I found an article in Saturday’s Guardian to be hugely uplifting. Entitled ‘Pa loved to needle the Nazis,’ it tells the story of Tony Casdagli and his father Alexis. Alexis, an officer in the British Army, was captured by the Nazis and held as a prisoner of war for four years. During this time, stitching kept him sane. He had to steal small lengths of wool in order to make his tapestries. He stitched subversive messages in Morse Code (if you read the article, be prepared for a Bad Word). The Nazis missed the messages and only saw the swastikas, so they approved of and even displayed Alexis’ tapestries. On one tapestry, he embroidered a Union Jack. “National flags were forbidden in the camp, so Casdagli sewed a canvas flap over it with ‘do not open’ written on it in German. ‘Each week the same officer would open the flap and say, “This is illegal,” and Pa said, “You’re showing it, I’m not showing it.” ‘ ”
He also embroidered letters home. His son Tony received the following worked in tiny stitches: “It is 1,581 days since I saw you last but it will not be long now. Do you remember when I fell down the well? Look after Mummy till I get home again”.
Alexis continued to find solace in needlepoint for the rest of his life. Tony began stitching a few years ago, and has developed a very different style from his father’s symmetrical patterns. Tony is the only male member of the Chelsea Women’s Cross-stitch Group.
I was so pleased to read that Tony and Alexis’ work will be included in what sounds like a very interesting exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, entitled Crafting the Collection: The Power of Making. Although thankfully my problems are nothing compared to being held prisoner by Nazis, whenever I’ve been stressed I’ve found that making things has helped me to calm down. I often think of Elizabeth Zimmerman’s advice: “Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.” There is something about creating, stitch by stitch, that is immensely helpful. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to insult the Germans in Morse Code, but good for Alexis! According to Tony, “He would say after the war that the Red Cross saved his life but his embroidery saved his sanity.” A lot of us can relate to that!