Embroidery of the Insane?



Agnes Richter’s Blouse on display in Heidelberg Germany




Agnes Richter was a German seamstress held as a patient in an insane asylum during the 1890s. During her time there, she densely embroidered her strait jacket with words, undecipherable phrases and drawings which  documented her thoughts and feelings throughout her time there.

Through the script she transcribed herself into time, space and place. Her writing orients and disorients. Made in 1895, it is a standard issue uniform given to mental patients at the time. Richter has embroidered so intensively that reading impossible in certain areas of the garment. Words appear and disappear into seams and under layers of thread. There is no beginning or end, just spirals of intersecting fragmentary narratives. She is declarative: “I”, “mine”, “my jacket”, “my white stockings…., “I am in the Hubertusburg / ground floor”, “children”, “sister” and “cook”. In the inside she has written “1894 I am / I today woman”. She has also re-embroidered the laundry number printed on her jacket “ 583 Hubertusburg”, almost transforming something institutional and distant into something intimate, obsessive and possessive. It is a compelling piece of hypertext and untamed writing


This remarkable object was collected by Hans Prinzhorn, a psychiatrist who ardently collected the artwork of his patients at a Heidelberg psychiatric hospital in the early 20th century.


So is it really a strait jacket? It “depends on who is looking at it” – and I wonder what an textile conservator/historian would have to say – looking at how the thing were made.



Torsolovely — RISEN from the Thread


Arthur Bispo do Rosário was a Brazilian psychiatric patient diagnosed with schizophrenia that also became famous for his embroidery. Besides Bispo, there was also a Psychiatric Hospital in Rio that during the 40s had a art studio for the interns. The works of the interns became a exposition in Zurich visited by Carl Jung!

Problem is, my final thought is this: is this really a straitjacket? The sleeves are shaped and short enough for the hands to be free; there are bust darts, and the buttons would pop out of their holes with the slightest strain. I am positive this is just a ladies jacket. But who am I to be totally sure?  I wonder if she were alive today if she would have been given therapy and producing works of art, like this.



… Agnes Richter Tote – by Lambert | by The Knitted Loop… Agnes Richter Tote – by Lambert | by The Knitted Loopv



Perth Courier, January 6, 1899

Sarah Trainor, sent to Perth gaol

Perth Courier, October 14, 1870

Ann Kerr, charges brought by William Murphy, committed as insane

Perth Courier, October 5, 1888

Emeline Ferguson, insane, sent to jail.

The following were some of the most active quilting-embroidery groups in the 1950s, 60s and 70s in Lanark County: From Arlene Stafford Wilson’s piece-Lanark County Quilting Legends – of the 1950s, 60s and 70s

Balderson Women’s Institute

Bethel Women’s Institute

Calvin United Church – Calvinettes, and U.C.W

Drummond Centre Women’s Institute

Elphin community quilters

Flower Station community quilters

Glad Tidings Tabernacle Church, Ladies group, Perth, ON

Harper Women’s Institute

Hopetown community quilters

Innisville – St. John’s Women’s Association

Lanark – Catholic Women’s League

Maberly United Church W.A.

McMartin House, Perth, ON

St. John’s Church Perth – Catholic Women’s League, Perth, ON

Port Elmsley Women’s Institute

Rideau Ferry United Church Women’s Group

Salvation Army Church, Perth, ON

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Women’s Missionary Society, Perth, ON

St. James Anglican Church, Perth, ON

St. Paul’s United Church, Ladies group, Perth, ON

Watson’s Corners U.C.W.

Related reading:

To Be Manic Depressive in a Rural Town — Kingston Insane Asylum

The Insane Spinster Ghost of Appleton Ontario

Want to see more? Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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