Wool, Wiltshire and All Manner of Wonderful Things!

1,568 Sawdust Hearts

During the Spring of this year a friend told me about the 1,568 Sawdust Hearts project. After the First World War, many men came home injured and suffering from shell shock. As part of their recovery they were encouraged to take up craft work. A popular craft was to make a sawdust heart pincushion for a loved one.

Decorations were simple, and easy to do using pictures, pins and threads.  Occupational therapy was born.This one was found in an antique shop this year.

Helen Birmingham has a studio and gallery in Scarborough and decided she would like to raise money for Combat Stress, a charity who provides help and support for soldiers with post traumatic stress. She saw an article about sweetheart pincushions as they were known, on the internet ,and came up with the idea of asking people to decorate a sawdust heart for an exhibition, for which there would be a catalogue which would raise money. She realised that she couldn’t  have one heart for every soldier who didn’t  return from WW1, but she could  make 1,568 hearts for every day of that war.

So the blank hearts were made up, and would be decorators came forward to embellish them in any way they choose.

The exhibition is running Scarborough for the whole of November and the hearts will then be returned to their makers.

I attended both the launch on the 3 November  and the presentation on 11 November at which the last post was played. Both occasions were very moving and I found myself unable to take pictures and think about what I was seeing . So on Saturday I returned to

The Woodend Gallery. There were quite a few visitors , and I still found myself in tears. But I managed to pull myself together and pay proper attention to the hearts and to find the ones I admired most. There are a lot. Each heart has a number for the purposes of knowing who made which one in the catalogue.

This is number 20, by Sue Robinson. I loved the colours and the fabric construction,

68 by Laureen Downes. This is easily overlooked in the brochure. I found it strange that some didn’t photograph so well, and some that did were not so memorable in life. I loved the added embroidery in this one, and the Dorset button and that the pinwheel at the bottom paid homage to the original hearts.

126 by Mo Bergson- Mr E’s favourite. He liked the desolation of the this felted heart, feeling it depicted the futility and sadness of the war.

158 by Deborah Powell.Deborah’s heart was also included in an additional booklet called Inside Stories. Many of us had written to Helen when we returned our hearts to tell of our inspiration. Deborah had explained that Day 158 was 1st January 1915. HMS Formidable was sunk on that day by a U Boat. 547 sailors lost their lives. On the back of the heart are 547 crosses, one for each man lost.

Sorry, I am crying again…

Helen spent a long time figuring out how to display the hearts, until she decided the only way was numerical, After all the soldiers weren’t neatly sorted out , the doctor’s son would serve next to the cleaners son, so the hearts should not be arranged artistically either. The boards were numerical with thirty hearts per board. However the sun shines brightly in the gallery so each day the free-standing boards are moved around so none fade. Now I could  arrange my pictures so that they were numerical, because I just flitted from board to board, but then I reckon no, soldiers get muddled up in trenches and hospital, and battlefields, so from now on the numbers  are a bit more random.

This is 636 by Wendy Green. I love that it is a picture, with fields, poppies, sky and trees. I find that I am drawn a lot to pictorial ones.

549 by Sue Stichbury. Boro patchwork and embroidery, loved the use of scraps. There were a few that included the word Forget me not.

218 by Shirley Rae. I loved the drama of this one, it depicts to me the horror of war and that Hope should always be with us for a better day.

331 by Stuart Batty. This is actually the back of the heart that has been used. It just moves me, a lot. It’s one of my very favourite hearts.

This is how the boards look with 30 hearts on them. You can see the last one here.

Not all of the hearts sold, so they became Unknown Soldiers displayed thus.

And that still makes me cry.

Some hearts weren’t returned, many of us found it hard to make them, so much did we want to do justice to these lost souls. But Helen called them Missing in Action and made a heart which appears in the catalogue for each one out there somewhere, She displayed the Missing in Action Hearts too.

There’s the heart at the top, and all those numbers.Lost days, lost young people.

Now this nearly became my favourite heart, I loved the faded velvet and that it closely resembles the style of the original hearts. It’s number 865 by Paula Fenwick- Lucas.

842 by Dr Maggie McArthur. Inside Stories tells us that

The top represents the future

The middle is the mud of no-man’s land.

The bottom represents the iconic poppies flowering once the land recovers .

The lace on the edge came from Bruges, near to Flanders.

I just loved the embroidery.

913 by Cynthia Ruth. This looks so delicate and pretty, any sweetheart would have loved this one had her soldier love sent it to her.

Another one with a ship. 906 by Mandi Bainbridge. This looked green in the catalogue but isn’t. I feel sure there is a story behind this one, I just don’t know what it is.

830 by Ruth Westmoreland. England’s green and pleasant land. Love it.

