My project centred around the destitute women and children resident in the Devon House of Mercy in the 1900s and the remarkable life of Mabel Carvolth  told in her autobiography ‘The Cornish Waif’s Story’ by Emma Smith (pseudonym).  As a child of 5, Mabel was sold to an organ grinder in Plymouth and walked many of the roads in Cornwall, singing to raise money for her owner.

At Brisons Veor in April I walked certain paths she walked, looked at views she would have seen, and began to translate the knowledge and insights into my practical work.

At the age of 12 Mabel came to the Devon House of Mercy in Bovey Tracey where she was trained by the Sisters in the work of a laundry maid. Her life was marked by multiple and diverse losses. My work has grown out of research into laundries and stitching in Victorian and Edwardian times.  I use stitch to express aspects of loss and isolation, working with old worn and damaged textiles, bringing together ideas of relationship and loss between people from the past and the present.

In memory

We remember great people, often in statues or memorials. In this piece I remember and honour the ‘unremembered’ – girls who rarely left any mark on history.  Anne Liberman has diligently crossed stitched the names of girls who were at the Devon House of Mercy in 1911, onto squares of linen sheets in the same way that they would have stitched their simple samplers.  I have blanket stitched these onto squares of a 1900s bedspread where the layers of different fabrics can be clearly seen.  Similar padded squares would have been used by the girls to hold their irons.

Hidden lives

Many of the girls in the laundry had lives fraught with danger, both in the work they did and in their wider lives.  I like to stitch on antique sheets, using traditional techniques, to honour their hidden lives. Together the cylinders represent a community of individuals, all hanging by a thread, all sharing the same space.

The work was shown in the laundry at Killerton House in Exeter this summer.

Thanks to Brisons Veor I had the opportunity to spend a concentrated time in the places Mabel Carvolth spent much of her childhood, resolving how ideas could be translated into visual images and starting the work of stitching.

Jacqui Parkinson