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Anti-war posts, because more people want love than want war.

Act #14 of 48 Acts of Historical Craftivism, Alexis Casdagli’s F*ck Hitler Cross Stitch!

As life keeps conspiring to get in the way of 48 weeks of historical craftivism, this is now 48 acts. Still chuffed and determined to do this, though, so keep posted!

This week I’m talking about a piece of work that has made the rounds of various blogs, but I think is still important to include in this project, Alexis Casdagli’s F*ck Hitler cross stitch, which he made as a POW in WWII.




After six months held by the Nazis in a prisoner of war camp, Major Alexis Casdagli was handed a piece of canvas by a fellow inmate. Pinching red and blue thread from a disintegrating pullover belonging to an elderly Cretan general, Casdagli passed the long hours in captivity by painstakingly creating a sampler in cross-stitch. Around decorative swastikas and a banal inscription saying he completed his work in December 1941, the British officer stitched a border of irregular dots and dashes. Over the next four years his work was displayed at the four camps in Germany where he was imprisoned, and his Nazi captors never once deciphered the messages threaded in Morse code: “God Save the King” and “Fuck Hitler”.

This subversive needling of the Nazis was a form of defiance that Casdagli, who was not freed from prison until 1945, believed was the duty of every PoW. “It used to give him pleasure when the Germans were doing their rounds,” says his son, Tony, of his father’s rebellious stitching. It also stopped him going mad. “He would say after the war that the Red Cross saved his life but his embroidery saved his sanity,” says Tony. “If you sit down and stitch you can forget about other things, and it’s very calming…

Most of all, though, Casdagli recorded his anger and frustration in cross-stitch. He had picked up sewing skills from elderly relatives and, when Red Cross parcels began arriving (containing hairbrushes with secret compartments that concealed maps, which the prisoners annotated with intelligence and smuggled out), he acquired materials. He also borrowed more threads from his old Cretan general friend – this time from his pyjamas.”




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The amazing thing about Major Casdagli’s work is that it was displayed in four separate camps where he was imprisoned, but his captors never caught on to the secretly stitched messages. He also ran a needlework school for 40 officers inside the camp. His work illustrated his thoughts and feelings, and was undoubtedly a major source of strength in surviving his four years as a POW.




“Having run a textiles company before the war he knew a little about sewing, so when he was given a canvas by another prisoner he started stitching for something to do.”

Alexis was held along with a Greek general, from whose dress jacket Alexis pulled the threads he used to stitch the sampler.

“The Red Cross wouldn’t give care packages to captives until they had been held for over a year ,” said [his son,] grandfather-of-five Tony.

“So my father had to pick threads from items of clothing. Eventually he was able to ask for thread and canvas in his packages.

“He was so good at it the Germans had him giving classes to his fellow officers, but the Germans never worked out his code.”




The BBC did a wonderful interview with his son, Tony, which you can listen to here.






Also, the Washington City Paper was kind enough to do an interview with me the other week! Yay!

More info on Louisa Pesel!

One of the great things about having a blog or website is that you never know who will find you or be reading… and just this on its own an be so exciting! Well, after my post about Louisa Pesel the other day and noting that there wasn’t much information about her online, I got an email from one of the women who organized the Ecclesiastical Embroidery exhibition in Bradford Cathedral in 2010, who kindly provided me with more information! Yeah!

Here is her email:

Dear Betsy, I came across your Craftivism blog posting of 13th April, regarding Louisa Pesel, and you say you’d like to hear more about her.

I was one of a small team who organised an Ecclesiastical Embroidery exhibition at Bradford Cathedral in 2010, which is where the “Khaki Frontal” was displayed. The photograph that you have posted of it (in the Cathedral) would have been taken at this exhibition.

