Roses from the Heart is a conceptual art/empathetic history project curated by the Tasmanian artist, Christina Henri. Participants were asked to make a simple bonnet for a convict woman, one of the 25,000+ that got transported for petty crimes, who often never saw their homeland, or their friends and family again.
I got Martha Slade, a young woman from Dorset, who was caught handling stolen goods (a few handkerchiefs), and shipped out on the Garland Grove in 1841,
Christina told me that she was given a ticket of leave in 1844, and freed in 1848.
That’s all I know about Martha. I know she was poor. I also guessed that she may have taken the blame to save her boyfriend from being executed. I’ve no idea what happened to him, either. The little information I had indicated that she was a plain, simple sort of woman, so I thought she might find an elaborately decorated bonnet a little too much. Also, there were time considerations here: I started my MA in October, and I’ve got choir/family/work etc.
So I decided on a simple rose motif, one either side of the brim, as specified. On one side I drew a cheerful red rose, with darker edges; and on the other we have a blood-red rose above the ship’s name and year of transportation. I copied a couple of motifs that I found on the internet, then had to dredge up my primary-age embroidery lessons, and remember how to do satin and long-and-short stitch. It was quite soothing, sitting in front of a movie with an embroidery hoop on a rainy evening. Maybe next time I’ll do something a little more ambitious.
This is the bonnet immediately after I finished it (modelled by Charlie – who is a proper Slade, so deserves to wear it more than me). I have a few finishing touches to do. Having sat around on my desk for months, it’s a bit grubby, so it’s being washed right now. I don’t think Martha would have liked a grubby bonnet.
They want my name in the back, so that’s another embroidery job, and I have to trim the loose threads. Then the bonnet goes off to join its sisters in Tasmania. I may see it when it and the other 25,665 bonnets come to London on their world tour in 2013.