Katerina Jebb / Elizabeth Parker installation

Katerina Jebb's large-scale photomontage spotlights a rare 19th century embroidery sampler from the V&A collection which narrates the incredible hardships of its young female creator, Elizabeth Parker, born in 1813. Jebb's recording and re-framing of the sampler has resulted in a larger-than-life representation of the work – befitting of the magnitude of its words.

The original sampler features a deeply personal account by Elizabeth Parker that highlights the realities of life for many women in the 19th century – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – and its words still strongly resonate today.

Pale cream linen square of fabric with red cross stitch words running left to right.
Linen sampler embroidered with silk, by Elizabeth Parker, about 1830, England. Museum no. T.6-1956. @ Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Across 64 lines of cross-stitch, Parker tells the story of her life in domestic service, abuse from her employers, mental turmoil, and her thoughts of suicide. In telling her story through needlework, Parker subverts the medium of cross-stitch into a deeply transgressive act of resistance – taking the art form away from a feminine and obedient leisure pursuit to a platform for openly communicating her experiences of "cruelty too horrible to mention".

Explore Jebb's photomontage below and zoom in to read Parker's traumatic account.

Jebb amplifies Parker's voice through her unique creative practice which involves producing multiple high-resolution digital scans of an object before assembling them together to create a photomontage of the original object. Transforming the sampler from a small personal artefact, just 86cm x 74cm, into a monumental 2m x 3m column, Jebb's work acts as a visual testimony to Elizabeth Parker, and bears witness to the hardship of the young creator's life.

Katerina Jebb's calmly composed images frequently contain a strange or unsettling edge. Inspired by the unconventional sampler in the V&A collections, her arresting study, magnifies and reinvigorates the powerful words and testimony stitched by Elizabeth Parker in 1830. 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.

Oriole Cullen, Curator of Fashion at the V&A

Find out more about samplers in the V&A collections.

Header image:

Untitled, by Katerina Jebb, London/Paris 2020. © Katerina Jebb