We’ve got 15minutes left shall we talk about the quilt?Zoom Meeting, Nov.2020
That’s one of my favourite moments from the Threads of Survival timeline since August 2020. Having to redirect a vibrant, dynamic and lively debate – about politicians, food banks,PPE and NHS Staff, the failure of the mainstream media – towards the purpose of the meeting: Making a Quilt.
When we first told people we were going to make quilts it’s probably fair to say there were more than a few campaigners who thought that 999 Call for the NHS had lost the plot. But look at where we were…
A disastrous 2019 General Election where ‘the Left’ lost the plot and the argument and a right wing nationalistic agenda gave an 80 seat majority to what is proving to be the most corrupt, nasty and sociopathic government this country has ever known.
Then Covid. A year of LockDowns. No public meetings. No marches. No gatherings. No nothing. So that’s where the quilts came in. Reading the comments left by visitors to our exhibitions and their experiences of the quilts I think we made a good decision.
Eighteen months have rolled by since we began in August 2020. It’s been quite the learning curve. Of course some campaigners joined us early on but so too did new friends – some curious about the quilting angle and some very nervous about the idea of working with an NHS campaign group.
Christine, Chrissie and I had decided early on that Threads Of Survival had to be a creative exercise in order to reach out to a wide cross section of people. We didn’t push our NHS campaign agenda and deliberately made the creative brief as wide and flexible as possible.
We were lucky to be joined by some professional textile artists who were drawn to the idea and generous in their imaginative skills and also by humble ‘hobbyists’ – stitchers, painters, knitters etc. – but whose knowledge of how to actually make a quilt was a blessing!
Online discussions were a colourful combination of quilting techniques, symbolic imagery and what was going on in the lives of people around us.
How was social isolation playing out?
What was happening in different regions around the country?
How was the NHS coping with the pandemic?
Were the government making decisions based on genuine concern for the safety of the population or were they more focused on cronyism and money-making?
We discovered that the creative space offered people a chance to offer opinions, ask questions and discuss ideas in a reasonably calm setting and the issues facing society and the NHS came quite naturally without us pushing. Some of the rough images that emerged online during the winter months have found their way onto the quilts that you see today.
We lost some people inevitably – those who found being part of a ‘political’ group a little too… what? Fearful? There is nothing sadder (and amusing) than the wide eyed expression of a senior quilter who suddenly realises, with horror, that from the comfort of their living room they’ve landed themselves in a quilting group which is not only talking about ‘middles’ ‘patchwork’ and ‘fat quarters’!
One scrubs and masks group I contacted told me, with a tone only nice middle class women of a certain age can produce – “oh no we wouldn’t take part in anything like that”.
One woman emailed and said “thanks but no thanks, my cobblestone marching days are long gone”. Others faded away due to stress and sadness, many NHS staff were too exhausted, school groups were keen but the pressures of the pandemic overtook them.
But we were joined by newcomers who stuck with us and began their own journey into the labyrinth of Covid politics and NHS historical breakdown. After listening to our discussions they began to become part of the stitching together of materials and ideas – enjoying the art of talking and sharing views in a safe, respectful space.
And that’s why that dark rainy night in November 2020 is one of my favourite memories – pausing 75 minutes of incredible chat and lively debate, having to say:
We’ve got 15minutes left shall we talk about the quilt?
I can’t remember exactly what was going on in the news that week but three or four of the quilters were incensed by events and led the conversation. They had done their own digging into the political shenanigans, the omissions of information by the BBC and other media platforms. Without a single push from us, a quilting session had moved quite naturally from appliqué, backing and wadding to (heavens forbid!) – POLITICS.
It was one of the best discussion nights ever!
That’s why there is a rich depth of human feeling and understanding of the Covid19 Lockdowns in the quilts. The fact that professional artists’ work sits alongside that of enthusuastic beginners only serves to make the collection even more powerful and accessible.
Themes range from intimate personal experience to angry political outrage makes Threads Of Survival a collection of historical documents of which we are incredibly proud. I can’t thank all the ‘patchworkers’ enough for their support and all those who took part with such love and enthusiasm.
I hope you get to see the exhibition soon. And that they help us talk about the last two years, where we are now and where we want our society to go in the future.
There is a hell of a lot to talk about.
And even more problems to solve.
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