An embroidered insult to Hitler: A story about hand made things

Tony Casdagli with his father's sampler insulting Hitler in morse code

Tony Casdagli with his father’s sampler insulting Hitler in morse code (photo:Samira Ahmed)

My Something Understood for BBC Radio 4 this weekend is all about hand made things. You can listen to a clip of here. And the whole programme here. As well meeting a carpenter  who makes fossil-inspired objects about of ancient felled trees, I look at the vogue for Shaker furniture among London’s super rich and my caffeine-fuelled cynicism for the In Praise of Slow movement in the affluent West, in an age of sweat shop garment factories and disposable fashion. There’s also an interview with the director of Fine Cell Work, about the success of teaching fine embroidery skills to prisoners. “You can’t sew when you’re angry,” one inmate explained to her.  And what programme about philosophy and spiritual questing made by an 80s teen could not include The Karate Kid? You will find Mr Miyagi’s Wax On Wax Off mantra to young Daniel-san, alongside the hymn Lord of of All Hopefulness, St Benedict and a discussion about wage slaves.

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Plus the Buddhist tale of King Kusha, who became a skilled potter, fan maker and cook in a quest to win the love of a  princess.

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But the highlight, is of course Tony Casdagli, a retired Royal Navy captain, who is a talented and prolific embroiderer. You can listen to a clip of Tony in the programme here. These photos are all from a magical afternoon in his home, where he talked about his work, and that of his late father, Army Major Alexis Casdagli. Major Casdagli took up embroidery to pass the time during his long, cold years held as a POW in Germany in the 1940s. In his most famous piece, he sewed “fuck Hitler” and “God Save The King” in Morse code along the border.  It’s on the wall of the staircase in Tony’s home. But there’s so much more too. All the walls are full of beautiful needlework made separately by father and son. Up the stairs and on the landing are many of the other works Alexis Casdagli sewed in capitivity: Beautiful maps of a green England, lovingly recalled in topographical detail, and in the dining room, a letter from father to son, carefully sewed on a scrap of cloth,and miraculously sent via the Red Cross to Tony, then a young boy, that would have taken a few minutes to write, but how long to embroider?

I noticed Tony’s latest work on his sewing table, just underway.

Something Understood: Made by Hand is on BBC Radio 4 Sunday December 15th at 6am and 1130pm and i-player for 7 days after. The producer is Caroline Hughes and it’s a Whistledown Production.

All photos: copyright Samira Ahmed

Further reading

Nazis, Needlework and my Dad (2011 Guardian feature on Tony Casdagli and the V&A needlework exhibition)

 

About Samira Ahmed

Journalist. Writer. Broadcaster.
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