“This heart-shaped pincushion, decorated with pins and glass beads, was made by an unknown soldier during the First World War. It was sent in a box marked ‘With Love’ to Miss Ellen Burns of Manast Street, Rhymney. Pincushions such as this one are often called ‘sweetheart’ pincushions’… They were probably made by convalescing soldiers as occupational therapy”
National Museum Wales. 2015. National Memory - Local Stories. [Online]. Accessed 13th September 2015. Available from: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/national-memory-local-stories/partner-collections/explore-the-collections-amgueddfa-cymru-national-museum-wales.php
These pincushions are fascinating artefacts in themselves; the idea that a soldier, typically imagined as a physically strong, emotionally callous person, could sew something as beautiful and sensitive as this pincushion is an incredible contradiction of these stereotypes.
However, it is the potential and the untold story of the pincushion which Laura finds the most fascinating. ‘Sweetheart’ pincushions of these type were often made by injured soldiers to keep their minds and bodies active while recovering in hospital and sent to loved ones at home, who would usually be females.
There are many unanswered questions raised by this artefact: who was Ellen Burns? What was her relationship to the soldier that made the pincushion: was she a girlfriend, wife, mother or sister? Did the pincushion even get to her? Did she live through the war? Did the soldier who made the pincushion survive the war? Were they reunited after the war finished?
This artefact tell the story of the people who made these extraordinarily sentimental objects, people who created history during this tumultuous time, showing sensitivity during a war with the highest death toll to date. It is the hypothetical questions raised above that Laura is aiming to highlight and investigate with this embroidery.
Photos of pincushion copyright, Collection of Amguedddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales