Knitting & Stitching Show – their hearts are in the right place


The Knitting & Stitching show currently on at London’s Olympia is always packed with inspiration – and this year is no exception. But the Untangled Threads stand (D2) is giving visitors inspiration of a different kind. They’re involved in an ambitious community artwork project to commemorate the centenary of the First World War Armistice. This project centres around the calico pin cushions WWI wounded soldiers made as part of their recuperation. The idea is to create 1,568 replica pin cushions – one for every day of the war – as part of a campaign to raise money for Combat Stress, the veterans’ mental health charity.

Untangled Threads has made 1,568 sawdust-filled calico hearts and are inviting people to decorate them. Participants in the project can buy kits that contain everything they need – 5% of the proceeds from the sale are donated to Combat Stress ( The completed hearts will be on display at an exhibition to coincide with the centenary of the Armistice.

As well as commemorating the suffering and sacrifice of soldiers during the First World War, this project also aims to highlight the benefits of occupational therapy and the power of craft to both heal and connect people. Anyone interested in taking part should visit the Untangled Threads website dedicated to the project  – – where they will find out all they need to know about getting involved.

We met the organisers of this project at the Show and asked them a few questions about the Sawdust Hearts:

Who came up with the idea of Untangled Threads?

Untangled Threads is the name of my company and I run mixed media and textile workshops and have a gallery. I also sell my own art work.

Tell us about the history of the Sawdust Hearts and how important these were to the soldiers and those back home in WW1.

Sawdust Hearts have been made since the early 1700’s – they were initially made as wedding gifts or layette pin cushoins. They were also popularly made by soldiers and sailors from the Boar Wars. During WWI, Queen Mary realised their potential as a means of therapy for convalescing soldiers. She organised for kits to be made and distributed to hospitals where wounded or shell-shocked soldiers were recuperating. The hearts were decorated with whatever notions were available  and once decorated they were sent to loved ones at home, gaining the name ‘Sweetheart Pincushions’. Pincushions is something of a misnomer, they are really more akin to Folk Art, or Keepsakes.

Can you give us some background to the ‘100 Sawdust Hearts’ project?

The 100 project was an exhibition at Untangled Threads Gallery for a local arts fesitval ‘Coastival’ in Scarborough. I made 100 Sawdust Hearts which were distributed to 100 artists and attendees at my workshops. They were asked to make ‘anything’ with the heart. It could be deconstructed, framed, etc, but the finished work had to be no bigger than 12” in any direction. The exhibition showed, 100 hearts, 100 artists, 100 responses. The 100 project was a logistical ‘trial run’ for the 1,568 project.

Who made the hearts in the kit – were they hand-made?

Helen Birmingham made ALL the hearts by hand, and numbered and packed the 1,568 kits.

Where will the Sawdust Hearts be exhibited and when?

The Hearts will be exhibited at Woodend Creative Workspace, The Crescent, Scarborough (the former home of Edith Sitwell) from 3rd to 30th November 2018, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.

Tell us about Combat Stress and how this links to the idea that the Hearts were used as a form of occupational therapy in WW1.

Combat Stress is the mental health charity for former members of the forces, who are suffering with anxiety, PTSD and other mental health issues, as a result of their service in the forces. Queen Mary’s heart project at the end of WW1 was the first instance of Occupational Therapy in this country, and Combat Stress still provide occupational therapy as part of their work,

Thank you so much for your support.