I’ve been a student of textile history for over 20 years, and have never encountered anything quite like this extraordinary sampler from the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Stitched by Elizabeth Parker in the late 1820’s, it tells of her unhappiness and suffering at the cruelty of the family that employed her as a nursery maid. Embedded within the text is this compelling statement: ‘As I cannot write I put this down simply and freely as I might speak to a person to whose intimacy and tenderness I can fully intrust myself.’ She then proceeded to set down in tiny cross stitches her feelings of despair and her suicidal thoughts. There are no pictures in her work.
Elizabeth’s life did change for the better when she became a teacher. A fuller account of what is known of her life can be found at the V&A website .