Monday, 14 May 2018

A Stitch in Time

Cross-stitch, if you had asked me a month ago, would have definitely been on the unwritten and unimaginatively-named list of ‘things I thought I’d never do’. Nothing against cross-stitch, just that it was never something that I had time, reason or compulsion of any sort to commit my time towards. The list of ‘things that need doing’ always taking the priority and well, cross-stitch just never made it on there…until now! 

'A Day in the Life of a Nurse' 1938 Nursing Illustrated
To coincide with 70 years of the NHS this year, the library manager for the Library Service, where I work for the Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust showed me with the library’s copy of ‘Nursing Illustrated. Published as a series of magazines in 1938 (that’s right, 10 years before the NHS), it features research articles, news stories, letters, advertisements, tips and activities relevant to the nursing profession of the time. Coming from an art background I was drawn to a feature it published inviting nursing staff to produce a sampler, titled A Day in the Life of a Nurse’. The sampler, serialised in eight parts gave pattern designs for cross-stitch scenes depicting nursing activities such as ‘an interview with matron’ and ‘visitors’ hour’. The sampler also ran as a competition in which the winning first prize sampler could win 10 guineas*!

The seed of an idea has been planted and I thought it would be really interesting if these designs could be seen and brought to life again, made by the next generation of nursing professionals and even opening it up wider to everyone who works within the NHS today (even patients potentially), reflecting the breadth and diversity of the roles within the organisation. These patterns are likely to have been unmade by anyone for quite some years and so it is exciting to reveal something from the past.

The pattern for 'Up with the Lark' scene in 'A Day in the Life of a Nurse'
Inevitably times change and what was in 1938 a sampler design inside a nursing journal, perhaps intended as something to be made in-between caring for patients on wards, is now something that is more likely to be regarded as a spare-time leisure activity. In-part it reflects just how time-pressures and ‘the role’ of nursing has changed over the years. How many nurses still find time to create and make things whilst at work? And, what are the benefits to creative projects on wellbeing in relation to current day working within the NHS? It raises important questions and discussions around these issues as well as more broad ones in getting people to talk about ‘how things have changed’ and what the future may hold in store. If I have time I would like to talk to nursing staff and create new scenes that depict the modern-day counterpart to the 1938 one! What would be similar? What would have changed?

My efforts thus far at recreating 'Up with the Lark' sampler.
Under the current and topical NHS initiative of ‘Wellbeing through Creativity’, earlier this month we sent a call-out to employees at the trust I work for inviting them to participate in the challenge of recreating this sampler. I have so far been met with a positive response! As someone who artistically has mostly ever worked alone in the ‘making’ of art work it is humbling and encouraging to be working on a project collaboratively with a variety of people whose individual professions and experiences will hopefully add to the ‘story-telling’ element of how the whole sampler comes together. In some cases, parts of the sampler will have been made by employees in different parts of the hospital, the trust (Somerset Partnership) and possibly even by patients; I am hoping that the remote ways people now work within the NHS but come together as a team for the combined whole (visualised in the sampler through a variety of different sizes and colours) will celebrate the variety within the organisation that shares the same overall cause and values. That’s the bigger ambition, but I mean it when I say that I am genuinely inspired by the enthusiasm of those taking-part which has led to even me being encouraged to having a go at cross-stitch! Something, as I said, I thought I would never really try. 

At the very least if this project gets people making, talking and feeling good through doing so, then it will have achieved what I hope it set out to do. I will keep you posted how things materialise!

*Disclaimer -No prizes, other than the saccharin satisfaction of taking part, will be awarded to entrants participating in the 2018 version.

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