This Khaki Frontal is composed of the Super Frontal (the top piece), which was made by the shell-shocked soldiers in 1918, and the Frontal (the larger piece), made by their teachers in 1919. It was made for the Abram Peel War Hospital, as you say, and it was given to Bradford Cathedral for use in the Bolling Chapel, in memory of them after the War. The Bolling Chapel was reordered as part of the extension of the Cathedral in the late 1950’s.

We are currently hoping to raise money to have the Khaki Frontal on permanent display in the Cathedral, as it is such a unique and interesting piece.

The extract below is from the Exhibition Handbook, and includes a little more information about Louisa Pesel than you have in your blog:

On the back of the super frontal are the words:-

This frontlet was worked by shell-shocked soldiers, in the autumn of 1918, at the Bradford Khaki Handicrafts Club, for use at their services at the Abram Peel Hospital. It was lengthened and the frontal added by their teachers in 1919 and was accepted, in memory of them, for the Bolling Chapel in 1920.

The Bradford Khaki Handicrafts Club was established to provide occupational therapy and employment for men returning from the First World War, using embroidery. The Abram Peel Hospital was opened in 1915 as a specialist neurological hospital, and by 1919 had 437 beds. It was sited at Leeds Road.

Louisa Pesel was instrumental in getting the Khaki Club established; she was born in 1870, the eldest daughter of the Bradford cloth merchant Frederick Pesel, and his wife Isabella. She studied drawing and design under Lewis Foreman Day, a contemporary and close acquaintance of William Morris. She was appointed in 1903 as designer to the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Laces in Athens, and she acted as director of the school until 1907. On her return to England she became an inspector of art and needlework, and well known lecturer.

In 1920 she was elected as the first president of the Embroiderer’s Guild of England. In 1932 she founded the Winchester Cathedral Broderers with the object of providing the stalls and seats with cushions and kneelers, and she became Mistress of Broderers there in 1938.

The embroidered motifs in the design of the super-frontal and frontal here are similar to motifs from Greek island embroideries, which were one of Louisa’s favourite areas of research. Those on the frontal are similar to motifs from the island of Rhodes. They are worked in cross stitch, which was used in the majority of Louisa’s own projects.

Louisa Pesel died in 1947, and her collection of notebooks, photographs, drawings, and embroidery samples were left to the University of Leeds, and are now held in the University of Leeds International Textile Archive.

Week #9 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Louisa Pesel!

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First of all, you may be wondering, what is a woman riding a camel in the Khyber Pass doing on a post about craftivism? Well, it’s totally related once you realize that that woman on that camel is Louisa Pesel, who helped shell-shocked soldiers and passed out cross-stitch/embroidery kits (some resources say one, some the other) to POWs with the Red Cross.

I’ve searched high and low on the internet for more information than provided below, but it’s sparse. If anyone has any more information, I’d love to hear it! While this week’s entry may be a bit sparse, I hope it helps someone learn about the fabulous work on this amazing woman.




Pesel3ed



Louisa Pesel is a special hero of mine. Many years ago I fell in love with her notebooks and her meticulously hand drawn charted designs of antique needlework. She was saying, ‘Just look at this, isn’t this design wonderful?’ Having travelled to many countries in the near East, she wanted all the world to see what she, by her good fortune, had seen. I think it is so important to keep alight the torch she lit. The more so, perhaps, since she was an old girl of my school in Bradford. How strange to think that the school founded in 1875 and something of a scandal since it proposed to teach girls mathematics and classics instead of the usual domestic arts, should have been, in its turn, slightly astonished to turn out a scholar with a passion for design and needlework.




Born in Bradford, Louisa Frances Pesel (1870-1947) was a teacher of embroidery. She studied design under the Arts & Crafts practitioner Lewis Foreman Day, who recommended her for the post of Designer at the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Laces in Athens, where she soon became its Director. After returning to England, Pesel worked with shell-shocked soldiers in Bradford, and was involved in establishing embroidery kits for POWs (Prisoners of War) during the Second World War.




More than 90 years ago, in the final year of the First World War, steam trains daily brought injured soldiers into Bradford for hospital treatment.

