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  • Writer's pictureJustine Woolley

By Land and Sky.........

Project with The Army Flying Museum.

At the end of 2020 I was looking for a challenge after months of scrub and mask making. I saw a post on a Facebook sewing group looking for textile, design, fashion groups or enthusiasts who would be interested in creating modern versions of army uniforms for a community project for The Army Flying Museum.

I contacted the man in charge (the unflappable Dan Ball) and arranged to join the group's next Zoom meeting to see what other's were doing and if it would be something I'd be interested in taking part in. The group had already started making/designing their jackets and embellishments. Liking the idea of doing something completely different and out of my usual interest I joined the group. At the time we all thought the jackets would be on display for mid-February so I had a bit of catching up to do.

I was given Air Observation Post (AOP) as my inspiration and set to work reading up on their role in World War II. You can learn more about them here. I started by researching the AOP squadrons and several ideas emerged. I was interested by the fact that pilots were from the Royal Artillery and were trained to fly the Auster aircraft with the RAF offering technical support. The Royal Canadian Air Force had a squadron and a volunteer Polish Squadron joined so it was a real joint effort. I also loved the mottos and decided to name my piece after the 657 Squadron motto - Per terras perque caelum - which translates to By Land and Sky. Another point of interest was the amount of countries the AOP served in.

With these themes in mind I wanted the jacket to be full of things to spot and to tell a whole picture of the AOP. I decided to feature an Auster aircraft for each squadron with the flags of the countries served in. Also featured are squadron mottos and items from Royal Artillery soldier’s accounts of serving during World War II.

My replica jacket arrived in January and I got started immediately. I knew what I wanted to do, using a machine applique technique but hadn't expected the jacket to be as thick as it was is some places! I used computer printer fabric to create the 40+ flags needed, cotton canvas with interfacing for the aircraft and felt for the other items . I'd mapped out the squadrons and flags on my design and they started to go on pretty well but areas such as the pockets and pleats proved really challenging for machine. I also made it a bit trickier by deciding to add the squadron numbers into the flag strings. I bent and broke more machine needles during this project than I have in my life but my machine was a real trooper.

One of the good things about the project was joining in the group Zoom meetings whenever I could. It was great to see everyone's progress and check in during the various lockdowns. We also have a WhatsApp group for sharing photos and inspirations. As it became apparent the museum opening would be delayed it gave me a bit more time to finish off the jacket and redo some parts I wasn't as happy with.

My favourite part of the jacket has always been the hen. I included this after reading a story about some pilots during training.

'In August 1941, the British Army set up its own unit, No. 651 Squadron. Two officers were assigned to train as pilots, but they didn't get their "wings" until the following spring. (A sidelight: one of these officers, a chap of considerable curiosity, decided to use his Auster lightplane (a British- built Taylorcraft) to answer an age-old question: can a hen fly?

One of the fowls was taken up to 5,000 feet, then dropped out. "It got into a tight spiral and landed safely," reported Ashfield.'

I have since found out the hen was called Myrtle.

After finishing adding all the aircraft, flags and story items the jacket oddly felt like it needed more. I decided to create bands around the cuffs and waistband that looked like fields from above. This was incredibly time consuming and one of those jobs you wish you hadn't started! Even with this done it still didn't feel finished. After consulting with the group over my final idea I finished the jacket off with padded clouds around the collar and shoulders. I lined the jacket with a blue lining fabric to hide all the stitching visible on the inside. It was complete.

Today (May 17th) was installation day and I got to wear my latest Tatty Devine necklace which was perfect for the occasion. It was so good to see everyone in the flesh and see their creations. They jackets were really varied with lots of different skills and techniques on display. We got to have tea and (specially commissioned) cake, chat about our sewing endeavours during lockdowns and have a tour of the museum.

I would like to say a big THANK YOU to Dan for all his help during this project - ordering items, providing information about the AOP and for managing the Zoom chats and Whattsapp group with the patience of a saint. Oh and for the mug, badge and sticker - the latter got the highest appreciation!

Thank you also to all the Sky High Fashion ladies - been lovely to see what everyone is up to, meet people with similar interests and get advice when needed.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remember all the soldiers who were a part of the Air Observation Post and all those that fought in both World Wars. War memories of Cliff Ashfield, Louis Le Moing (665 squadron) and Edward-Maslen-Jones (656 squadron) were used as inspiration.

If you would like to see the Sky High Fashion jackets on display visit the Army Flying Museum and take part in the trail. The jackets are also going on tour over the summer and will be at the following venues:


17th May-1st June - The Army Flying Museum

3rd June - Bursledon Brickworks (WWI Day 3 jackets)

7th -22nd July - Salisbury Central Library

28th July-25th August - Ringwood and Fordingbridge Libraries (Sharing the collection)

26th August-23rd September - Fareham Library

1st-2nd September - part of collection at Porchester Library

27th September onwards - The Army Flying Museum

Normal service will be resumed with my next post - The Avid Seamstress Sundress in my trusty old leopard print.

Until then...


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