We learn from each other

Projects, War Widows Stories

Yesterday I had the privilege to join the Devon War Widows’ Association for a very special afternoon tea. Privilege may sound a strong way of describing it, but it feels very real. The meeting echoed others with the War Widows; a group of women who I’ve never met before, a short time describing the project, a while of quiet conversation and contemplation, then people start to open up. People share memories of their late husbands, of the drive for survival for themselves, their children. Of the mess of emotions, the hierarchy surrounding widowhood- husbands who died in conflict and those who died after as a result of conflict, campaigns for pension rights, for better recognition … and much else. And laughter to, and debates over which is the right way to make a cream tea- cream on first or jam?

Irene Wills beautiful contribution to the War Widows’ Quilt

Materials, instructions, treads and SAE for the making of the War Widows’ Quilt where handed out to everyone. And as I was starting to pack up, Irene C. who had been sitting next to me during much of the tea, leaned over and explained:

“This is the most interesting meeting I’ve ever been to. There have been things to think about, it’s made things seem real- Audrey whose 90, will have very different memories than someone younger, or those who husbands have died as a result of a conflict. It’s made me think about it in a different way, to re-evaluate how to think about war widows.

Having something to make, to do, (the quilt) makes you feel part of it- I’m proud of being a Plymouth member, but now I feel part of the wider group of war widows. We learn from each other.”

A big thank you to all the women of the Devon War Widows’ Association that made me feel so welcome and shared so much of themselves.

The Deluge

Projects, War Widows Stories

War Widows Quilt

 

Deanna Selby

We were working at the National Memorial Arboretum, on a table loaded with quilt squares and art materials and the paraphernalia of writing. Outside the rain deluged, sending showers of droplets through thickets of trees.

Today’s workshop brought a remarkable little gang of people. Out of the awful situation of being widowed and grief,  friendship has come — an amazing friendship between them. They wouldn’t have met if it hadn’t been for shared disaster. The bond that they have is evidently special. When we met they were joking with each other, gently poking fun. But when they worked they were in earnest and they encouraged one another to open up and then shared their feelings and supported each other. A lot of friendships never get to that stage, walking with one another through the darkest times in order to get to the light. The gift that out of something terrible something special has come.

 

Norma

One woman had worked with us before and it was she who brought her two compadres. She brought them because they were her friends and she felt it might help them. And so we pitched into talking and making poems and making art and talking again. This was a conversation about loss that went very deep — you could see the pain on their faces as they discussed it. But they had hope, they trusted and understood one another, encouraged each other to experience the sadness, because it leads to release.

And then, gently, came tears.

It is always a matter of great delicacy when somebody cries in a workshop with us. Not because crying is in anyway wrong, in fact sometimes we welcome it. But it is also a sign that things are connecting very deeply, there’s a big upswell of emotion. This needs to be respected and acknowledged but not always discussed. Sometimes when there are tears, a little quiet is what’s needed next.

When she went outside for a breath of fresh air, her friend said, “She needed a cry and now she needs time alone.”

And she nodded to herself, as if recognising this fact in her own experience. Allowing space to grieve, rather than shutting it down.

Between working with our participants, we talked with interested and engaged members of the public. Many, many people came up to our little table to have a look and also to talk. They were full of compliments for the work and for the bravery of the women who made it. We are told that there were 600 visitors that morning, many of them passed by our table, many of them looked and listened — and shared their own stories, of times when they too were swimming amongst the wreckage.

 

A swallow over his heart

Projects, War Widows Stories

Lois and I are currently working on the quilt and poetry for War Widows’ Stories and wanted to share some of our thoughts and writing from the wonderful session in Edinburgh with the War Widows’ Association

 

A swallow over his heart

With a scroll engraved with

My name, when he was 18.

 

Kathleen Cahillane

 

Kathleen Cahillane signature

Kathleen Cahillane

 

The Edinburgh group workshop for the War Widows quilt and poetry was a subtle sharing.

Twenty people sat around the table, bringing a mixture of expectation, grief, anxiety and excitement. It’s a strange thing to ask people to look at one of the most painful things they’ve ever experienced and turn it into a piece of creative work. A big ask, as they say. In this workshop we invited a group of War Widows to write and embroider about widowhood.

