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Karen Apps

Stitched pieces that link to the long association Norwich has had with the textile industry. 

Museum Source Objects: Objects: Story of Lorina Bulwer and Julian of Norwich Book

Title:  'The Confines'

A torrent of words ...


Continuing this exploration of social history, and attitudes to mental health, Karen Apps was intrigued by the contrast of two women’s experiences. Both lived in confined circumstances - one by choice, the other incarcerated in a workhouse. She has interpreted these two very different experiences and placed them side by side in a small ‘cell’ like box.

She states

“Julian of Norwich and Lorina Bulwer lived more than four centuries apart but their lives bare some resemblance. Both woman experienced mental disturbance and while one was respected and highly regarded, the other was labelled a ‘lunatic’.

Attitudes to mental health have shifted significantly but for Lorina Bulwer being committed to a workhouse in 1800's would have been unbearably hard and no doubt terrifying.

By contrast Julian's visions were seen as mystical revelations and are what prompted her to become an Anchoress. This meant choosing a life of seclusion, and being walled up in a cell attached to the church.

This can’t have been easy either but she would have been supported by her community and sustained by her faith. Her visions were regarded as divine revelations from God rather than madness, and her written accounts are still revered today.

It is not clear what contributed to Lorena's mental distress as no diagnosis was recorded but support for those deemed to be mentally unstable was harsh in the nineteenth century. She used needle and thread as an outlet for her rage at the injustice she experienced and expressed this in a torrent of words stitched on scraps of fabric. Neither woman ever rejoined society”


Museum Source Objects: The Little Shawl Worker by Joseph Clover

Title: Slaves to the Needle

Time and distance...


Both Karen’s stitched pieces and Heather Hunters work link to the long association Norwich has had with the textile industry. The city was home to many skilled workers and dyers. From 1800- 1870 they produced world class dress shawls. When Karen saw the image of The Little Shawl Worker by Joseph Clover - a well known image of a Victorian child embroidering a shawl, she wondered about this idealised presentation and was curious to explore the hidden story behind the image.

She states

“Time and distance has a habit of softening harsh experiences. We may remember the lady of the house, who purchased a beautifully embroidered shawl, but not the woman or the child who created it; who sat in small dimly lit room sewing for hours on end with little reward.

The image of 'The Little Norwich Shawl Worker' by Joseph Clover presents us with a romanticised image of a young girl in a pretty bonnet sitting beneath the open window, sewing. While we can admire the beauty of this scene, it sanitises the reality of people's lives, leading us to believe it was a pleasurable pursuit. In truth, children as young as four stitched alongside their mothers and in poor conditions.

Moving beyond first impressions, this work acknowledges the child who has been erased from of the picture. Her presence remains in the objects she has left behind. Displayed here in what was once a 'house of correction' they tell a different story”

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