797 by Marion Brookes. I choose this one as there was knitting and butterflies. So many different techniques went into these hearts. This one was inspired by a quote from William Orpen. Too long for me type out, but it talks of the transformation of the mud into fields of white daisies, red poppies and blue flowers, a beautiful blue sky and the air thick with white butterflies. An enchanted place but instead of fairies thousands of white crosses for unknown soldiers.

1110 by Fiona Johnson . I think this one also expresses the unexpected beauty in the fields after the soldiers went home. I love that Nature heals itself after such an onslaught.

And finally my favourite amongst all these wonderful hearts.

1126 by Pippa Philips.

This post took me two sessions to write. These hearts still move me to tears.

May we never forget, and God Bless you all.








Comments on: "1,568 Sawdust Hearts" (59)

  1. Laureen Downes said:

    Nanacathy, thank you so much for including my heart. I have just stumbled on it on your site quite by accident when on a search engine. I am honoured that you have included mine, that means so much. 1568 hearts was such a worthy cause. Mine was a testament to nature and the natural world and how in the craziness (crazy patchwork) of mental health problems, we can go back to nature to find ourselves. My father was a soldier in WW2 and suffered so much with his mental health. I participated in Helen’s 100 sawdust hearts project initially and the heart I created for that was dedicated to my dad, I called it Heart of Gold.

  2. […] long as I showed the WWI video yesterday, I thought you might want to see this post on Nana Cathy’s blog. It’s about an exhibition in memory of WWI, and it’s well […]

  3. Thank you for sharing this. Only this morning, we saw a film in church which was made to commemorate 2014’s 100th year anniversary. It was tagged #peaceispossible and was about the Christmas Truce. I know all wars are horrible, but I think WWI was one of the worst ever – an entire generation of young men who didn’t go home and young women who never married. A huge loss to the world. These hearts were a beautiful idea, and I’m so glad so many DID make them and return them.

  4. Thank you for this most moving post. The hearts are absolutely beautiful and I would love to have seen the exhibition.

  5. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post about an incredible initiative. So much love and emotion in those hearts. It’s wonderful to see all the different interpretations of the hearts. Thank you again for sharing.

  6. Thank you for sharing this powerful exhibit. The handwork of each heart pays beautiful tribute. Lest we forget the real people who suffered.

  7. Thank you for sharing this project with us Cathy. What a wonderful tribute it was and so brilliantly executed – right down to those hearts that were never returned. Poignant or what?
    By the way, I’m with Mr. E. on the favourite.

  8. I would never have heard of this project if it wasn’t for you and Sandra, and that would’ve been my huge loss. What you all participated in is so powerful and heart breaking, and necessary. I am blown away by Helen’s commitment and creativity–the Unknowns and Missing in Actions–that’s so perfect, the way she handled all that! I still hold out hope that maybe more people will get to see this exhibition, somehow.

  9. Wow Cathy what a wonderful post. Tears here too. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to take time reading this post here, quietly at home. The exhibition was so beautifully staged, but as you know I found it an overwhelming experience.
    Your post is just right for me to be able to enjoy the experience with you again. Thank you so much for alerting me to the project in the first place – it was a privilege to be part of it and took me to Yorkshire to meet you and Mr E.
    Craft of any sort, is so much more than just making something. ❤ ❤ ❤

    • Thank you Sandra, it was my joy to take you round a very small part of Yorkshire and share with you all sorts of wonderful things including the hearts project. I was in tears during my third visit and spoke to Helen and Dorothy ( The curator) about my emotional response. They have been there virtually every day and said that it still has them in tears, when they least expect it. It is a very powerful emotional experience to be amongst all the hearts.
      As you say crafts are about so much more than just making something.

  10. Murtagh's Meadow said:

    Such a touching project. Well done to everyone involved. And thank you for sharing Cathy. May we never forget.

  11. These are beautiful, desolate, and gentle; very moving, Cathy, thank you.

  12. A most beautiful and moving post – I’ve come back to read it again carefully, because it is so powerful. Thank you very much for sharing – I so wish I could get to see the exhibition …

  13. So touching. So many tears flow as heart aches, looking at these beautiful hearts. So many brave men. So many good brave men,so much sadness.
    Wow- the missing hearts and not sold hearts displays speak volumes as well.
    Powerful- powerful stuff.
    God Bless our brave men.

    Thank you Cathy for putting this together. It was worth the wait for those of us who cannot visit. I come from a long line of Military men. Dad- Korean war, husband just missed going to Vietnam 2 weeks before it ended, my American/British Great Great Grandfather a Civil War hero. This all means so much to me. My heart thanks them all. God Bless our brave men who did not return.

