Like many, Andrea Urquhart from Nailsworth found lockdown desperately difficult. A carer for her husband, Reg, it was agony not being able to see their two daughters.
Andrea said: “They were allowed to be outside our window or at the garden gate, but they couldn’t come in or help.”
A lifelong sufferer from depression, Andrea could feel her mental health deteriorating.
Yet, incredibly, her reaction has been to transform that pain into a thing of beauty – something for everyone to enjoy.
For the past nine months, Andrea and eight other stitchers have spent dedicated hours creating a wall-hanging, ‘Through It All’, now on permanent exhibition in St George’s Church, Nailsworth.
Each of the 15 squares making up the piece represents different emotions evoked by the pandemic; and all are explained in a booklet hanging beside the artwork. Some, such as Daphne’s ‘Butterflies’, are joyous:
Andrea added: “Butterflies were always there but my busy life had stopped me from seeing them.”
Others capture a darker mood: Jacquie’s ‘Split Personality’ reflects the tearfulness of one day, the optimism of another, along with the need to show the world a brave face: “Although I am now one person again, the sad one still exists, an essential part of me, but I keep her hidden.”
Jane from Devon – the only non-local member – is a carer, who spent lockdown looking after difficult young men. For Frances, walking her dogs was a welcome escape; Cathy loved her garden. Even Reg contributed an idea, which Andrea stitched for him, the Severn Bridge representing the sister in Wales he was longing to see.
Some of the stitchers had never attempted needlework before; one of them, the Rev Sue Sobczak, is highly skilled in the craft. A member of the Gold Work Guild, Sue believes that everyone can stitch. What’s more, she says, it can be a form of meditation. “There’s a rhythm to stitching; you quietly mull over things; perhaps look at them differently. I think it brings healing.”
The Rev Caroline Bland, the vicar at St George’s, agrees: “Turning thoughts into something visual is a wonderful way of getting underneath the surface of things we normally don’t discuss. People so often hide their feelings and say they’re OK when they’re not OK; we need to all know it is good to be open and to talk.”
The stitchers are already thinking about their next project, this time a happy celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
But the wall-hanging ensures that, alongside celebration, lockdown sufferings will not be forgotten. “And that’s a precious thing,” Andrea says.
“This is a tribute to those who suffered so much. Of course, we need to move on. But we need to remember, too. It would be a terrible insult to forget the pain so many people experienced.”