Among these hospitals was the 437-bed Abram Peel Hospital in Leeds Road, a military establishment for neurological disorders, staffed by the Royal Army Medical Corps, Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and volunteers.

A club was formed to help them, the Bradford Khaki Club, based in Forster Square.

Khaki Club members were also taught embroidery by Louisa Pesel, the Bradford-born daughter of a German merchant. She was in her 40s, a noted scholar and embroidery expert who had been director of the Royal Helenic School of Needlework and Laces in Athens.

She helped some of them to embroider what is known as the Khaki Cloth, a cross-stitch frontlet made at the club in the autumn of 1918 for use at services in the Abram Peel Hospital.




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The Bradford Khaki Club was formed in the First World War to help the many shell shocked and injured soldiers brought home for hospital treatment. It had a restaurant, games room, library and held concert parties, members were also taught to embroider by Louisa Pesel (first President of the “Embroiderers Guild of Needlework”), some of whom helped embroider what is known as the “Khaki Cloth”, a cross-stitch frontlet made in 1918 and used at services in the “Abram Peel Hospital” in Leeds Road a Military establishment staffed by the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.




From 1941 to 1947: Pesel was involved in sending craft kits out to POWS in Red Cross parcels. She also taught sewing to evacuated school girls in Winchester.




Along with all of this amazing work, she was also world traveled and master embroiderer.

The Pesel Collection of Collected and Created works, bequeathed to the University of Leeds in 1947, consists of a total of over 400 embroidered items, ranging in size, stitching and provenance. The majority are of Turkish and Greek island origin, others emanate from Morocco, Algeria, Turkestan, India, Pakistan, Persia, Syria, China, and Western Europe. The collection also includes Louisa Pesel’s own pieces and samples, including her ‘models’ for Winchester Cathedral, and also an archival collection of her notebooks, photographs, articles and drawings*. Many of her publications are available to view in Leeds University Library.




One of the founders of the Khaki Club was Louisa Pesel, a relatively well to do 46 year old woman, whose war efforts also included assisting Belgian refugees and raising money to provide ambulances for use at the Front. She was also an expert embroiderer, and used this as therapy for the soldiers.

Week #8 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Knitting and the Vietnam War!

Knitting and the Vietnam War?! Really?! Yes! During the Vietnam War, 2 Canadian organizations Canadian Aid for Vietnamese Children (CAVC) and Voice of Women (VOW) used knitting as a way to help the Vietnamese people. Here are some of the links that I found so you can learn more about what happened.




I was puzzled, however, as knitting did experience extreme peaks in popularity during wars prior to 1950, however, with the Vietnam war, knitting for wartime efforts played a far smaller role in female participation in war efforts, leading up to the present day, in which knitted goods are virtually absent from discourse on military support efforts. How did knitting go from being such an integral part of the war effort to being a nonexistent one?




Voice of Women (VOW) was founded in 1960 whem women across Canada decided they must try to stop what appeared to be imminent nuclear war. The Summit Conference had collapsed; the Cold War was rapidly getting hotter, and we felt women around the world should band together to demand an end to war. Groups like VOW were formed in many countries.

By the end of its first year, VOW had 6000 members. It organized an International Women’s Conference in September 1962- the first meeting in Canada to include women from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Conference delegates called on the U.N. to designate a World Peace Year. The idea was taken up by Prime Minister Nehru at the UN, and 1965 was proclaimed International Cooperation Year.




…Young initiated a knitting project to provide clothing for Vietnamese children as a means of communicating the harsh realities of war; she hoped thereby to influence citizens across North America to press for a speedy end to the war. By November 1966, just a few months after the establishment of CAVC’s children’s committee, the knitting project had gained momentum. In a letter to Kay MacPherson, Young asserted, “We have found that actual involvement in ‘making things’ has done more to arouse compassion and publicize the great need for acts of humanitarianism and the desperate need to halt the war, than any other project.




