Yesterday I thought I was going to write about pillowcases but somehow that didn’t happen and I ended up writing about how I came to the point at which I decided the direction my work was going to take. So here is the follow up post.
Pillowcases have featured in my work since 2012 and it was during a residency at London Printworks Trust, Brixton that I began writing my regular blog; Embroider the Truth and wrote quite a bit about pillowcases. At that time I was visiting the Red Cross archives to try to find out more about Clarice and during one visit discovered an Army Supplies Order Book with references to the supply of pillowcases:
Between Oct and Nov 1914 3,000 pillowcases were issued by the Army
In October 1917 this number had risen to 37,672
It intrigued me where all the pillowcases came from and who made them but at that time I couldn’t find anything further.
This snippet of information from 6 years ago didn’t even enter my thoughts until sitting on a plane on the way home from Amsterdam.
Contained within the Cathedral archives is a file Cat no. CCA-CC-W/16 which contains letters sent to the Canterbury and District War Work Depot (WWD). The letters are mostly sent from hospitals thanking the WWD for the items they have sent and some are letters requesting items. For example:
30 Flannel undervests were sent to Nackington Hospital
Pneumonia Jackets went to the Military Hospital, Purfleet, Essex
Sheets, bath towels and slippers were sent to St David’s Hospital, Malta
Port Said, Egypt received PJ’s and vests in Dec 1916 and wrote ‘These are particularly welcome just now, as with the vastly increased numbers of patients in the hospital, we have totally been unable to keep pace with the deceased.’
and so the list could go on; 140 letters in total but I won’t list everything here as I may use the list in a piece of work.
However, it is 3 letters in particular that I am interested in
Cat no CC/W/16/5/52 is a letter from the Serbian Relief fund requesting blankets, sheets, pillows and pillow cases amongst other things
Cat no CC/W/16/5/59 is a letter from 26 General Hospital, B.E.F, France thanking the WWD for ‘the jacinette pillow cases’
Cat no. CC/W/16/5/120 sent from the Dane John Hospital, Canterbury thanking the WWD for the ‘linen, sheets, towels etc………Please thank those of your workers who marked the things so beautifully for us; it is such a great help not to have to mark the things here’
I assume this last letter refers to what looks like embroidery on the bed covers as seen here in this photo also found in the archive and one that I have previously written about.
Further research leads me to believe that items collected and distributed by the War Work Depot were either made by hand or donated from around Kent and the references to pillow cases making up part of their consignments makes my thoughts about creating a new installation of pillow cases particularly relevant.
I already had a collection of over 50 pillow cases from my previous project and as before it seems important that they have been hand embroidered or hand embellished in some way through the addition of lace or ribbons. For this new installation I wanted 100 pillow cases and so the search has begun.
Finding old pillow cases to buy can be difficult; charity shops tend to throw them away as they are often stained and therefore not very desirable to others. Ebay is generally a good source but prices can be high so I did a call out on Facebook and Twitter for people to keep an eye out for me. To my delight two Twitter friends; Gail Baxter and Mary Crabb very kindly sent me a wonderful selection of very beautiful pillow cases and the manner in which these were donated feels like a reference to the items collected and donated to the WWD. Thank you Gail and Mary!
I now have almost 70 so if anyone reading this blog can help my quest to have 100 then do please get in touch.
It feels so right that I have returned to the pillow cases for my work at the Cathedral and I will write more about what I intend to do with them and how they connect to my ideas about the Armistice and the poppy in another post
The next thrilling instalment coming soon!