    • Well said Elizabeth and I am happy that this post was worth waiting for.
      Some of the hearts paid tribute to others who played a role in the war effort- several remembered the horses who served and the women who remained at home, working in the home and industry. Many were very personal with photos of lost family members.
      I am pleased that we have not forgotten although we, meaning the human race have not learned the lessons.

  14. I think all of that would make me cry too. Every one of those hearts are just beautiful. Incredibly so.

    • Yes indeed. A special piece of music had been composed for the exhibition which was being played whilst you walked round the exhibition, which added to this moving experience.

  15. Reblogged this on notewords and commented:
    Lest we forget.

  16. Wonderful post. Very moving.

  17. Thank you for taking the time to show and tell us about the hearts – I too am moved to tears and we will never forget… such a tragic loss of life.

  18. What a wonderful way to raise money for Combat Stress. I hope the exhibition gets the opportunity to be shown in other towns. It is indeed a very moving tribute to those lost in war. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • The original idea was to tour the exhibition. Helen applied for Arts Council funding, but was turned down, mostly she said because she didn’t know which things to emphasise in the application. So financially that idea became unviable. I have spoken of the emotional response many makers felt, I gather that she has also found it emotionally and physically exhausting. So it remains a one venue project.

      • It seems such a shame that it is only in one place as it would be wonderful if more folk had the opportunity to see it. I am so pleased that you shared it with us. It certainly brought tears to my eyes.

  19. The hearts are fantastic. I love your photos of them. I think the one in your final photograph is my favourite too, although it’s so hard to choose.

    • It was incredibly hard. Some of them were just beautiful to look at, but I wanted one that encapsulated my emotional response and that was it.

  20. andreaclairekiwi said:

    The WWI commemorations have been so moving. In New Zealand there were Fields of Remembrance made nationwide, where crosses were laid out for each local soldier killed. Here in Auckland we have the War Memorial Museum, and their field included a named cross for each and every fallen New Zealand soldier in the war – over 18,200 of them. It was incredibly moving to walk among this sea of tragedy to find our own dead. Families were allowed to remove ‘their’ crosses at the end of the exhibition, so we planted our two family’s crosses next to our roses. I was also able to help out-of-town friends by finding their family’s soldier – none were easy to find, there were just so, so many to read, literally thousands. It really brought it home.

  21. A very moving post Cathy, thank you for sharing your heart.

  22. These are truely stunning! Bless! My mum is a crazy (passionate) quilter. The group she is in makes Crisis Quilts for families that leave hospital without a baby. Crafty people bringing the love! Cheers,H

  23. Moved beyond words. xxx

  24. If only we could leave running the world to people who care as much about the waste of young lives as you do… The world would be a very different, and better place. It really would be never again.

    • The one occupation I totally banned my three boys from pursuing was a career in the army. There always is a better way to sort out disputes and difficulties if people would only co-operate. Sadly I don’t think that day will ever come, humans are fundamentally flawed as far as co-operation and living in harmony goes.

  25. a very moving display Cathy

  26. Oh, Cathy, what a moving post… Thank you for sharing these Sawdust Hearts. I’m sure Combat Stress was most appreciate of everyone’s hard – and beautiful – work. Now, I’ve got to tell others about this. 🙂 xo

    • Thank you for this lovely comment. There was a representative from Combat Stress at the launch, who did say thank you to all concerned. Some of the hearts were made by people being supported by Combat Stress, which was a nice touch.

      • Thank you again for telling us about this. I’m physically disabled with chronic pain which makes mobility very difficult so I appreciate hearing about the Sawdust Hearts via your blog, and, of course, about the cause itself. I began sewing and embroidering 11 years ago when I first had my injury (an accident) and I can honestly say, crafting/making art saved my sanity. Good to hear that some of the ‘Combat Stress people’ were able to contribute.

        Cathy, I reblogged this. I took just one of your photos to show my readers while I tell them about your page, I hope you don’t mind.

        Faith 🙂 xo

        • I am thrilled that you re-blogged and that you feel your readers will like the post. I have popped over to your blog, and love what I saw. I am sorry to read of your pain. Crafting has been very therapeutic for me over the years. I am very fortunate to enjoy reasonable health, but my husband has been very poorly this year and is hopefully getting better now, crafting helped get me through, so I was delighted to support combat stress.

          • Thank you Cathy for your kindness. I’m sorry to hear of your husband’s poor health. I wish him much better health. God bless you for also contributing to the Sawdust Hearts. Faith xo

  27. The people who made those hearts are very gifted. Maybe that is why some hearts weren’t returned, perhaps people felt they couldn’t do them justice. All very moving.

  28. A wonderful post on a wonderful project, this and your previous post on the hearts brought a lump to my throat. They are all so good but my favourite is the next to last one – thank you for sharing 🙂

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