The Stitch Lives of London


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Rosalind Wyatt


An art textile installation incorporating historical garments and artefacts telling the story of London in Stitch.

Up to 100 metres long, the form of this major work will duplicate the ‘path and winde’ of The River Thames using 215 pieces to mark its length in miles.

THE STITCH LIVES OF LONDON will be housed in a building by the River Thames to offer a place of contemplation and repose — and will remain a work of historical and artistic importance to London.

A modern-day Bayeux tapestry, it will bring this great city of ours to life in the most graphic and intimate way possible: the words of Londoners- rich and poor, famous and obscure- sewn into the very garments we have worn next to our skin.

Down the centuries right up to the present, Londoners’ hats, gloves, garments and shoes become the historical “canvas” for the epic story of our great and diverse city.

THE STITCH LIVES OF LONDON will become one of London’s sights. It will involve artists, writers, researchers, curators, historians, architects, and designers. Above all, it will involve the citizens of London.

THE STITCH LIVES OF LONDON will be under the creative direction of artist Rosalind Wyatt. And it’s already begun……

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The first piece completed for THE STITCH LIVES OF LONDON, was exhibited at The Gallery of Words, in London, Mayfair 2011. If Shoes Could Talk tells the story of Mary Pearse, the troubled daughter of a London shoemaker. The “canvas” is a pair of exquisite Edwardian silk satin dancing shoes — tiny and perfectly preserved.   They were donated by the Ward family from Wandsworth.

Mary was a London pauper in the early C19. All we know of her life is what was written by the clerk of the Poor House that admitted her in 1815 after she’d run away from home in Marylebone:

Mary Pearse ~ 15 years old ~ …states, that her Father is a shoemaker – & that her mother is living ~ that she has never been from home, till the evil example of a Sister, who has been a Prostitute some time, led her to think of quitting her Parents. She stole from her Father £7 ~ & took up her abode at No. 6 Charles street, Drury Lane, where she spent £5 ~ of the money, the remainder being recovered by her Father.

This glimpse of Mary’s turbulent life has been immortalised in a pair of shoes from the time. A pair she was probably never rich enough to wear- but which her own father might have made.


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This running-top belonged to a young boy who loved to run, and bears the logo of the running club he attended regularly from age 11-14.  He won medals and even ran a marathon.

It’s an unassuming garment. The fabric has ‘bobbles’ on its surface. The logo is still boldly emblazoned. The label inside is worn away with washing and perhaps the abrasion of garment on flesh during running.  It’s limp and lifeless so it’s difficult to grasp and a challenge to stitch on.

It belonged to Stephen Lawrence, murdered by a gang of white youths in South East London in 1993- because he was black.   It becomes the artwork A boy who loved to run.

It was donated by his mother, Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, OBE.  When I explained THE STITCH LIVES OF LONDON to her, she responded by saying she would like to donate a piece of Stephen’s clothing.  In 2011 we met at the Stephen Lawrence Centre. She handed me his running- top in a modest plastic bag.  She told me about Stephen, his love of running, his achievements, his awards, and his enjoyment of life. She told me ‘he lived for today — the moment’.

So this was to be a piece that celebrated his life rather than mourning his death.

Amidst the pages of his drawings and his documents, one stood out. Written on A4 foolscap paper was an A ‘level essay, written a couple of weeks before his death.  Stephen left it unfinished mid- sentence. His hand was sure and urgent with a strong forward slant.

These were the words I decided to stitch into Stephen’s running-top.

In respect for the family’s wishes I have not reproduced the content or any associated images of this handwritten or transewn text.

As both he and his mother were so proud of his sporting achievements, I placed four of his running medals on the front, remade by hand in a textile version, next to his stitched words.

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The back nods to the legacy that Doreen Lawrence has created through the tragedy of Stephen’s death.  It bears the pattern that covers the Stephen Lawrence centre in London — the artwork was designed by Chris Ofili.

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When Doreen saw the completed garment, she said ‘Yes, Stephen would have liked that’.

A boy who loved to run is an example of how THE STITCH LIVES OF LONDON will be both contemporary and historical, mixing old and new, juxtaposing ancient and modern.  It will not flinch from showing the conflicts of past and present, alongside the comic, the wonderful, the strange and the beautiful.

A boy who loved to run has been met with an overwhelming emotional response wherever it has been shown.  It was awarded 3 place ‘best in show’ at Art in Action by 400 other participating international artists.

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And it was chosen by Freshfields to be shown in pride of place at The Inaugural Stephen Lawrence Legacy Ball on 17th October 2013 at The Dorchester Hotel.


‘Life Restored’


“My faith in life, thanks to Mike, is restored”.  Jonny Benjamin

This story is about hope and a life restored. Jonny Benjamin has donated the white t-shirt he was wearing on the 14th January 2008 as he was about to commit suicide.  He describes his thoughts and feelings in his poem ‘From the edge of Waterloo Bridge’ hand written in his own diaries.


On that fateful morning, one Londoner stopped and talked Jonny down from the bridge.  Jonny called him ‘Mike’ and six years after the event a London wide campaign was launched to reunite them. The #findmike campaign went viral and they eventually met back on the bridge.  The stranger’s name was Neil.


The front of the garment has been saturated in black ink and indigo — a reference in his diaries to his ‘indigo mood’.  We see what he sees as he stands on the edge of the bridge — London’s iconic cityscape printed in contrasting white against an inky backdrop.  Neil represents humanity.  He was the stranger who stopped and said ‘We could go for a coffee…talk it over? Whatever it is, it isn’t worth your life’.


The back of the t-shirt is lighter and a witty reminder of Neil’s statement:

“It’s weird because it’s like we are like old friends, we’re very similar.  I’m Batman and he’s Robin.  Maybe we were always meant to be in each other’s lives!”

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“Rosalind has turned what was extremely bleak and dark into something so colourful and full of life. I hope it inspires others who see it that it is possible to overcome and transform adversity in life.” – Jonny



‘A time piece — Mr. Jude Law plays Hamlet’


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This was the shirt that actor Jude Law wore when he played Hamlet to public acclaim in 2009 on the London stage.  He chose to donate the garment to THE STITCH LIVES OF LONDON.

When he saw the finished piece he said: I’m blown away. It’s beyond what I could have imagined.  I’m so thrilled to be a part of the project and to see my own small gemstone so beautifully preserved! It’s truly a thrill

He chose the following quote from the play which he then hand wrote and now has been hand stitched onto the left breast of the shirt.

“… we defy augury. There is special providence in

the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to

come, it will be now, yet it will come — the

readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is’t

to leave betimes, let be.”

Hamlet Act V, Sc II, William Shakespeare

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The decorative stitching running around the shirt is inspired by watching the murmuration of starlings alluded to in the word ‘augury’ interspersed with tiny antique time pieces.


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So A time piece — Mr Jude Law plays Hamlet brings together two great players in time.  A contemporary actor and the greatest philosopher of all time.


Artist’s statement by Rosalind Wyatt

Nothing is pre printed or planned.

I hand-stitch directly into a garment by copying the traces of the original handwriting in stitch.

I call it ‘Transewing’ (RW copyright) … or ‘Writing with a needle’

My hands become the ‘teller’ of the tale as I follow the pattern and rhythm of writing.   Because the act of stitching is silent and deliberate it creates a subtle space, where you can allow that voice to be heard.

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Anything we have worn- a pair of dancing-shoes, a running-top- bears our imprint. It is the closest thing to our skin.  It carries the marks and ravages of time.

Handwriting is direct evidence of a person, time and place.  The marks people make reveal so much about them. They are immediate and personal, a snapshot in time, like a stroke of Zen brushwork.

What I value in any  handwritten document is what happens in the writer’s stream of consciousness when the ink is flowing- the mistakes, the unplanned

marks, scribbles, doodles, the placement of text within a space, the choice of writing tool — all a priceless record of that person.

So when text and textile come together, it gives a visceral sense of a human presence.

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One needs to feel sure and confidant before the first stitch, attuned to the rhythms of the mind behind the handwriting to be stitched.

The design of the whole piece comes gradually as I stitch. It is as if by touching and engaging with the actual fabric, it reveals its own secrets.

This technique will drive the creation of THE STITCH LIVES OF LONDON.   

 I will be leading a team of expert stitchers, specially-trained by myself to “write with a needle”.


THE STITCH LIVES OF LONDON is an opportunity for everyone to get involved in a major historical art event.  The People of London will be key participants in this ambitious project to find 215 stories to form the narrative of the tapestry.

They will be invited to donate or pledge family items for inclusion in the piece.  Some garments will be ‘un-earthed’ from textile collections- but most will donated by individuals, to be given new life in a modern contemporary setting.

There will be scope for involvement of schools, social groups, charities and individuals in the making of the piece.

Rosalind Wyatt will run workshops to inspire participation in the making of the final piece.  These will build on the success of her courses (at the V&A and worldwide) ‘Writing with a Needle’

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In addition to helping to create this vast piece, people from all communities will learn how to stitch the stories of themselves and their families. The final work will be an inclusive epic that reflects the ethnic diversity of London through the ages.


“By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept….



For I speak not loud or long.”

(T S Eliot)

The River Thames is closely associated with the image of London. It is nature’s own living memorial, showing how a city and its people have evolved through time.

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As a port and river city, London has always been open to the world. The ebb and flow of the Thames echoes the lives of its millions of citizens through time, coming and going. The installation will follow the pattern of the Thames, like a ‘flowing ribbon suspended in space’.


Architects drawing of textile installation under glass, suspended from above following the pattern of the Thames

Imagine a collage comprising bodices, cloaks, hats, socks, hankies, underwear, and textile remnants — says Rosalind Wyatt- placed side by side for artistic resonance to create a dynamic visual language running throughout. 

Garments of every class, status and culture will be sewn together — emulating the social architecture of the city.  Personal stories of the wearers will be depicted through the lettering, creating a text and textile celebration.

Authentic garments, from the magnificent to the bizarre will provide the ‘canvas’ on which specific events will be brought to life. 

People and places will be documented for posterity and brought to life in hand-stitch, leaving a lasting legacy for generations to come.  


“A nation which has forgotten its past can have no future.”

(Winston Churchill)

Amongst the clothing will be key historical garments belonging to famous Londoners — imagine Pepys’ diary stitched into his own waistcoat in his own handwritten script…. or Florence Nightingale’s hurriedly- scribbled notes stitched into one of her handkerchiefs….. 



This workwas conceived in 2009 by Wyatt following the success of a body of work called The Stitch Lives of Others. This celebrated the lives of 3 generations of her husband’s family, originally the Tukes from York.

Since then she has been approached by individuals wishing to donate and explore their own families and lineage.

The acquisition of a garment and interview culminating in the making process are all of equal importance, says Wyatt.  How certain garments come my way, has its own fascinating story.  During the ‘interview’ process, key themes emerge which point the way towards the making process.  The making process is a totally sensory experience — the touch and smell of the textile informs the stitching.

After a BA in Calligraphy and Bookbinding, Wyatt completed an MA at the Royal College of Art in Textiles and Mixed Media.

She has had solo/group shows both in the UK and abroad- the USA, Japan, Switzerland….

She has had commissions from diverse patrons including the National Portrait Gallery, the British Council, leading interior designer Nicky Haslam, St Mary’s Hospital, Washington DC’s National Museum for Women in the Arts and many private individuals.

Calligraphy clients include Gap, Fendi, Roger Vivier, Burberry, Hogan, Swarovski and Vivienne Westwood.

She has taught and lectured at, among others, the V&A, the BBC, Kew Gardens, and The Art Academy. She has also delivered a paper at the Texts and Textile Conference organized by the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Material Texts, Jesus College.

Her work is widely published.

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As creative director, Wyatt will co-ordinate a team comprised of the following:

–       Stitchers’— to  ’trans-sew’ the stitching on the final piece

–       Writers, researchers and historians — to write, collate and research original handwritten documents and stories incorporated in the final piece

–       Curators and museum staff , textile professionals and archivists —to liaise with museums, textile collections and organisations, private donations – archiving and storing fragments and textiles for the final piece

–       Architects , designers and technicians — to supervise the overall structure, look and design of the final installation

–       Patrons and financiers— to ensure the project runs to budget and on time

–       And of course, The People of London themselves

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Phase 1 — gathering collaborators and fund raising         5-6 from 2009

Phase 2 — research and archiving                                                3-4 years

Phase 3 — Making and installation                                                3-4 years


What I am looking for: 5 corporate sponsors numbered 1-5.  No 1 sponsor will always be credited with prime position, then No. 2 and so forth. They will receive full coverage and credit with any ensuing press and marketing activity.

Garment production cost: £20,000 per garment incl. all research costs

Project manager at 2 days per week: £3k

Display cases for exhibition: 1k per individual garment

PR, Marketing material: 1k per annum




Leading architect Richard Rogers:        “Rosalind’s stitched garments are the most exquisite and compelling artworks, not simply for their rich visual quality but in the way they present a personal narrative of a particular historic time.  The SLL is a development on an epic scale, telling the story of London through those who live and work within it.  Her vision would culminate in a major historic artwork, incorporating tradition and history in a contemporary context.  It depends on a collaboration of artists, researchers, curators, historians and architects working towards its fulfillment.  To this end, I wholeheartedly endorse this most exciting project.”

Mark Henderson, Chairman of Gieves and Hawkes and The New Craftsman:              “I think this is a beautiful project. I have known Rosalind for several years and the haunting nature of her trans-sewing and her incredible sensitivity and empathy will make this a truly wonderful work of art and humanity — fitting for London in the 21st century.”

Beatrice Behlen – Senior Curator, Fashion & Decorative Arts at the Museum of London:         ‘I never cease to be fascinated by the personal stories revealed by clothing worn in the past. I very much like Rosalind’s work because the stories are not told separately, as they have to be in museums for obvious reasons, but they are written onto the object itself.’

Sue Prichard, Curator Contemporary Textiles, at the Victoria & Albert Museum:

‘Rosalind Wyatt approaches every aspect of her work with sensitivity and an innate understanding of the complexities of the human condition.  She is a natural story teller – one who is able to let the absent speak for themselves with eloquence and dignity.’

If you would like to get involved, please contact the artist:



Copyright R. Wyatt — no part of this document to be reproduced