A 19th Century woman’s account, in embroidery, of mental turmoil and hardship has been enlarged for display at the Victoria & Albert Museum – endorsed by Kylie Minogue.
Elizabeth Parker, who left home aged 13 to work as a nursery maid, later expressed her feelings in 64 lines of tiny, red cross-stitches.
She tells of abuse from her employer, with experiences of “cruelty too horrible to mention”, mental turmoil and her thoughts of suicide.
Parker’s words have been enlarged to create a giant column for International Women’s Day.
The 18-year-old stitched sentences on fabric such as “which way can I turn… wretch that I am … what will become of me…” and “what will become of my soul?”
Artist Katerina Jebb has used digital scanning to enlarge Parker’s testimony from a small artefact into a two metre by three metre column.
Pop star Minogue, who has collaborated with the artist on other works, said: “As we reach 30 years of companionship, complete with our personal and shared voyage of discovery into womanhood, I couldn’t think of anyone better to mark International Women’s Day.
“Katerina’s work is at once clinical and poetic in this beautiful montage created especially for our beloved V&A Museum.
“She brings Elizabeth Parker’s intimate 19th Century thoughts to us, her whispered yet defiant stitches now amplified, as if booming through a loudspeaker for us to muse upon in the 21st Century.”
When the V&A acquired the stitched piece 50 years ago, experts knew nothing about Parker beyond her own words.
Details of who she was and of her family were discovered in 1998 and it was later found that she became a school teacher in her home village.
She did not marry but raised her sister’s daughter and died aged 76 on April 10, 1889.
Oriole Cullen, the V&A’s curator of fashion, said the “arresting study, magnifies and reinvigorates the powerful words and testimony stitched by Elizabeth Parker in 1830.
“On International Women’s Day 2021, it calls to us to contemplate the message contained within. It highlights the sobering fact that despite so many societal advances, many women around the world today still suffer in the conditions that Parker experienced.”
Both the original piece and the enlarged version will be on display at the V&A’s fashion gallery once the museum reopens.