The intention was that they’d make work about the things that keep them going, the survival strategies. As it happened, many brought the rawness of loss to their writing and their artwork. They’d decided to dive in deep, even before they arrived. I was between two women, both of whom had lost husbands in Northern Ireland, both of whom had already written down some ideas about how to explain this terrible mystery in their lives, to others and perhaps to themselves.

The writing they made was very direct, giving dates of death and looking at what had happened square on. But events like these aren’t so simply explained. The echoes continue and continue. A child looks like their missing father. A particular day is loaded with dread. The absence is huge, too big to deal with all at once. The need to carry on for family is paramount, grief gets brushed to one side and stays unhealed…

As people worked, there was a gentle hubbub of conversation. They settled into the rhythm of the sewing and writing and shared experiences with their neighbours. Little stories of details that had been forgotten started to emerge. A camping trip, a tattoo, two children on their father’s shoulders.

It’s often with little things that the big things are said:

 

Farmer

 

A hard worker, carrying

Two little boys and a lamb

In his hood.

Loved and being loved and

Along came our son, our hope.

 

I courted a B Special

I married a UDR soldier.

He died Royal Irish

Loved and being loved.

The Lord watches over our

 

Going out and

Coming in. In my beehive hair

I had no idea.

Loved and being loved and

Along came our son, our future.

 

Joan

 

joan B pocket

Joan’s pocket, embroidered by Lois

 

 

The journey of two quilts

Stitching the Wars

I’m currently looking at the Stitching the Wars quilts, I’m checking to see if there are any repairs to be made. They’re about to take another journey, this time their off to York to the Quilters’ Guild to be archived in their collection. While I’m stitching, making repairs my mind is musing about the life this quilt has already had.  It’s a quilt that is been made by many hands, (over 500 people contributed) some nimble, some inflicted with arthritis, seen by sharp eyes and those with limited sight. whilst making it people chatted, their minds wondered, they shared memories, day to day concerns and delights. For some the simple pleasure was working with rich colours,  many delighting in the pleasure of enjoying different textures of fabric in their hands, from silks to felts, to knits, velvets and tweeds, for people living with dementia, this multi sensory experience can be hugely beneficial.

Fresh air and Poverty

‘Fresh Air and Poverty’ at National Trusts Lyme Park © Garry Lomas

 

Workshops took place in day centres, a hospice, craft groups, dementia cafes, Libraries, always with cups of tea and biscuits. Materials for the quilts was donated, brought from charity shops and occasionally from fabric shops. Fabric was dyed in big baths of colour, inspired by the Derbyshire landscape for a bombers moon and by colours associated with wealth and grandeur, for fresh air and  poverty.

As the quilts grew in size we found space to look at them and put them together where ever we could, whether that was the floor of a library, or the largest tables we could find. I would stand bouncing on a chair to try and get a view of the whole. When you are making quilts it’s all about the touch, then they take on a different life, in exhibitions, there is rarely touching allowed.

 

bombers-moon

‘A Bomber’s Moon, photographed at National Trusts Lyme Park © Garry Lomas

I am very keen that the work gets shown in a wide variety of venues. First of all the quilts get shown to the people who have collaborated in the making of them. Then we have mixed grand venues with more humble exhibition spaces. From the National Trusts Lyme Park,  a viewing by Prince Charles at the Farming Life Centre,  the walls at Buxton Art Gallery and Museum, they have sat along side books in a tour of Derbyshire libraries, and exhibited at Derbyshire Record Office, archives shown alongside photos from our book, and from Pictures of the Past.

Dorothy with quilt

Dorothy, one of our participants, and her embroidery ‘Clouds Farm’.

Every time I look at the quilts I see something different and memories are sparked for me, memories of the people who made the work and the stories they shared, the struggles they overcame to stitch, to remember. The delight in sharing,  the excitement in seeing the work coming together. The awards of having your voice and talents shared and respected.  As I look at it today the colours have never seen seemed so vivid, the work so full of life. I’ve had my hands  and eyes over every square inch of this quilt and yet I am seeing something new today. It’s nearly time for me to let them go and pass them on for another life and I can’t think of a better place for them to go to. In the safe hands of The Quilters’ Guild, the quilts will be photographed, kept safe for posterity and will be a available for exhibitions, as learning tools, to be enjoyed and a record of all the people who helped make them. Seeing them today has reignited my passion for this art form there is so much more to explore and to share. I am thrilled that these two quilts that has meant so much to the people who have made them, will be looked after with so much care and shared around the world.

