skill and at times alarming speed the quilt grew and took form.

Mary and her orchard embroidery

The group adding their embroderies

A big thank you goes to all the members of the group who have donated their time, skill and ideas to help with the Stitching the Wars quilt whilst additionally providing Phil, Melanie and myself with tea and biscuits.  We look forward to working with you again next year.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Land Girl and the Fuehrer

In July, I was lucky enough to meet with a group of men and women at Nicolson Court in Tideswell, in a group run by The Farming Life Centre.   Whilst we embroidered the Stitching the Wars quilt, I gathered more wonderful reminiscence, the following are my notes from Marjorie. 

I’ll be 94 in September. In the Land Army, I based at Lakenheath in Suffolk with 120 other girls, all volunteers. From Sheffield, I was married- my husband a German Prisoner of War. I thought there was no chance of seeing him till the end of the war, so I rented my house up and joined up. It was a spur of the moment thing. I worked in the Steel Office, a girl I was working with said “I’m off to join the Land Army”. I said, ‘ So will I!’ a spur of the moment thing.
            At Lankenheath we were billeted at the YMCA hostel, 120 of us. Taken by lorry every morning for sugar beet pulling. We didn’t have any training, just give us a round knife and set off to pull it up. It just happened. It hurt to start with, then you got used to it.
            Ditching, digging ditches- loading sugar beet for the factory- enjoyed it all. When it was haymaking, we’d climb onto the haystack, one day I got to close to the edge and hit the deck- saw stars for 5 minutes.

Could have a cooked breakfast at 7.00am, eggs no problem, then on the truck ready for 8.00 and taken to which ever farm you were working at. We had lunch at 12.00, bread and dripping, a tin box with a number on, picked it up on the table in the morning.
            The hostel was run by the Women’s Christian Organisation. 1.00pm to 5.00pm working again, or if you were a long way from the hostel you might be able to knock off at 4.00. 6.00pm the evening meal, you could take as long as you’d like- but you didn’t take long, as you wanted to get changed, washed and out to the local village. There were temptations for the married lady- but I never took my wedding ring off.
We were all in the same boat. We didn’t have much money, all got on together. We had a shared bathroom, you’d be having a bath, someone having a cup of tea sat at the table. There was no privacy at all.

I went on a back packing holiday aged 17 in 1937. Just took a haversack, didn’t wear shorts, just a skirt in there. Two of our neighbours belonged to the YMCA, I said ‘I’d love to go’ so saved up my spending money, passport, and plenty of underwear and went by train from Sheffield to London, then away by train to Bavaria. We were in a cafĂ© having a drink, when Hitler’s voice came over the speaker- everyone stood up, so we did too. The manager came over and thanked us for acknowledging the Fuhrer.  The frivolities continued all night.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Little mysteries

Manifold Show

It’s a glory of a sunshiney day in August and Lois and I are out in the fresh, wide open countryside. There’s not a single building in eyeshot, but many tents, many people. We’re at the ManifoldShow, one of the big agricultural shows in Derbyshire. I’m at the Stitching theWars table, our first public showing of the war quilt project Lois has been creating, with older people in Derbyshire. Picked out in embroidery are snippets of reminiscence that describe the effect of wartime on the farming community.

Stitching the War, Quilt

We often show our work in galleries and museums, but rarely in a field alongside a sweet counter (on our left) and the mental health initiative Time to Change (on our right). It’s a fantastically popular show – there must be a few thousand people here, to see the beautiful animals, the famous slow tractor race and of course the controversial but ever-popular terrier racing finale (there’s always a fight).

A country fair in the bright sun is surely one of the big human pleasures, lots of people in Sunday Best clothes, but looking relaxed because there’s no preaching, bibles, or good behavior required. Instead we have the smell of fresh baked food, fresh vegetables stacked and pretty, live animals looking beauteous, in fact the whole thing is an abundance.

We wanted to see if people ‘got’ the quilt – these tiny patchwork fields with their shards of memory – and the response has been sweet and positive, many folk drifting over to look, frequently offering  their own memories of this community – which I’ve jotted down for an impromptu poetic piece.

Here’s an excerpt:

Bakewell show, it was a pilgrimage
Me 5 years old
machinery, a vast array
combines, reversible ploughs, tractors
1955 the showring, the cattle, horses
and my dad, back home
he never spoke about the war in Burma
that’s what the war was
lots of little mysteries…

Thanks go to The Farming Life Centre, Carol and volunteers for sharing their stand and offering their support.