Feb 2022
Feb 2022
31 Jan
1,560 Hearts – Sewing in Memory of WW1

As well as being fun, stitching is known to also be very beneficial for mental health – being a meditative process that inspires confidence and feelings of accomplishment, and helping people to cope with stress.

One example of this dates back to World War 1, when convalescing soldiers were encouraged to make beautiful heart-shaped pincushions as part of their recovery. Now Helen Birmingham, the mixed media artist, author and curator of Untangled Threads is encouraging stitchers to take up their needles as part of a project called Sawdust Hearts in commemoration of the centenary of Armistice Day.

“I became fascinated by the stories behind the WW1 pincushions, and the fact that they had been made as a deliberate attempt at occupational therapy,” Helen tells Sew. “They in no way glorified or celebrated war, but rather focused on rehabilitation and healing.”

During WW1 thousands of commercially produced kits were made and distributed to soldiers and civilians. They contained a pre-made calico heart pincushion filled with sawdust, plus fabrics, beads and sequins for decoration – and pins of course! This was one of the earliest recorded examples of occupational therapy to help wounded soldiers recover and the therapeutic effect they gained from making and sending one of these hearts to a loved one was immense.

Now Untangled Threads has made 1,568 undecorated hearts – one to represent each day of WW1 – for stitchers to decorate. The manufacture and production of these sawdust-filled calico pincushions has been replicated as closely as possible, with all of them being made and stuffed by hand, and having an identifying number printed onto the back. The hearts have been packaged, again by hand, together with pins and instructions for their decoration.

These kits, priced £20, can be purchased at ww1hearts.co.uk from 10th February – alternatively, visitors to The Spring Knitting & Stitching Show at Olympia, London on 1st-4th March can buy and decorate an Untangled Threads sawdust heart at stand D42. 5% of the proceeds from all sales will be donated to Combat Stress, a charity which supports former servicemen and women to deal with issues such as trauma, anxiety, depression and PTSD.

Stitchers are encouraged to decorate the hearts however they wish, using recycled fabrics, beads, sequins and anything else that takes their fancy. Helen will also be providing inspiration by posting images of completed hearts at ww1hearts.co.uk along with videos and links to downloadable worksheets.

Afterwards, those taking part are asked to send in their completed hearts to Untangled Threads to become part of an ambitious artwork, covering 43m2, which will form the centrepiece of a commemorative exhibition on the centenary of Armistice Day 2018 at the magnificent former home of the Sitwell Family, Woodend Creative Workspace in Scarborough. The commemorative event will take place on 11th November, while the public exhibition will run from 3rd to 30th November. Afterwards, every heart will be returned to its maker in 2019.

“Each of the original WW1 hearts began with the same basic sawdust -filled cotton, but the end results were infinitely various and we plan to replicate that today,” Helen says. “The intention of this project is to highlight the benefits of occupational therapy and the power of craft, both to heal and connect people.”

To book your tickets for the Spring Knitting & Stitching Show, visit theknittingandstitchingshow.com

To find out more about the charity Combat Stress, visit combatstress.org.uk

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