Stitching the Wars was a two-year collaboration between older people in Derbyshire and arts organisation arthur+martha. It is the story of a community that survived two world wars and harsh poverty. It is a kind of documentary, constructed with recollection, poetry and the art of stitching. The project was led by artist Lois Blackburn, who met with local people to devise and stitch two quilts and gather reminiscence. Poet Phillip Davenport then worked with the groups to write poems from these reminiscences. Within the quilts many people speak, in voices rich with experience and feeling. In a sense their work is a history, and these quilts are the page on which it is written.
The quilt ‘A Bomber’s Moon’ describes the transforming effect of the First and Second World Wars on rural life. An ancient world of horses and humans is invaded by machines. The quilt is an aerial view of fields and hillsides, perhaps the view from the bomber of the title. Into this ‘landscape’ are sewn words and phrases which link to reminiscences and poems. Most participants were British, but a few were German and they contributed their own war memories. In this way the quilt speaks from both sides of the conflict, reaching towards a common human experience. Maybe this stitching helped to mend a few wounds.
The quilt ‘Fresh Air and Poverty’, describes a quieter war, the struggle everyday people made to keep their families fed and clothed in the years before, during and after the two World Wars. Here we find tramps on the march, children sleeping top to toe in crowded beds, and scrimping and saving is everywhere. But we also find delight in one another’s company; human warmth despite the cold.
Some of the quilt-makers were people with dementia, and it was noticed that stitching in a group, alongside reminiscence conversations, had a rewarding and beneficial effect. Using creativity, colour, touch and companionship to work to an ambitious goal, participants discovered the joy in remembering their early lives. These quilts are a communal act of remembering, a history made by community.
And it tells us: we are all made of this.
An exhibition of the quilts, poetry and reminiscences created throughout the project will be on show at the record office from Wednesday 4th October 2017 to Friday 4th January 2018 (normal opening hours apply).
(Image: Garry Lomas)