Serene Swans

When the WI advertised for members to partner with The Chelsea College of Arts for a textile design project I thought it may be a taste of all that I’d missed when I pursued a career in nursing, thought by my advisors to be a more suitable career than art, textiles and design that I wanted! I enjoy dabbling in all crafts, especially needlecrafts. I had a lot to offer students from my life experience and many years of working at a senior level in the NHS.

Wow! This 5-week partnership was amazing! My mind was opened far beyond the design of clothes and material patterns. Not just recycling pre-loved articles, but designing sustainable materials, including the manufacturing design of the ingredients for the materials and production. And planning the recycling at the end of serviceable use. Other lectures included Art Activism: the combination of powerful expression and art to bring about social change. Posters with designs that insights conversation or action to create an effect. Make-along sessions included transforming rubbish found around the home, learning Macrame and digital art using computer programmes.

49 WI members and 97 second year BA Textile Design students exchanged ideas during the ‘Professional Communication’ module. I was paired with 2 other WI ladies and 4 students. It was energising to discuss the WI campaign themes. The project was to enhance learning, promote sharing of traditional craft skills and use online platforms to develop a wider community. Unable to access the University campus due to the pandemic, all resources were found at home. Students researched their chosen topic, provided sketches and processes to achieve their article. The diversity of designs and pieces were phenomenal. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of the course. I don’t regret a career in nursing but would love to be involved in another WI project.

Serene Swans

Paddling fast under water.
Just to stay still.
Can't be ill or take a pill.
So much stuff to paddle through.
To do. To cope.
Stay afloat.
Snappity snap, if too close.
Time, tick, tick, ticking by.
Difficult to see. Where to fly?
Come back! Seek help.
Empower oneself.
Make time for mental health.

The serenity of the swans evolved from personal and nursing experience; ‘We are all in the same boat’, ‘Just keeping my head above water’, ‘The straw that broke the camels back’, all sayings that indicate stress or difficulty. My swans, designed and created from pre-loved materials; maintaining a calm appearance for others, while internally paddling fast under the water, confused, unclear and concealed. Swans can lash out with a nasty bite, as do those who are stressed and irritable. The clock marks the passing of time, difficult to see the black hands of depression, unable to acknowledge time. Yet the red second hand continues relentlessly, tick, tick, tick. Swans fly, where can I go? This reference in the poem is about escapism and possible suicidal thoughts. With the call ‘Come back!’ Seek help is pleading with the mind to empower oneself to ‘Make Time for Mental Health’.


Susan Joy Palmer, Cuddesdon & Denton WI (Oxfordshire Federation) about her involvement in the Chelsea College of Arts & WI project.


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