24 September 2011

Defiant POW cross stitch from World War II

Making is the most powerful way that we solve problems, express ideas and shape our world. What and how we make defines who we are, and communicates who we want to be. *

From this blog entry at Mr X Stitch, I learned about the upcoming Power of Making exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  Among the objects displayed is this:

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".

The Mr X Stitch blog entry has a link to a longer article in the Guardian, Nazis, needlework and my Dad by Patrick Barkham, from which the above quote is taken.  The Guardian article has this photo of Major Alexis Casdagli's son, holding one of his father's cross-stitch pieces that illustrates his father's WWII POW cell:

...and here is what the article says about this piece:

In a bleak, claustrophobic part-map and part-diagram, his father created a needlework of "Room 13, Spangenberg castle". The stitching depicted inmates' cells, a few lumps of coal, a sign saying "bath every 14 days", and a menu: "soup, potatoes, wurst, bread, semolina". At the bottom was a Union flag. National flags were forbidden in the camp, so Casdagli sewed a canvas flap over it with "do not open" written on it in German. "Each week the same officer would open the flap and say, 'This is illegal,' and Pa said, 'You're showing it, I'm not showing it.'"

Here is the information from the end of the Guardian article:

Power of Making is at the V&A from Tuesday until 2 January 2012, www.vam.ac.uk. A Stitch in Time: God Save the King – Fu*k Hitler! by Captain A Casdagli, available from lulu.com. Tony Casdagli is participating in a free workshop at the V&A. Crafting the Collection: Power of Making, 17 September, 11am-4pm.

About the Power of Making exhibition:

The V&A and Crafts Council celebrate the role of making in our lives by presenting an eclectic selection of over 100 exquisitely crafted objects, ranging from a life-size crochet bear to a ceramic eye patch, a fine metal flute to dry stone walling. Power of Making is a cabinet of curiosities showing works by both amateurs and leading makers from around the world to present a snapshot of making in our time.
The exhibition showcases works made using a diverse range of skills and explores how materials can be used in imaginative and spectacular ways, whether for medical innovation, entertainment, social networking or artistic endeavour.
Making is the most powerful way that we solve problems, express ideas and shape our world. What and how we make defines who we are, and communicates who we want to be.
For many people, making is critical for survival. For others, it is a chosen vocation: a way of thinking, inventing and innovating. And for some it is simply a delight to be able to shape a material and say ‘I made that’. The power of making is that it fulfills each of these human needs and desires.
Those whose craft and ingenuity reach the very highest levels can create amazing things. But making is something everyone can do. The knowledge of how to make – both everyday objects and highly-skilled creations – is one of humanity’s most precious resources.

The Guardian has a slideshow of some of the other works in this exhibition:

Not quite the same work as the more usual royal/patriotic fare I find for this blog, but just as important to document and include as British patriotic needlework.  Glad to have found it to share.  And I like the discussion/explanation of the importance of making.

1 comment:

  1. That is an incredible story!! I found your blog on Sylvia's "Linens and Royals" and came over to have a look. Twenty minutes later I'm still looking, and thoroughly enjoying! I have a few Royal memorabilia linens, so if I don't see them here, I'll photograph them and email them to you.


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