Opening of the Exhibition ‘A Remedy for Rents – Darning Samplers and Other Needlework from the Whitelands College Collection’ held at the CHG 19/01/2016 to 10/03/2016
Curated by Vivienne Richmond, head of Goldsmiths History Department and author of Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-century England (2013), A Remedy for Rents showcases a rare collection of exceptionally fine needlework by working-class women in the last quarter of the 19th century. As students at Whitelands College, the first all-female teacher training college, now part of the University of Roehampton, the women were training to teach in elementary schools for working-class children and their needlework focused on the production and repair of simple garments and household textiles.
As students at Whitelands College, the first all-female teacher training college, now part of the University of Roehampton, the women were training to teach in elementary schools for working-class children and their needlework focused on the production and repair of simple garments and household textiles. Yet such everyday purpose belies the creativity and skill displayed in their work and the exhibition takes its title from a quotation by John Ruskin, a patron of the College, who marvelled that ‘work of so utilitarian character’ could be so beautiful.
The centrepiece of the exhibits, all from the Whitelands College archive, is an album compiled by Kate Stanley, Head Governess from 1876-1902, containing 26 darning and 17 plain needlework samplers worked by students, the stitching on which is extraordinarily fine. In addition, a number of loose samplers are displayed together with a variety of small-scale practice garments, also of a high standard, made as an economical and time-saving way to learn techniques.
Whitelands College students went on to teach at schools and training colleges across the British Empire and so the ideologies, techniques and style of garments they learned at Whitelands entered the minds and homes of millions of poor and working-class girls. The exhibition, therefore, not only offers a rare opportunity to see needlework by non-elite Victorian women, but illuminates also the history of working-class dress, female education and gendered roles, experiences and expectations in 19th-century Britain and beyond. Further information on the history of Whitelands college can be found here.
A pdf with more information on the exhibition can be downloaded here.
A Remedy for Rents is available for viewing during the Goldsmiths Textile Collection & Constance Howard Gallery’s opening hours of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 11.00-17.00. For more information visit Goldsmiths Textile Collection’s website or contact us.