Some thoughts on historic Pin Cushion Hearts

Victorian pin heart cushionsI’ve recently returned from a Pin Cushion Heart making course at Heartspace Studios in Bristol, after seeing some of these objects dating back to the Victorian era for the first time this year. Two of which were in Tate Britain’s exhibition on Folk Art, which I reviewed for Trebuchet Magazine.

I find pin cushion hearts both attractive with their heavily beaded patterning and slightly grotesque, mainly because they have often ‘weathered’ over time and become stained or dirty. Making one myself seemed a good way to understand the significance and possible roles of these double-edged objects, and so to appreciate them more.

Recreated solider's pin heartThe cushions are stuffed with either sawdust or sand, which, if not machine-made, involves quite a lot of force and patience. I added lavender to my sawdust, which could be smelt every time I pushed a pin into the cushion during the decorating stage. It takes a lot of sawdust to make the cushion firm and full, and because it compacts, it takes a lot more than you think you need. The sawdust is stuffed through a long slit down the centre front of the heart. When the heart is sufficiently sturdy and can withstand the pressure of pins (a floppy cushion will result in the pins falling out), it can be sewn up with diagonal stitches that crosshatch each other. This ends up looking like a harrowing scar down the heart’s middle. So although the hearts feel strong, there is a sense of fragility and even violence at their centre.  Continue reading

Through Our Hands: The third issue

Front cover of the third Through Our Hands magazineMy article about the delightful and quirky Bristol Wool Fair is published in the third issue of ‘Through Our Hands’ textile magazine.

The Bristol Wool Fair

5 – 7th September 2014, Clifton and Durdham Downs, Bristol

The marquees were an impressive size even from a distance. If you looked carefully, you also might have been able to make out some sheep milling about and being prepared for shearing demonstrations. Getting nearer to the event, the smell of wool and the bleating of sheep were strikingly evident. This was certainly peculiar for the middle of Bristol. And yet, the Bristol Wool Fair was a great success.

The Wool Fair was held over three days on Clifton and Durdham Downs, an expansive stretch of open green space in the heart of the city. It is often used for hosting touring fairgrounds and circuses, but has never before entertained such a big or ambitious art event. It is possible that this was the first arts and crafts fair that the Downs had seen.  Continue reading