Crafts and cuffs

Introducing a new column by Helen Bigham, on life at Walthamstow’s award-winning community centre, The Mill


Fabrications, The Mill’s current art exhibition, is in memory of Harriet Hammel

Oscar Wilde wrote in his play The Importance of Being Earnest: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

I can’t promise Wildean wit, just non-malicious gossip about the life of The Mill. Similar to most community centres, The Mill is a public place which welcomes local people to get together, get involved and learn and share skills. Every week, with more than 500 pairs of feet (we’ve counted) coming through our door, there are a lot of stories to tell.

We host community art exhibitions in our ‘living room’. These are free to view with a small submission charge for exhibitors. Our current one, running up to mid-September, is Fabrications. This explores the limitless possibilities of using textile materials – and other more unconventional resources – in every imaginative, amazing, and traditional way possible.

The exhibition is in memory of the prodigious soft sculptor Harriet Hammel and there are several of her pieces on display. Harriet regularly took part in the E17 Art Trail and was known for her quirkiness and humour. Her sculptures are famous for their fine details, logos and decorations, all hand embroidered with each piece a life-size replica, in order to create a proper trompe-l’œil effect.

My favourites ones of Harriet’s at our show are the half-empty Coke bottle and a lady of a certain age, windblown hair, astride her motorbike. I can’t help but think that the model is clearly living to the maxim of ‘we only regret the rides we didn’t take’. We’re enjoying the double takes from people, as they walk past our front window when they notice her.

At the Fabrications ‘meet the artist’ viewing, we held a sale organised by the Mill Knitters (we hold regular knitting, crochet and sewing groups). On offer were knitting yarns, fabrics, and all kinds of haberdashery, craft books, and magazines sold at ridiculously cheap prices. For weeks coming up to the sale volunteers were busy receiving donated bales of wool and swatches and swatches of fabric which they then cut up and tied into ribboned bundles.

The Mill Knitters are showing at Fabrications a display of ‘twiddle cuffs’. These are hand muffs with bits and bobs attached inside and out. They help reduce anxiety and agitation, offering stimulation while keeping hands warm and cosy. People with dementia or delirium often find comfort if their hands have something they can ‘twiddle’ with. Similar ones to these have been produced for Barts Health NHS Trust’s dementia and delirium team, to give to patients. More cuffs are always needed so if you are interested in participating in the project, email

The Mill is open every weekday 9.30am-6.00pm, except Mondays, and open 10am-2pm on weekends. For more information and to get in touch