Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Samplers and Embroidery in the London Science Museum

Samplers and embroidered items do turn up in some unexpected places. The Science Museum in London has some interesting items that I thought you might like to see. This first is an embroidered panel depicting an astrologer contacting the spirit world to make a prediction. It is thought that the illustration shows an astrologer predicting the birth of a child in front of Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria. Another interpretation is that the astrologer is predicting Charles I’s beheading. Although the label mentions the year 1621, many features do not match this period. This embroidery may be a political joke about the Protestant King Charles I being unduly influenced by his Catholic queen, Henrietta Maria.
Many institutions used manual labour as therapy during the 1800s. This included gardening and laundry work. In the 1900s, institutions began using more expressive therapies such as arts and crafts as rehabilitation. This colourful embroidered panel was created as part of an occupational therapy activity at Kent County Lunatic Asylum. It is extremely detailed. The panel is a work of patience and dedication. It interweaves images of animals, flowers, insects, an anchor and one lone woman. The initials BARM are stitched into the design. These may be the initials of its maker.
These dental instruments are housed in this ornate embroidered chest, which may also have been used to carry medicines or articles for personal hygiene. This chest was made for one of the descendants of Sir Nicholas Bacon (d. 1624) of Redgrave, Suffolk, who was descended from an earlier Sir Nicholas Bacon (1509-79), Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. The chest is embroidered with the Bacon coat of arms. The handles of the instruments and the tops of the bottles are decorated with boars or pigs, a pun on the family name. To see more click here.


  1. As someone with a scientific background I found this post fascinating Jacqueline. I loved the rehabilitation bit of work. I could never do something like that. It just shows that those that may lack something in one area almost always make up for it by excelling elsewhere.

  2. I think Barm stitched into the therapy sampler may refer to Barming Heath where the assylum was located?