Women in North America have long been active in trying to put an end to conflicts around the world. In the early 1960s, when the threat of nuclear war loomed over many nations, our own Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) was formed. Since then, the organization has been promoting peace and disarmament, particularly in the context of nuclear war.

VOW has organized unique activities to draw attention to its cause. In 1963, it collected and tested thousands of baby teeth from children across North America to demonstrate the fallout from the atmospheric testing of Strontium 90, a harmful radioactive isotope. During the Vietnam War, the Ontario VOW organized the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children. Over a ten-year period, the group sent thousands of hand-knitted garments and other aid to the child victims of the war and their families.

Over time, VOW has expanded its focus to include human rights and civil liberties, preservation of the environment, as well as economic and political issues.




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Presumably some of the young Canadian knitters and other youth volunteers found kinship with the unknown Vietnamese children they were assisting or when they imagined themselves in the same situation. Zoya Stevenson, a Toronto teen, participated in the CAVC knitting campaign because she could relate to the Vietnamese children affected by the war. “The napalm bombing of innocent women and children (like myself) shocked me,” she recalled, elaborating that “the fact that these acts of terror were sanctions by citizens of my own country, frightened me terribly.”


VOW





The efforts of women fighting for peace did not end with the World Wars, nor did the use of knitting as a form of peace activism stop. The Canadian group ‘Voice of Women’ (VOW), created in July 1960 as a reaction against the Cold War, garnered ten thousand members by 1961 – just twelve months after having been first established.[25] Barbara Roberts’ essay, Women’s Peace Activism in Canada, featured in Kealey and Sangster’s Beyond the Vote: Canadian Women and Politics (1989), explains the way in which VOW became a prominent feminist and peace activist group during the years of the Cold War, despite being founded at a time when “feminists were cranks” and “socialists were commies”.[26] The group took on the initiative of knitting thousands of camouflage baby clothes to be shipped to Vietnam so as to protect children and their families from the US air strikes.[27] This bold action made a loud statement to the Canadian people, and despite not being well received by much of the public, VOW continued to protest the Cold War.

More reading:
*Purls for Peace:The Voice of Women, Maternal Feminism, and the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children
* Re-Imagining War: The Voice of Women, The Canadian Aid for Vietnam Civilians, and the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children, 1966-1976

Week #3 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp

Welcome to Week 3 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism! This week we have a lovely guest post by the lovely and amazing Sayraphim Lothian.

Craft Activism – the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp

Protesters ring the Greenham Common fence decorated with handmade banners and other items (date unknown)”

Protesters ring the Greenham Common fence decorated with handmade banners and other items (date unknown)”

On the 5th of September, 1981, the Welsh group Women for Life on Earth arrived at Greenham Common, an RAF Airbase in Berkshire, England. The group intended to challenge the decision to situate 96 Cruise nuclear missiles at the site, and presented the Base Commander with a letter requesting a debate on the topic. The letter stated, amongst other things, “We fear for the future of all our children and for the future of the living world which is the basis of all life”(1).

When their letter was ignored, they set up a Peace Camp just outside the fence. By 1982, the camp had become women only and with a strong feminist emphasis. In the following months and years thousands of women came to live and protest at the newly named Women’s Peace Camp(2), which now consisted of nine smaller camps at various gates around the base(3).

The women’s activism came in many forms, a considerable amount of it focused on the 9 mile fence that ringed the perimeter. In an interview with The New Statesman in 2007, the General Secretary for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Kate Hudson recalls “…block[ing] the gates, pull[ing] down parts of the fence, danc[ing] on the missile silos, and creatively express[ing] our opposition to the missiles.(4)

In the camps between raids on the base, the women spent time making banners and weaving words, symbols and items such as toys and children’s clothing, into the fence(5). The banners were created both to hang on the fence and hold in protest marches that happened regularly around the perimeter. One of the most prolific banner makers was Thalia Campbell, who started making banners to address the stereotype of the Greenham Common women.

