Friday 18 December 2009

T.6-1956 - A Plea to Reclassify

It always surprises me how in the middle of all the bustle and rush and deadlines and the call to move on to the next thing, an occasional quiet voice calls me back, becomes a persistent companion and refuses to be denied. I spent much of Thursday on a cold train; in my bag was an image of the Marianne Nevill stitched scroll of the Testament of St Luke I wanted to share with a friend who does not use a computer. The scroll had been described as a sampler in an auction catalogue and I was saddened that this testament to the incredible passion and life-long efforts of a woman had been dismissed by this classification. Other examples came to mind - The Lorina Bulwer Sampler in Carrow House Museum, Norwich; a stitched text in a private collection by someone with mental disability; and Elizabeth Parker's stitched text in the V&A - aka Sampler T.6-1956. How can it be that we continue to sanction the classification of sampler to a stitched document, the text of which includes: “O that I may but be saved on the day of judgement God be merciful to me a sinner but oh how can I expect mercy who went on in sin until or W remind me of my wickedness for with shame I returned to thee O God because I had nowhere else to go how can such repentance as mine be sincere what will become of my soul.” Perhaps it is time to dignify these sufferings as Stitched Texts, Confessions or Testaments....or maybe you can think of a better term, please? And perhaps we can ask the V&A to reclassify Elizabeth's work?
For a sea of sorrows is not a stage, and one who cries out is not a dancing bear.
Aimé Césaire


  1. I throw a name in the hat: "Literary Textile Art". Sounds like a museum piece to me.

  2. Jacqueline, what an interesting and important question. How an object is described reveals its status in a culture and a community. I think of this kind of handwork as "needle script", which is at least a first cousin, if not a sibling, of the word Needleprint. Do you have any information about why these women chose to embroider rather than take the much easier approach of pen and ink? It certainly points us in the direction of their desire to have an intimacy with the words which is a great deal more personal than traditional writing. And, I also wonder, given my own propensity to accidentally jab myself with the needle, was this an additional, albeit sacrificial, element of these tremendous projects.

  3. I saw it in the museum and i loved it !!

  4. What about autobiographical statements in thread?

  5. I saw Elizabeth Parkers 'sampler' mon a 2005 visit to the V&A. I was at first puzzled...I had never seen stitched text like that, and as I read it I wondered why on earth it had been classed as a sampler. The 'what will become of my soul' has haunted me ever since, esp after I read about her in SANQ...that poor woman!

    What about calling it a stitched testimonial?

  6. It irks me that so often textiles are undervalued. Many times I have seen hand made garments, embroideries, lace by 'amateurs' which are sold for a pittance of the time and effort gone into them and they are largely of a higher quality than those produced by professionals. It's a crying shame, it really is.