 

Thanks

armour, Projects

I am so very proud to be part of the Armour Celebration event yesterday, a collaboration between veterans, people who have experienced homelessness and arthur+martha.

We started with a performance of the song Behind Brittle Barriers, co-created with singer songwriter Matt Hill and people from The Booth Centre.

From my notes, I nervously shared my thoughts on the project- whilst Gavin, Danny, Anne Marie and Peter spoke about the impact the work has had on them, with passion, dignity, articulately and without notes! Then went onto read their poems. I have much to learn!

It was an emotionally charged day, two people broke down in tears when they saw their work, seeing a moment in their history, caught up in embroidered stitch, the pain of unresolved issues?  the relief of moving on? a sense of pride seeing their word shared? a letting go? There was lots of laughter also, and most of all a celebration of the amazing artwork, poetry and song created.

Danny and armour

Danny sharing his poem at Armour Celebration

 

There are so many people to thank, The Booth Centre who hosted the project, Arts Council England who supported the project, The Imperial War Museum who hosted an outreach session, The Royal Armouries Leeds, Walking with the Wounded for their advice, the staff and volunteers from the above organisations, our guest artists/writers/singer songwriters, Johnny Woodhams and Matt Hill, and as ever most of all to our amazing participants.

To see the documentary film about this project please visit  ARMOUR

audience

Lois and Matt

Artist Lois Blackburn and Singer Songwriter Matt Hill the Quiet Loner

Armour: an invitation

armour, Projects
INVITATION
Poems, embroidery and song, made in self-defence.
Thursday 11th January, 1pm to 2.30pm
at The Booth Centre, Edward Holt House, Pimblett Street, Manchester M3 1FU

 

We are delighted to invite you to a celebration of the project ARMOUR, made in collaboration with people who have served in the Armed Forces, people with lived experience of homelessness and arts organisation arthur+martha. Sharing ARMOUR artworks, poetry readings, with a music performance by The Booth Centre and The Quiet Loner. Refreshments provided.
 

 

ARMOUR
Armour is a project that uses words and stitches to explore the ways we protect ourselves. It is a collaboration with veterans of armed conflict and with people who have lived experience of homelessness. We asked people to describe their personal “armour”, physical and mental. Artworks were inspired by gambesons, the quilted jackets worn under suits of armour, made for our project out of rust-dyed fabric and embroidered with poems, and other writings.
 
I’ve never done anything like this before, many people said during the project. But the art and poetry they made weren’t just a technical exercise, they were a gesture of courage and connection. They overthrew defensiveness and they let in life.
 
For more information please visit: /armour/

Armour poem recordings & poem collection on line

armour, Projects

I am pleased to share that recordings of poems from the project Armour are now on-line at Soundcloud 

Poems, embroideries and other texts made in self-defence

Armour is a project that uses words and stitches to explore the ways we protect ourselves. It is a collaboration with veterans of armed conflict and with people who have lived experience of homelessness. We asked people to describe their personal “armour”, physical and mental. Artworks inspired by gambesons, the quilted jackets worn under suits of armour, were made out of rust dyed fabric and embroidered with poems, and other writings.

Armour detail

Detail of the Armour artwork. 

Many of the poems are also on-line on our poetry collection arthur-and-martha-poems

We would like to thank the many people who participated for their bravery and honesty. We’d also like to thank our guest poet Johnny Woodhams and singer songwriter Matt Hill, The Quiet Loner, for leading some workshops, our wonderful team of volunteers, including Melanie Miller, Marc and Jessie. And finally, we are grateful to the Booth Centre, Imperial War Museum-North, The Royal Armouries Leeds, Gallery of Costume Manchester, Walking with the Wounded and Tom Harrison House for hosting workshops and the Arts Council England for supporting the project.