During WWI and WWII sweetheart pincushions were made by soldiers and sent home to wives, sweethearts, and mothers. The tradition began before WWI in the nineteenth century with Queen Victoria. The Queen was an amateur practitioner of textile arts, who thought that soldiers might find quilting or needlepoint a great distraction while far from home.
Some British soldiers stationed in India made quilts, and sailors in the Navy extended their sail-making efforts to recreational needlework. In WWI, many soldiers took up needlepoint as a way to pass the time while recuperating from war wounds, or used it as a form of occupational therapy.
These pin cushions are decorated with beads, sequins, bits of mirror, felt, and pre-printed panels memorializing soldiers’ regiments. Some such pillows were made out of commercially sold kits or sewn using feed sacks and scrounged thread.
In this centenary year of the Battle of the Somme, SSAFA the Armed Forces charity’s Wiltshire Branch is running a project entitled 100 Hearts for 100 Years, replicating the First World War sweetheart pin cushions that convalescing soldiers made to send home to their loved ones.
SSAFA is the oldest national military charity in the UK and has been in existence for 130 years. It provides lifelong support to anyone who is currently serving or has ever served in the Royal Navy, British Army or Royal Air Force including reservists, and their families.
SSAFA Wiltshire Branch Secretary Lieutenant Colonel Bill Common said: “This Centenary year, SSAFA Wiltshire Branch has commissioned the creation of 100 red replica sweetheart pin cushions by volunteers around the country that will eventually be put on display in an exhibition at Salisbury Cathedral, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Somme.”
“Many of the hearts will be decorated with crests of regiments that passed through Wiltshire during WW1, as well as those of current Wiltshire-based regiments, thus highlighting the continuing importance of the county in our military footprint.”
Embroiderers from The Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace. Photographer Cpl Jamie Dudding; Crown copyright
The Royal School of Needlework has made 20 standard cushions plus a larger heart for each of the single services and SSAFA. For more information please follow the link above.
Lt Col Neil Stace, a REME officer and BBC Great British Sewing Bee finalist, led a needlework session with the Royal School of Needlework in Hampton Court Palace, to demonstrate the therapeutic benefits of sewing as part of the national sweetheart pin cushion project.
Neil took up needlework and knitting at school when it allowed girls to join the school football team. He acquired the nickname “Stitch” during a tour of Afghanistan having taken his machine with him.
Neil has been using his sewing skills to support 100 Hearts for 100 Years project. In the Salisbury Journal he is quoted saying:
“It would be really interesting going back to the First World War, where clearly a lot of these hearts come from, whether there was a stigma of being a man sewing, or whether they were so traumatised by what was going on that they did anything to focus their minds; to take their minds off the horror of what was going on. I did a bit of research on mindfulness and sewing. I thought this really does work. Even if you haven’t got a stressful life, it’s nice because time slows down and you can just focus on what’s happening in your hands. And, it’s creating something beautiful.”
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