I did decide that I was an artist and I could have been one more body around the fire but I thought ‘no’, and we were so vilified… people did think we were dirty slags, lesbians, bad mothers and all this kind of stuff, like, like they vilified the suffragettes in the early days, but the vilification was so untrue I thought we had to counter it, so that’s why I started making my banners really, to sort of use beauty and humour to put our point across, because that vilification… So that’s why I made all the banners really and to tell the story… I used to go up and put them on the fence and gradually this became a great big display on the fence.(6)

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As well as banners protesting nuclear weapons, other banners (such as the one above) were created to show where the women were from, to show the media and the world that this was not a local issue.

The fence was also the focus of activism through weaving. Alongside toys and children’s clothes, which acted as signifiers of women’s ongoing everyday lived experience, in opposition to the destructive patriarchal threat within, and outside, the base(7), words, slogans and symbols such as peace signs, doves and rainbows were also often incorporated into the chain links.

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A protester remembers there was a lot of weaving things in the perimeter fence – rainbows, kid art, … the whole perimeter fence was very gorgeous. There were a lot of spiderwebs in the art. Spiderwebs were a big theme – I suppose the theme of weaving something, surrounding something(8). Another theory as to why the weaving of the webs was that “Before the world wide web connected people across the world, women at Greenham used the metaphor of a spiders web to imagine global connections between peace activists.(9)”

The webs often extended out to entangle the surrounding trees, the protesters themselves and the workmen and machinery that were sent in to remove them. A subcontractor who had driven his bulldozer in to remove a tree house stated in court “… the girls got in front of the machine. They stood there and a couple walked round [the bulldozer] with woollen string, going round and round with it…(10)” When the women were arrested and taken to court, some used the time to make webs there for installation later back at the camp(11).

The weaving was so important that mention of it made it’s way into protest songs, which were composed at the camp or modified from older songs and sung during protests, court hearings, while in prison or at home in the camp. We are the flow and we are the ebb and I am the weaver both appear in the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp Songbook, handwritten in 1983, photocopied in batches and sold to raise funds(12).

We are the flow
and we are the Ebb
We are the weavers
We are the web(13)

In 1981, at the very start of the Peace Camp, the women adopted the dragon as their symbol(14), explaining on a 1983 photocopied invitation that “The word ‘dragon’ derives from a word meaning ‘to see clearly’. She is a very old and powerful life symbol.” The invitation was to participate in The Full Moon in June Dragon Festival, where women were invited to feast and create a Rainbow Dragon together. Invitation 1 reads in part: At USAF Greenham Common, Newbury, Berkshire on the 25th June, a Rainbow Dragon will be born by joining the creative work of thousands of women… Women are making pieces of patchwork, banners, cloth paintings to join into the Rainbow Dragon for the future(15).

Three other invitations were also produced, the second of which invites women to “Dress up if you want – wear the colours of fire – make smaller dragons… believe in yourselves and know that our positive, creative energy will change the world.(16)” The visitors to Greenham that day bought patches and material from home and from women who couldn’t make it to the camp. Over the course of the day they helped sew together a 9 mile Rainbow Dragon, which then encircled the fence.

The Rainbow Dragon at Greenham Common, 1983

The Rainbow Dragon at Greenham Common, 1983

The Rainbow Dragon at Greenham Common, 1983

The Rainbow Dragon at Greenham Common, 1983

The Rainbow Dragon at Greenham Common, 1983

The Rainbow Dragon at Greenham Common, 1983

The Rainbow Dragon at Greenham Common, 1983

The Rainbow Dragon at Greenham Common, 1983

An article in an undated Greenham Common newsletter talks about the Rainbow Serpent from Aboriginal mythology and emphasises it as a:

‘universally-respected divinity’, a guardian of humanity, and a metaphor for menstrual cycles, and as such an important symbol for Greenham Common Peace Camp women … The Rainbow Serpent also represented ‘the dragon [that was] slaughtered by some patriarchal hero who established the present world order from which we are still suffering’. However, as a phoenix from the ashes, the dragon… is stirring from her sleep allowing, ‘the Australian Aboriginals and the American Indians, together with traditional people and women everywhere [to have] the last word(17)’

The dragon was clearly a powerful symbol for the women to create together and surround the base with and it’s nine mile length showed the world that many voices were joined as one to protest the nuclear weapons being held behind the fence.

