Mending a Soldier’s Heart at Heart Space

recreated soldier’s pinned heart

This wonderful pinned heart, so bright and fresh but curiously authentic was made yesterday during a workshop at Heart Space Studios. The maker, Libby, had received the original some 25 years ago from her grandmother, to whom it had been given as a token of love by her husband, a soldier during the first world war.

box of rusted and stained remnants with scribbled design for reconstructing the heart.

When she first received the heart, Libby tried to restore it…..with disastrous consequences; the whole thing disintegrated because the silk that the heart had been made in had rotted. She thoughtfully put  all the pieces  in a small box, with a scribbled note of the design – and yesterday it arrived to be mended. The first thing to do was to see what we had got and to clean it as best we could….

all the beads were separated and washed as was the fine cotton velvet centre cross and the remaining  shoulder applique.

The pins were steel with several rusted, but we decided we wanted to use as much as possible of the original materials and also bright stainless steel pins would have detracted from the overall quality of the reconstruction.

rusted pins with some beads still attached

I then had to draft a pattern to fit the purple velvet cross, luckily one of my old pinned hearts was the perfect size so I used this.

original heart used for pattern.

Libby decided that she wanted to use strong colours that complemented the original velvets, but disliking yellow she chose some of my own hand dyed green silk velvet to replace the shoulder appliques.

drawing round the new paper pattern for the back of the heart

Next came the heart reconstruction, this time stitching by machine, it is stronger and quicker…..

machine stitching the heart shape for filling with sawdust

leaving lots more time for time for the really fascinating business of pinning the beaded design back into its original position.

the first central cross is held in position

The washed velvet was still a bit dull and faded but little is seen when all the rest of the beads and the ribbon are in place.

pinning the regimental ribbon in place

I was pleased to see that the original  woven silk regimental ribbon was still very bright after I had carefully washed it in several rinses of warm water. These ribbons with badges and coats of arms feature in many of the hearts I have collected, but none are as bright as this.

the simple beaded lettering being formed

Libby re-wrote the message “FOND LOVE” onto paper and the pricked through it with a pin straight onto the silk. We had found some evidence of sequins in the remnants and they are useful to hide the raw edges of the applied fabrics; in my stash of beads I found some dull gold metal ones salvaged from a 1920’s dress, the same period as the original heart.

the almost finished heart

By the end of the day the heart was almost complete, except that there were a lot of the original beads left over…Libby said that she would keep pinning them  into patterns as more is more in this type of thing. So that evening she brought back the finished heart which you can see at the head of this post.

The best thing of all though was how the remaking of this family heirloom originally made by Libby’s hardly remembered grandfather, resulted in her reflecting on her family and its history, the ties to the present formed by using the remnants of a family wedding dress;  she was moved by  the idea of actually touching the same beads and placing them in the same patterns as her grandfather had  – I have seldom worked with such an enthralled and ultimately contented and student.

Making Hearts at Heart Space

selection of old and some of my new beaded heart pincushions

Although I have not set out to just make hearts at the classes at Heart Space Studios they are proving very popular in several different textiles workshops. I decided to make my first teaching  workshop on how to make the stuffed and beaded hearts that were popular to give as love tokens or birth presents in the late 19th century. Hand made with pinned patterns and messages they were often made by men away in the forces as presents for those left behind. Now they make small gifts for all sorts of occasions and are highly pleasurable to make.

But before the fun of pinning the beads starts you have to make them and this takes quite a bit of manipulation and a lot of sawdust. They need to be so full that a straight pin will stay put when stuck into the surface to hold the beads. I always have to stuff and stitch them several times to get the tension correct.


They also need strong stitching to hold the stuffing in and I always like this “scar” that is made –  it looks very surgical and one of the hearts made at this class retains this scar idea on the front of the finished heart to great effect.


stitches holding sawdust in place.

Getting a good shape to the hearts takes some pulling and punching as well as a few retaining stitches, it was interesting how different and individual the hearts looked even at this stage. Maybe we all have a perfect heart shape within us.

pinning messages in place on Crazy patchwork base.

Two of the class decided to make “Crazy”  hearts – small pieces of fabric are pinned into place and them the edges covered with ribbons or beads. One of these hearts was made by a mother for her son who is a soldier, and she made it to remind him of home – a nice reversal of the original soldier and sailor makers sending them home.

this Crazy heart was made for the sheer joy of playing with the luscious fabrics, ribbons and beads

Another heart had a message pinned  in to it a rueful comment about the maker, first the message needs to be written in place though and this is quite a tricky piece of designing so it is back to the drawing board before she was able to get her message to fit perfectly in the elegant shape.

writing in position ready to pin - Jan Connet,

The finished heart was brought to me to photograph later when she had finished it – I like the difference the livid scar gives to the well-known saying.

mended but rueful heart.

By coincidence Jan Connet and Liz Hewitt, 2 of the makers shown in the post are responsible for organising a conference for TFSW to be held later this month in Taunton Somerset it involves Mapping and Networking and as I chair TFSW I am shamelessly adding the flyer to this post in the hope of attracting even more people to enjoy a textile networking day.

And by an even happier co-incidence the mended ceramic pitcher shown in  “mending goddess fights back” will also be exhibited.