Lives Unravelled

Artist Sarah Lowe looking at a Lives Unravelled installation

17 May – 5 September 2021

On display at the Workhouse Museum

Lives Unravelled was a unique textiles exhibition by local textiles group 6-Ply.

The exhibition consisted of five textile installations, located throughout the museum, inspired by the lives of women who lived and worked in Ripon Workhouse. Members of 6-Ply were given a guided tour of the Workhouse Museum by former Curator, Leah Mellors, and shown some of the records relating to the history of the workhouse, before carrying out their own historical research. Inspired and prompted by that research, they created beautifully crafted and unique textile pieces, using a variety of techniques and materials, which reflect the real experiences and imagined emotions of women in Ripon Workhouse.

From a basket of handstitched heritage vegetables to a handmade apron evoking the feelings of individual residents, the textile pieces provided a new and creative perspective on the history of women in the workhouse.

One of the stories that sparked an idea for the exhibition was that of Harriet Rodwell. Harriet was a resident of Ripon Workhouse in 1855. She had previously been confined in a lunatic asylum but no signs of insanity were observed at Ripon, though she “usually appeared dejected”. Sadly, Harriet killed herself on one of the staircases in the female wing of the workhouse in 1855. This story inspired a piece entitled ‘Fragments’, reflecting the mere fragments we have left of the life of Harriet Rodwell.

6-Ply are a group of six textile artists living in North Yorkshire. In 2017 and 2018, they were involved in a Slow Art artist-in-residence project based on Swaledale, called ‘Fabric of Place’. The six artists continued to meet after the project ended and after a few months, decided to establish themselves into a group. Each artist has different interests and skills in the area of textiles but they have a collective aim to develop their own practice, whilst working together to develop and share their work.

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