Wool War One army goes on show

Low-key opening for First World War exhibition after knitters joined forces to create 750 wool soldiers

KNITTERS who found a novel way to commemorate the First World War - by creating an army of more than 750 mini wool soldiers – will see the fruits of their efforts go on display this week.

The 15cm tall figures, known as Wool War One, go on show in La Piscine museum in Roubaix, Nord Pas de Calais this Saturday until April 12, 2015 as part of an exhibition dedicated to the First World War.

More than 500 knitters - all with a link to the war – have been involved in the project but they will not be celebrating their achievements when the exhibition opens.

The army’s creator, an artist from Lille who calls herself Délit Maille, meaning ‘stitch offence’, said on the project’s blog that there would be no “vernissage, no tralala, no majorettes, no fanfare”.

The scale of the losses in the war meant no artwork could commemorate the millions of dead – even one with more than six million stitches - but they had also been affected by some criticism and would not be celebrating the opening.

She had initially declined an offer to present work for the war exhibition as she was not sure she could find a way to deal with such a serious topic and it was only when she went to a war cemetery that it came to her.

The French in scarlet trousers

One of the British soldiers

A German soldier and pointed helmet

Red pompom for Belgian soldier

Overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the losses and by how young the soldiers were and, inspired by the iconic Terracotta Army, she wanted the tiny woollen soldiers to symbolise the fragile young lives that were lost.

Délit Maille enlisted the help of the 500 knitters through her popular blog delitmail.blogspot.com (a play on the name of the Daily Mail newspaper), which documents her latest knitted concepts.

On the blog she playfully reconstructs the news with woolly incarnations of public figures such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Nelson Mandela, or a homage to Pablo Picasso for the reopening of the Musée Picasso in Paris.

She called for participants in January and within three days she was overwhelmed with responses and more than 1,500 volunteers have contacted her.

However, the number of participants was limited so she could have a connection with each one. Knitters from around the world including France, Germany, India, China, Belgium, Newfoundland and Great Britain, have helped to create the soldiers’ uniforms as a dedication to “all the kids we sent to war”.

Each participant was sent patterns and a ball of wool so they could knit a specific piece of uniform. They then sent back their envelope of tiny hats, trousers, rucksacks or coats.

“I didn’t want anyone to do one soldier, because I didn’t want anyone saying ‘that’s my soldier.’ On average 10 different people worked on each soldier, said Délit Maille. All the soldiers themselves were knitted locally under her supervision so that they were all to the same scale. They were then dressed centrally too.

As part of the project she organised a series of ‘Woolstock’ events across France, where she met and knitted with participants and discussed the significance of the work. “In many ways the process is as important as the result,” she said.

Rather than being set in a recreation of a war scene, the silent woollen soldiers will be lined up on the floor at the show to give visitors a feel for “the number and the fragility of the soldiers”.