DCMS blog

Threads and Yarns: health and wellbeing over the past 75 years

Avatar photo


Jo Morrison

Digital Projects Director

Jo Morrison, Digital Projects Director at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, explains how an innovative collaboration between CSM, the Wellcome Trust and the V&A is bringing together art, crafts, medicine and people from different generations.

Around 200 people have been involved in making Threads and Yarns the amazing experience that it has been so far. As part of the Wellcome Trust’s 75th anniversary celebrations, senior citizens from North London and further afield worked with first year students from CSM’s BA Textile Design course in a series of craft workshops at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). As they worked, the participants shared their personal experiences of health and wellbeing and in doing so, explored changes to many areas of public health. Threads and Yarns will bring these stories together at the V&A on 18 July in one friendly and insightful day of specialist talks, first-hand accounts from seniors and students, and creative hands-on workshops led by V&A and CSM staff.
A CSM student demonstrates how to use the loomThis vibrant project promotes intergenerational conversation around biomedical themes. While participants crafted flowers from coloured yarns they shared their personal histories. One man, John, described himself as a “bionic man” due to his many operations over the years, including a bone implant in his right ear, lens implants in both eyes, a big screw in his left foot, and metal studs in his ribs!
Diet was a common theme, with seniors talking of their experience of rationing during the Second World War. Those whose parents had allotments fared quite well as they regularly ate seasonal vegetables, but some families were so poor before the war that rationing was seen as a good thing as it meant they actually had more food.
Another participant, Barbara, talked about giving birth and noted that “we were literally like little prisoners in hospital”, although she admitted that her mother’s experience was worse as she was “shoved in a bed at home, bit on a towel and told to get on with it”.
These are just a few of the rich narratives collected from students and seniors. They have enabled the Wellcome Trust’s network of researchers in science, history of medicine and medical humanities to examine and develop connections and accounts of specific and general biomedical advances over the past 75 years – several of which will be shared at the Threads and Yarns event. We’re exceptionally fortunate to have informal presentations from specialists from the University of Cambridge, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Strathclyde, and more. I can’t wait!
A material flower made by a Threads and Yarns participantAs the participants talked, they also made hundreds of material flowers, all of which are full of character – whether extraordinary architectural forms, or more humble flora. A large-scale interactive artwork created from the flowers will be exhibited in the V&A’s Art Studio. I say that confidently, although we’re still in the process of making it. Some of our textile design students are working with postgraduate students from Queen Mary University of London’s wonderful G.Hack group to develop the interactive aspects of the 5×1 metre piece, and it all comes together this Sunday evening. The artwork’s design is inspired by the floor tiling at the V&A and has a clinical-craft aesthetic.
This project has touched all of those who have been involved, or who hear of it. I describe it as being “simply special”. The warmth, creativity and generosity of all of those who have been involved has been hugely encouraging. People have given their time, been prepared to share very personal stories, worked across evenings and weekends behind the scenes, and all because they have been touched by the project and want to support it.
When I first conceived of Threads and Yarns (at that time it was called “Intergenerational Crafting Bioscience” and subsequently deemed “not catchy enough”), I hadn’t envisaged that a project brought together by some of the UK’s – indeed the world’s – finest educational, scientific and cultural institutions would actually be all about individual generosity.

Threads and Yarns will be at the Sackler Centre, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, on Monday 18th July 2011.

Share this