Stitching the Wars (2014-2017)


Stitching the Wars, was a 2-year collaboration with older people in Derbyshire, initiated by artist Lois Blackburn, who met with local people to devise and stitch two quilts and gather reminiscence. Philip Davenport worked with the groups later to refine the material into poems, and short oral history interviews, which are embroidered into the quilts and punctuate the Stitching the Wars book. In a sense, this work is a history, with quilts the page on which it’s written.

The first 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 it’s the view from the bomber of the title? Into this “landscape” are sewn words and phrases that link to the reminiscence and poems in this book. As we read, it becomes evident that some of the words are in German — but whose side are we on?

The second quilt, Fresh Air and Poverty, describes a quieter war, the struggle everyday people made to keep their families fed and clothed in the years between and after the two World Wars. The richness of the materials used for this quilt belie the words: “Two little love birds, fresh air and poverty.” Here we find tramps on the march, children sleeping top to toe in crowded beds, scrimping and saving is everywhere. But we also find delight in one another’s company, human warmth despite the cold.

Many of the quilt-makers were people with dementia. We noticed the beneficial effect that group stitching had, joining people together in an act of making that had rewards (touch, colour, companionship, creativity) and an ambitious goal. Crucially, these richly associative pieces of heritage let people with dementia — people who’re usually excluded from history-making — have their say.


2015 Foundation Derbyshire Award for its mixture of inclusivity and creative ambition.


Approx 700 people aged between 65 and 101


2017 Derbyshire Records Office (3500 visitors)

2016/17 Touring exhibition, Derbyshire Libraries (150,000) and Buxton Museum (16,950 visitors)

2015/16 National Trust’s Lyme Park, Cheshire (10,000 visitors)

2014 Hayfield Country Show (4000 visitors) Manifold Agricultural Show (6000 visitors)

Live Audience total 190,450

On-Line Audience

20,000 so far.


In Autumn 2017 the two quilts joined the Quilters’ Guild Collection. 

Poems, reminiscence, photographs, sound recordings from the Stitching the Wars project, housed at Derbyshire Archives.

bombers moon.jpg

More Information

Poem readings

Reminiscence, oral history 

Poem collection: arthur-and-martha-poem

Diary, photos, information arthur-and-martha.blogspot.

On-line portfolio photos/arthur-and-martha

The big horses and little me

Horses ploughing, 
the big horses
get a collar on them - hardest job for 
	little me
the heavy harness, 
the straps, chains

beautiful days, those
smashing big horses. Pulling the implement
in pairs
	they know exactly what's required.
I'd love riding back on them
after the day

the big horses had more sense than us
knew what they was doing, yes
everyone saw them in the fields
	a horse trough in every town 
- then -

many slaughtered 
for meat
the other stuff was rationed
	hard work getting the collar on 
when you're little
how many times would you

walk up and down the soft earth
ride them bareback
always a good mane to hang onto
	nobody in a rush
a V-plough turns the soil
spike arrows, then cut the furrow

the big horses
earthing rows to plant up 
	cabbage, turnip, tatties
little me and the big horses
earthing the rows.

George, Stan, Bert, Derek
11 March 2014

2 thoughts on “Stitching the Wars (2014-2017)

  1. This is truly amazing and makes you realise how rich older people’s lives are, when they can so easily become discarded by society today. Wonderful! I will definitely be going to see them.

    Liked by 1 person

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