These pieces of sewn text have developed from a visual diary when each day was documented with two images on paper for the space of a year. Sewing is a slow process through which one becomes aware of the marking of time in a different way. One piece takes days to complete and hours can be measured in stitches. During the process one is aware of time passing and the heart beating. By the age of fifty the average human heart will have beaten one and a half billion times by seventy five the average number of beats will be two and three quarter billion. These numbers are almost inconceivable and the stitched sampler, traditionally used to record names and birth dates can be used to highlight and emphasise their temporality.

Sewn text is rarely used to document. It has traditionally been used on nursery and schoolroom samplers as a preliminary to more advanced embroidery techniques.

One rare and notable exception is a piece made by Elizabeth Parker in 1830 (V&A Textiles) when she was seventeen. Her harrowing story is told in seventeen hundred words of meticulous sewn red cross stitch. The narrative starts as a biography documenting her employment as a nursery maid and the thoughts of suicide that resulted from the cruel treatment she received with the words “ As I cannot write ”. Her use of text as image and language overturns our preconceptions about the domestic uses of embroidery, and subverts our expectations.

An isolated letter that is not part of a word has no intrinsic meaning. It belongs to another category altogether. A letter is primarily read as an image. In the Lacanian tripartite system it belongs to the register of the Real which is inexplicable. If text is read initially as image a similar event occurs.

Unlike the drawn line the stitch occupies space three dimensionally. The thread continuously disappears behind its support and reappears for the next stitch. The under side, which might be a tangle of loops and knots or a perfect mirror image of the front is unseen. In order to read the surface the under working has to be ignored. The illusion of the perfect under side is never referred to yet acknowledgement of its existence is intrinsic to the understanding of the surface. Back to Sewing Pictures