A WOOLLEN ARMY
By Ann Evans
Photos courtesy of Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography.
Imagine an army of soldiers without a weapon in sight. Then imagine that army made out of wool.
That’s precisely was French artist Délit Maille has created, and where better to display her woollen army than at the World Travel Market at London’s Excel Centre, where many thousands of representatives of the nations of the world gathered to do business and promote their country.
People campaign for peace in many ways, and Délit Maille from Lille wanted to create a gentle army, in miniature, without weapons, and in wool. She brought along an army of 580 soldiers, all made from wool although 780 had been made in total, but there simply wasn’t enough space at the World Travel Show to display them all. Even so the display measured 12 metres with the woollen soldiers set up as a long military parade passing through the stands of the France Pavilion. As they fought alongside the French, the British Army were also among the troops represented.
The artist had enlisted the help of 500 people from all over the world to knit the necessary pieces that made up each little soldier. It was a team effort with no two people making a complete soldier. Once she had her volunteers she sent the wool, pattern and dimensions to them to knit. She then sewed each individual piece together around the metal frames that she had constructed, forming the soldiers.
“This project has taken me a year to do,” the artist told me. “I am a wool artist and I wanted to make an army out of wool so I asked people from all over the world to help. People from Australia, China, Canada – everywhere. It is a peaceful army without weapons. There is one soldier standing alone on the plinth who represents the unknown soldier.”
Délit Maille works in Northern France, the historic birthplace of the textile industry and scene of heavy fighting during the First World War. Wool production was the mainstay of the war economy in 1914-1918 mainly to supply army clothing and equipment for the soldiers. Today it is still central to the knowledge and and the agricultural economy in a number of countries that fought in the Great Wars: Australia, the UK, New Zealand and South Africa.
The exhibition of this woollen army previewed at the Musée de la Piscine de Roubaix between 6th December 2014 and 12th April 2015 as part of the Adieu aux Armés (Farewell to Arms) season dedicated to the Centenary of World War I. It was also displayed during the European Heritage Day of September 2015 at Paris’ Grand Palais.
The woollen army has been travelling around France and throughout the world since May 2015. It was the initiative of the Mission du Centenaire de la Premiér Guerre Mondiate (First World War Centenary Mission). The aim of the project being to show the work in a different context each time, therefore enriching the production of the exhibition every new destination. It was the first time the exhibition has been displayed on British soil.