SEAMS, an animated oral history film, questions notions of “enemy” by focusing on the memories of women from Ireland and Northern Ireland who participated in the Second World War as factory workers, medical professionals, or soldiers in the British forces. Through the voices of female witnesses, SEAMS brings a human face to the legacies of two conflicts: the global conflict of the Second World War and the 20th century Anglo-Irish conflict. SEAMS poetically visualizes the women’s stories through portraiture, archival footage, and painted stop-motion animation.
Seams animation still:
SEAMS is a story about borders. Through the memories of women sewn together like a patchwork quilt, the film examines Ireland’s dividing lines of gender, religion, class, and nationality within the context of a world at war. A visual metaphor for the dividing lines in the film is the border separating the North and the South, which stretches like a winding seam across a map of Ireland. The title, SEAMS, is taken from the participant Margaret Smyth, a working class Northern Irish Protestant from Larne, Co. Antrim. Margaret was a seamstress in a military parachute factory. Working with linen fabric, Margaret sewed the seam of the parachute. A seam, much like a border, is what simultaneously separates the fabric and what holds it together. The seam of a parachute is a compelling metaphor that captures the paradoxical nature of the women’s involvement in the Second World War.
The animation is made from tea stains and ink washes on Irish linen. Linen is a significant material in Ireland. It fuelled Northern Ireland’s industrialized economy and was used in much of the war industry for its strength and resilience. The animation creates an imaginative and sensitive space for audiences to contemplate the stories that the women share. Their memories are often difficult, filled with the complications and sadness of this time period. They discuss the lack of opportunity in Ireland, which caused them to join the British forces or to seek work in England. Some describe the discrimination that they faced for being Irish, while others describe the difficulty of talking about their experiences when they returned home to Ireland. Some witnessed the horrors of war and the heartbreaking aftermath in both England and Germany. However, much like the durability of linen, the women maintained a strength, resilience, and incredible love of life in the midst of all of the hardship.
Seams is a reflection upon memory—the memory of the women in the film, the memory of their communities, and the unfortunate reality of our collective forgetfulness. Seams will give Irish women from both sides of the border a platform to remember and to be remembered.
Dr. Mary Muldowney is a research adviser to the project. Her book, The Second World War and Irish Women: An Oral History was the first comprehensive look at the war's impact on the lives of Irish women. She is an authority on oral history in Ireland and founding member of the Oral History Network of Ireland.