The power of textiles to impart big messages has been utilised since time immemorial. Quilts have always been bound up with world events as makers seek to reflect and make sense of their worlds. We have a rich history of quilts made by soldiers as rehabilitation, textile like the Bayeux Tapestry telling the stories, and embroidered textile banners to protest. War memorial is most often stone; hard, terse and unyielding, but cloth can tell more multilayered stories.
Back in 2014 I was asked by my community to help to create a textile wall hanging that could be made as a community project to commemorate the 100 years anniversary of the First World War. Our Parish Council had been working with local historians to research and record the stories of our small market town, to uncover the people and their lives. The reason I’m a Quilter is bound up in the love of exploring the lives of those who sewed in the past, this kind of project was right up my street.
I worked on this project with my friend Claire Wheeler who is a quilter and artist. First we spent time with historians, listening to the stories they had uncovered. Such fascinating stories and grainy pictures of 100 years ago, school fields dug up and planted with vegetables for Belgian refugees, a Sunday cricket match abandoned as the news of war was announced, the first air bases set up in the grounds of a stately home, people praying as news worsened from the front. We spoke to the leaders of each of the three churches, the local art society helped to translate the stories into stitch-able pictures with Claire. At that time, along with the busy sewing school and shop we also ran a community Sewing Bee and our members offered to stitch the central pictorial panels for us.
A central part of our brief was community participation and as mothers of young kids we felt it was essential that we involved the youngest, and the eldest members of our community in this special make, to reflect and learn from the stories of the past. We have an infant and junior school in our village and both signed up to help. In the summer of 2015 our wonderful Sewing Bee members, using donated fabrics from village residents, ran workshops at both schools, where children could pick a pre-cut green background and a red patterned poppy of their choice, embroider their initial and create their own fabric poppy to be added to the sea of flowers. We also repeated this workshop in the village residential home for older people, resulting in a special multi-generational poppy field of remembrance .
In the true spirit of textile banners we paraded our wall hanging on Remembrance Sunday before it went out on a tour of local venues through the years. Our local newspaper published this booklet to tell the story of this make, and the booklet and the wall hanging now reside on display in our local Library (along with a map of the makers of each of the poppies which I’ve not included here, but is available to researchers and local historians).