Stitch Love Letter

Dearest,

I would have torn the stars from the heavens for your necklace.

I would have stripped the rose-leaves for your couch from all the trees.

I would have spoiled the East of its spices for your perfume,

the West of all its wonders to endower you with these.

I would have drained the oceans, to find the rarest pearl-drops.

And melt them for your lightest thirst in ruby draughts of wine.

I would have dug for gold till the East was void of treasure, that, since you had no riches, you might freely take of mine.

I would have drilled the sun-beams to guide you through the day-time.

I would have caged the nightingales to lull you to your rest:

but love was all you asked for, in waking and in sleeping, and love I gave you, sweetheart, at my side and on my breast.

Lord Curzon — Viceroy of India to his wife

(from the original Sanskrit/Indian love song)

 

the stitch lives of others

The Stitch Lives of Others

Stitch Lives of Others Part One, Two and Three, brings together three things – Lettering, life and Art.  Historical artefacts – letters, garments, and personal effects provide inspiration for the artwork of the future.  History and Art meld seamlessly into a visual story. Stitch becomes the common theme, tracing the words, thoughts and feelings of the players/cast/ protagonists.  The handwritten letters become the humane evidence of character and play, the stitch resonating with the sentiment.

Part  1: ‘Tuke’
18th century red, silk, brocade bodice

Part I- Tuke 1

It was the letters of Daniel Hack Tuke (1827 – 1895) my husbands Great, great Grandfather and an eminent 19th century Doctor that proved the catalyst.  They charted his travels with his newly married bride, Esther Stickney, to European asylums in 1853; these simple handwritten documents convey a man who cared deeply about medicine and the treatment of his patients.  Daniel was a member of the distinguished Tuke family, whose progressive and humane approach to mental health radically reformed the treatment of the mentally ill.  The York Retreat set up in 1796, in York England was founded by William Tuke and is still open today.  So, he writes home to his Father, Samuel, telling of the latest treatments adding sketches in pen and ink of the asylums he has visited.   Esther meanwhile, relates the smaller details of life, the fashion abroad and shape of the bonnets, and who has, and has not dined with them.

Amongst, these letters, was an 18th century silk bodice.  This became the canvas on which to tell the story of Daniel and Esther.  The process was simple; working with the original letters, I began stitching the handwriting directly onto the bodice, building up the story in thread, some of which came from Esther’s own sewing box.  The rhythm and texture of the handwriting informed the stitch and vice versa.  I also took inspiration from the unique examples of work from the Prinzhorn Collection; assembled between 1918 and 1921 by the German Art historian and psychiatrist Dr Hans Prinzhorn it contains around 5000 works which were made by people in psychiatric institutions in Europe.

 

Part 2: ‘Sainsbury’
in two parts — jacket (kataginu) and trousers (hakama)


Hakama traditionally formed part of a complete outfit called a kamishimo (上下 or 裃). Worn by samurai and courtiers during the Edo era, the outfit included a formal kimono, hakama, and a sleeveless jacket with exaggerated shoulders called a kataginu (pictured).

Early 20th century child’s kamishimo, blue / white print cotton

A Kamishimo is a heavily-pleated, two piece kimono, worn for martial arts and festival days. This poignantly child-sized example became the canvas for stitched extracts from the reams of passionate, poetic, obsessional love letters written by Japanese playwright Torahiko Kori (1890-1926), to his English lover Hester Sainsbury (1890-1967); also Wyatt’s husband’s grandmother.

Hester, daughter of Maria Tuke, was an artist and poet and her intense and unconventional relationship with Kori lasted from 1917 until his death, to TB, in 1926. His letters to her, mainly posted from ships as he travelled to and from Japan, revealed a furious, yet doomed love and a fearful contemplation of his fate.  Kori immortalised Hester in his letters to her, and it was clear that Hester shared this love.  The collection was kept in a tapestry pouch, stitched and designed by her, including photos of him on his death-bed, his calling card, a photo collection of their travels to Switzerland, his paper passport, and the ultimate touching artefact — two locks of their hair, intertwined and tagged with a Buddhist prayer from a shrine.  With such precious material, it was hard not to be moved and to feel in awe and respect of the love they bore eachother — this was a story too good to be left in moth-balls and attic box.

The garment was treated separately becoming two pieces.  The kataginu (jacket) is lined with shibori-dyed handkerchief, once belonging to Hester and embroidered with a letters of condolence.  Textile and text interplay with random yarn in different colours to create the chaotic yet beautiful element coming through the letters. as a sinister reminder of Kori’s diseased lungs

“…Ah yes I will work, I will work, with always your help I will work.  The work that shall be our child. 

All the joys of life, Hester, we shall have together, fighting and conquering, we two. You will make me live long, won’t you? And I will work, work.” – Torahiko Kori written to Hester Sainsbury

Part 3: Shunan
1930’s Viyella, silk-lined child’s matinee jacket

 

Hester Sainsbury went on to marry leading Vorticist artist, Frederick Etchells, with whom she became a founder member of the Bloomsbury set. The couple had one child, Susan (mis-pronounced Shunan, when she was a child), who is my mother-in-law.

In this final piece of The Stitch Lives of Others series, the canvas becomes a viyella jacket, skillfully made for Susan by her mother.  The piece is more playful, worked with a childlike touch. It has been embroidered with Susan’s early drawings and childhood experiences and both her school name tags and those of my nieces and nephews form the ‘memento mori’; the piece is both an emblem of healing and closure for Hester – a resolution to the tragedy of Part 2 and 3 – and a uniting link to the artist’s own blood line.

“There’s a good time coming yet — may it soon be yours”. Harrington Sainsbury to his daughter, Hester, 1932.

Walking jacket

‘Waulking Jacket’

‘Ian’s Waulking Jacket’

Created for pop-up gallery ‘The New Craftsmen’ in Mayfair, Christmas 2012

Gentleman’s tweed jacket and waistcoat.  The tweed was woven on a hand loom before 1939 and acquired by the gentleman’s father whose profession involved setting up radio stations along the Galician coast; he would visit various Hebridean islands and it was on one of these visits that he acquired the tweed.

Eventually the tweed was made into the garment by a tailor in Dundee.  It is of traditional style for a kilt jacket complete with antler horn buttons.

Now the jacket has been hand stitched with anecdotes personal to the wearer.  He said ” the kilt jacket brings back to me the memory of tramping over the hills like in the poem”. This poem has been hand stitched in Gaelic on one sleeve and English on the other.

He also told me of a ‘port-a-beul’ or mouth music that had been used in ‘waulking’ the cloth (a folk song traditionally sung by women while ‘waulking’  or beating the tweed to soften it).

This also has been stitched on, with its translation.

I particularly loved the ‘whole story’ from the process of creation of the tweed to the clear evidence of it having been loved and worn.  ‘Waulking’ is the Gaelic word for walking and this jacket has done some miles! Its therefore been adorned with flora and fauna from Scotland hand cut from old maps.

 

‘Because It’s There’ Commission for Fortnum & Mason

 

BRINGING FORTNUMS HOME     

TWO COMMISSIONED ARTWORKS FOR THE BOARDROOM — In 2 parts….male and female!

  ‘…because it’s there!’ G. Mallory

 This stitched garment explores the history of Fortnum and Mason and the 1924 Expedition to Everest.

The 1924 expedition to conquer Everest was the third and last fatal attempt for George Mallory(1886 — 1924).  In an age of idealistic British conquest and travel, Fortnum and Mason provided everything the intrepid explorer might need at its Export department.  It is little wonder then that the 1924 Mount Everest Expedition headed to Fortnum’s.  Headed by a Colonel E.L Strutt he purchased several items, having firstly negotiated a 10% discount.  This revealing invoice items cutlery, crockery, tea infusers, ski mitts, mattresses and of course ‘Fortmason’ hotwater bottles to keep them warm! These provisions travelled miles with the team across continents in wooden crates evidenced in the extraordinary photos of the expedition.  From these documents researched at the RGS, I have chosen the most visually attractive invoice which shows the total amount spent as being to the amount of £77.19 pence. As well as heading a stylistic F&M trademark name so typical of the time it also includes the ever enduring royal warrant — this time belonging to George V and Queen Alexandra.  This is symbolized by the inclusion of a gold plated military button bearing the royal insignia.

In 1999, 75 years after he was last seen, Mallory’s body was discovered on Everest adding to the speculation as to whether he and Irvine had actually made the summit.  Much of his clothing and personal artefacts were found with his extraordinarily well-preserved body including his watch, notebook, altometer and handkerchief.  A 1920’s tweed pair of men’s mountaineering trousers have been sourced as the canvas on which to tell this story.  A folded red silk handkerchief bearing the initials G.L.M rises from behind a horizon made from one of the legs.  Onto this is stitched a diagram drawn by Edward Norton (one of the 1924 team) showing Mount Everest and the heights reached by various team members including Mallory and Irvine.  A ‘clock-face’ full moon is pinned near the summit of the mountain.  Although, the passing of time shows the ridiculous inadequacy of the clothing they wore and opulence of the style in which they travelled compared with today’s modern standards, we can only stand in awe of the valour of these men and furthermore the unchartered territory they travelled which informs the way we climb mountains today.

 

‘I Wish I Were With You’ Commission for Fortnum & Mason

 

BRINGING FORTNUMS HOME     

TWO COMMISSIONED ARTWORKS FOR THE BOARDROOM — In 2 parts….male and female!

‘I wish I were with you’ Churchill

How do you tell the story of Britain’s greatest leader and where he loved to shop?  The first inspiration for this artwork was a letter written by a 16 year old Winston from Harrow School to his Mother, ‘Jennie’ Churchill, telling her that he had received ‘a tremendous hamper from F&M’ which ‘must have cost at least £3 and 10 shillings’.  Covered in ink blots and smudges he apologises saying ‘I am so awfully sorry for the blots, but someone has been doing something to the  blotting paper’ before signing off affectionately yet with custom formality ‘Good Bye you darling Mummy, with much love and many kisses, I remain your loving son Winston S. Churchill’.  This has been hand stitched onto the left sleeve and is where the story begins.

Lady Randolph Churchill was an American heiress (1854 — 1921) considered to be one of the most beautiful women of her time.  This silk satin bodice becomes the canvas on which to tell this tale and is fittingly exquisite; complete with whale boning, it belongs to the same era of elegance and is by coincidence of American origin – as shown printed on the label which has been pinned decoratively with antique glass top pins which themselves  have individually been silver plated.

No doubt as all good mothers would testify, Lady Randolph was key in shaping the character and career of her eldest son, apparently commenting that she ‘always knew that Winston would be her greatest achievement’.  Her own breeding and character comes through strongly in all her portraits, an effigy of which adorns the right sleeve.

Much more anecdotal and actual evidence remains of Churchill’s loyalty to F&M, which has modestly been displayed as a timeline of sorts on the bodice.  Numerous invoices show that Clementine and Winston loved to shop at F&M — the most bizarre being the purchase of 6 bottles of Invalid Turtle in 1912!

It is clear that Winston repeatedly chose the store for all his purchases – mutual appreciation culminating in F&M hosting a birthday party to mark his 71st birthday.

Boer War 1899 — Churchill takes a wagonload of F&M edibles to South Africa

[He writes to Clementine asking her purchase her another pair of boots from F&M] From the trenches 1915 ‘with these continual wettings and no means of drying one must have plenty of spares ‘

Cunningham Diaries 1944 ‘after a cup of soup’ – It was Churchill’s habit before going to bed to drink a cup of soup made from F&M soup cubes and said to contain a mild sleeping draught

1945 — F&M host a 71st birthday party for Churchill and present him with a special cake ‘Please accept my cordial thanks for your kind thought and its most agreeable expression’

Pashmina

This commission commemorates a significant 25th wedding anniversary — a surprise gift from husband to wife.  The client provided the text chosen from Anais Ninn “ And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”.

I have interpreted this in nine stages of creation — from bud to blossom.  According to Indian philosophy there are nine stages of creation — from unmanifest to creation.  This is depicted on the pashmina — one side showing the manifest creation depicted as a bud at nine stages of development and the other side in an abstract way — the remaining remnants of the material as a mirror image to each bud.  Inside each bud is stitched the Anais Ninn quote and again running along each side of the pashmina.  The silk used for the flowers comes from an antique kimono and a green silk Victorian Quaker wedding dress.  As each bud opens it reveals pearls and gems of garnet and quartz and scattered along the length of the pashmina, hand cut and stitched ‘petals’ reminiscent of the couple being blessed as seen in Indian miniature paintings…where the petals fall from hands from the sky.

The client’s response:

‘Ros… it’s one of those incredible moments that leave you speechless. The tenderness and care with which you created the work… the delicacy…the subtlety… the spiritual resonance that floats from it like perfume…You have created something fabulous and incredible.  Achingly beautiful. Sublime.  It’s so far beyond what I had imagined that I’m almost thinking that this should be framed and displayed…but then it would be untouchable… the one thing that it yearns for… it wants to be loved and caressed.  I’m moved by it… and your care in making it … you have soaked yourself into it too… you have achieved something truly marvelous.  I’ll have to send you photos of when she opens it…The boys were transfixed and stood and just gaped at it…touching it and marveling at it… you have really done it!’

 

A Homage to Frances Soame

This piece is inspired by the exquisite hand written diary of Frances Soame (shown above) — her letters ‘trans sewn’ onto a 18 century christening gown and featuring moon flowers burnt, cut and drawn into fabric.  Her diary largely features extracts from the poem of Edward Young’s ‘Night Thoughts’ excepting her own message shown here.

Night-thoughts-1

To the beloved Memory of Stephen Soame Esq,

This Monument is erected by his lamenting Widow

Daughter of Sir John Wynn Bart as a lasting

Body of her Affection to a kind and tender Husband

Who departed this life August 11th 1771 Age 34

Stop Passenger, and drop one pitying Tear

Over the lamented form that moulders here

Sad proof alas how soon our bliss is flown

And but just tasted e’re for ever gone.

Yet stay lov’d Shade — ah yet a moment stay

A moment and we all shall haste away.

Thy Frances only waits the child to rear.

Sweet pledge of all on earth my soul holds dear,

When she can spare me I will gladly come

Follow thy summons to the awfull Tomb

Where we may rest secure from mortal strife

Where none will wish to part the Man and Wife

Frances Soame 1771

The Tomb —–clos’d my tears  —-  —–  to flow

When ‘twas the Almighty’s Will to increase my woe

A few short months he spar’d my darling Child

That his connection might be slow and mild

His will be done, and may this keen felt smart

Prove the tired furnace to refine my heart

When this is done.  LORD be it thy Desire

To take me from this suffering world to Thee

F.S 1772

This piece is now in a private collection.