Living conditions were primitive at Greenham Common. Living outside in all kinds of weather especially in the winter and rainy seasons was testing. Without electricity, telephone, running water etc, frequent evictions and vigilante attacks, life was difficult. In spite of the conditions women, from many parts of the UK and abroad, came to spend time at the camp to be part of the resistance to nuclear weapons(18). But the women made their protest heard, all around the world, with interventions, songs, marches, banners, costumes and craft based installations.

Ultimately, in 1991, the nuclear weapons were removed after US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which meant that the cruise missiles were taken back to America(19). The camp and the women remained for another nine years, as part of a protest against the UK Trident program, which is the ongoing operation of the current generation of British nuclear weapons(20) before leaving for the last time in 2000.

A Thalia Campbell banner on the Greenham fence (date unknown)

A Thalia Campbell banner on the Greenham fence (date unknown)

(1) Hipperson, Sarah (n.d.) Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp 1981 – 2000 [Accessed 13 September 2013]
(2)Hudson, Kate, 2013 ‘Remembering Greenham Common’ The New Statesman [Accessed 13 September 2013]
(3)‘Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp (n.d.) Wikipedia [Accessed 15 September 2013]
(4)Hudson, Kate, 2013 ‘Remembering Greenham Common’ The New Statesman
(5)Eiseman-Renyard, Hannah, 2011 ‘Revolting Women: Greenham Common’ Bad Reputation: A Feminist Pop Culture Adventure [Accessed 17 September 2013]
(6)The Peace Museum, 2009 Thalia Campbell – Greenham Common protester and banner maker [Accessed 12 September 2013]
(7)Welch, Christina (n.d.) ‘Spirituality and Social Change at Greenham Common Peace Camp’ Journal for Faith, Spirituality and Social Change. Vol.1:1 [Accessed 08 September 2013]
(8)Eiseman-Renyard, Hannah, 2011 ‘Revolting Women: Greenham Common’ Bad Reputation: A Feminist Pop Culture Adventure
(9)Feminist Archive South, 2013 Greenham Materials
[Accessed 12 September 2013]
(10)Harford, Barbara and Hopkins, Sarah (eds)1984 Greenham Common: Women at the Wire London: The Women’s Press p48
(11)Ibid p47
(12)Greenham Women are Everywhere songs (n.d) [Accessed 13 September 2013] p 1
(13)The Danish Peace Academy, 2009 Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp Songbook [Accessed 12 September 2013]
(14)The National Archives (n.d.) Records of Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp (Yellow Gate) : Press cuttings 5GCW/E/1 Nov 1981 – Oct 1983 [Accessed 16 September 2013]
(15)The Danish Peace Academy, 2009 Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp Songbook : A Day in December 82 [Accessed 12 September 2013]
(16)The Danish Peace Academy, 2009 Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp Songbook : A Day in December 82..
(17)Welch, Christina (n.d.) ‘Spirituality and Social Change at Greenham Common Peace Camp’ Journal for Faith, Spirituality and Social Change
(18)Hipperson, Sarah (n.d.) Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp 1981 – 2000


    More resources:

Combomphotos, 1983 Aldermaston-Greenham Common peace chain 01-04-1983 04 [Accessed 19 September 2013]

For anyone over 30, the words “Greenham Common” mean two things: cruise missiles and the women’s peace camps of the mid-Eighties (n.d.) [Accessed 19 September 2013]

Levit, Briar (n.d.) Greenham [Accessed 19 September 2013]

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