A mother’s heartache at the sudden death of her child and the story of a former inmate of the lunatic wing of a Norfolk workhouse feature alongside internationally renowned contemporary artists in a new and thought provoking exhibition in Great Yarmouth.

Frayed: Textiles on the Edge opens at the Time and Tide Museum on World Mental Health Day tomorrow (Thursday, 10 October) and runs until 2 March next year. It features significant Norfolk textiles as well as contributions from internationally renowned artists, including Tracey Emin and Sara Impey.

Anna Margaretta Brereton Bed Hangings

Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service has worked closely with Great Yarmouth & Waveney Mind to develop the exhibition that features the poignant and personal stories of Norfolk people living with mental health problems more than a century ago.

It illustrates how they used and created textiles as a way of managing depression, grief and post traumatic stress and also explores their influence on contemporary artists.

Among the exhibits is the fascinating story of Beccles-born Lorina Bulwer who lived in the lunatic wing of the Great Yarmouth Workhouse from 1901 until her death in 1912. She pours out her heart and frustrations at her lot in life in two embroidered ‘letters’ more than three metres long and entirely covered in text.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see both of Lorina’s embroidered letters together for the first time as organisers have arranged for her second piece of work, normally housed at the Thackray Museum in Leeds, to be on show as part of Frayed: Textiles on the Edge.

The extraordinary counterpane and bed hangings created by Anna Margaretta Brereton while mourning the death of her 14 year old son in 1800 will also be on display.  Anna Margarette gave birth to 10 children between 1781 and 1796 but only six survived infancy. The death of her eldest son, John, aged 14, caused Anna to have a breakdown.

The exhibition also tells the story of the artist and former Sheringham fisherman John Craske who “painted in wools” after being confined to bed following an abscess on the brain.

Alongside objects from the archives of the Norfolk Museums' Archaeology Service, this major new exhibition features a number of significant loans including Elizabeth Parker’s sampler from the Victoria & Albert Museum as well as Tracey Emin’s embroidered monoprint that explores her feelings of melancholia and loneliness.

Contemporary artists, including renowned quilting artist Sara Impey, Georgie Meadows, Jacqui Parkinson, Jane Whiteley and Rosalind Wyatt have also contributed to the exhibition.

Visitors will also be able to see work from Fine Cell Works - a charity that sells work created by prisoners in their cells. Participants, who are trained by volunteers in sewing and embroidery and work as many or few hours as they like, are paid for their work.

In addition, a patchwork quilt bedcover made by women prisoners in Newgate Prison in 1817 under the direction of Elizabeth Fry, also forms part of the exhibition.

Margaret Wilkinson, Cabinet Member of Communities at Norfolk County Council, with responsibility for museums, said: “It is such an honour to be able to show these very personal and heartrending stories, and it’s incredible that any of these works ever survived so I am thrilled that we can show them to the next generation.

“With one in four people expected to experience some kind of mental health problem, it affects all of us and, as this exhibition illustrates, has done so for a number of years. It’s fascinating to see how mental health illness impacted on the lives of people hundreds of years ago but also, and just as importantly, how they used textiles as a form of creative therapy to manage and, ultimately, live with their illnesses.”

Ruth Battersby Tooke, Curator of Frayed: Textiles on the Edge, said: “This is very much a Norfolk show and by exploring the stories of people living with a mental health illness many years ago, we can reflect on our lives.

“It is clear that these people were taking control of what was happening to them and dealing with their emotions in a very positive way by creating something that helped their recovery. Textile arts are still a means of personal testimony and therapy for people affected by mental illness and grief.

“The aim of the exhibition is to allow each object to speak for itself with the focus on the biography of the maker and the context in which it was made. This is in keeping with the deeply personal resonance of many of the pieces of display that are known by the name of the individual who wrote and created it, rather than the title of the work or location of its creation.”

Joe Crabb, Community Roots Co-ordinator with Great Yarmouth and Waveney Mind, said: "We are really excited to be involved with the Frayed project.

"In addition to the fantastic tapestries, the exhibition is a great catalyst to start conversations about mental health, challenging stigma and discrimination. With 9/10 people who experience a mental health problem reporting a negative impact of stigma and discrimination on their lives, it is vital that we challenge misconceptions.

"Alongside the exhibition we will be delivering Mental Health First Aid courses to the public giving people the skills to offer initial support to others in the community.”

Frayed: Textiles on the Edge is on at the Time & Tide Museum from Thursday, 10 October, to 2 March, 2014.

A variety of events, workshops and activities are being held in conjunction with the exhibition. Admission to the exhibition is free with general museum admission. For more information, telephone 01493 743930 or visit www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk.