Words, words, words – Lorina Bulwer’s inspirational embroidered letters (part 1)

Lorina-Bulwer-red-manEarlier this year I went to the exhibition ‘Frayed: Textiles on the Edge’ at the Time & Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth. The aim of the exhibition was to highlight examples of embroidered work that had been created by people at times of mental distress. Perhaps the most eye-catching works were two long embroidered ‘letters’ sewn by Lorina Bulwer.

These two pieces are 12ft and 14ft long by about 14 inches wide.  Each ‘letter’ has been worked in coloured wools on pieced cotton grounds using various colours to ensure the text is clear and readable on every different ground.

Lorina (born in Beccles, Suffolk in 1838) made her letters whilst residing in the lunatic wing of Great Yarmouth Workhouse between 1900 and 1910. Many of the words are underlined as she angrily relates her story including writing about her family, neighbours and her troubled life.


When I saw Lorina’s work I remembered Tracy Emin’s provocative textile creations. Maybe the soft pliable quality of embroidered cloth and the frequent prettiness of embroidery magnifies the power of angry text. It was an inspiring exhibition and has led me to work a design for a scarf using text. My words are places in Suffolk and Norfolk surrounded by a few lines of verse from various poems by William Blake. I chose Blake as his words were also the words of an angry outsider.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

9 thoughts on “Words, words, words – Lorina Bulwer’s inspirational embroidered letters (part 1)”

    1. I think it depends how distressed you are. My mother made two rags rugs for me at different times when she had quite severe depression, but on both occasions it was when she began the slow process of recovery. She used to tell me she needed something that would occupy her hands and keep her mind engaged with a less than demanding activity.

  1. How extraordinary! The Bulwer creation is at once beautiful and disturbing…who supplied her with all the materials I wonder? Your tribute creation is intriguing and would be interesting to read.

    1. The Bulwer work is also a success story for the Norfolk Museum’s Service. Firstly, by managing to purchase one of the long pieces and bring it back to Norfolk and secondly to show it with the other half of the pair that was already held in another museum collection.

      My words are not personal like Lorina’s they are mostly popular villages and towns of East Anglia. I’ve just re-looked at the lines of verse I chose from Blake and they are strangely apt for somebody who lived over a decade in that workhouse situation.

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