I was browsing through the digital archives of the V&A (Victoria and Albert museum, London) looking at quilts in their current exhibition and other textiles, when I came across this amazing sampler that I just had to share.
It is a unique piece of embroidery so poignant that it brought tears to my eyes. Apparently it is the confessions of a young woman about her lot in life, done entirely in cross stitch, embroidered with silk on linen in tiny stitches. The young woman, Elizabeth Parker, was born in 1813 and was working as a nursery maid when she committed her thoughts to fabric.
According to the description on the web-page:
“She describes what she sees as her own weaknesses and sins, and the trials she had to face from employers who treated her 'with cruelty too horrible to mention', in this deeply personal confession of her temptation to suicide. As the text continues her desperation increases, '..which way can I turn oh whither must I flee to find the Lord wretch wretch that I am …what will become of me ah me what will become of me'.”
I find it amazing that she would choose to use fabric and thread to express her thoughts. The slowness of the process must have given her time to work out what she wanted to say, and weigh her words accordingly, and still she felt the urge to pour it all out for the world to see. Or maybe her choice of medium actually made it more private than a journal would have been for her? I’m thinking that maybe a woman’s embroidery held so little significance for her contemporaries, that it was the best way of keeping her thoughts to herself? It was just a piece of cloth stuffed in her work basket, after all. Or maybe it was just the opposite -that she felt so angry and bitter that she wanted the world to see what she was going through, so this was actually an early piece of subversive cross-stitch? Whatever the reason, we’ll never know, and although her sampler breaks off in mid-sentence with the words “What will become of my soul “, we can at least take comfort in the fact that historians have discovered that Elizabeth lived to be 76, became a schoolteacher, raised her sister’s daughter and lived what is described as “a moderately comfortable life”. We’ll never know what went on in her mind, in those later years though.
You can look at other interesting textiles in the V&A archives here.