‘Life Restored’ Jonny Benjamin garment

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“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!”

Rosalind Wyatt 2016

‘If shoes could talk’

These silk satin dancing shoes were the first garment donated by a London family to The Stitch Lives of London.  The story of Mary Pearse, a London pauper who never owned a pair of shoes but whose father may have made such a pair has been hand stitched on them.  All we know of Mary is contained within this short narrative, written by the clerk as she was admitted to a safe house:

No 188. Narrative of Mary Pearse,  22 Apr 1815. 

Mary Pearse ~ 15 years old ~ of Hanway Place (yard) Mary le bone, was referred to the consideration of the last committee by George Farrant Esq, a Magistrate of Middlesex. Not being at that time discharged from confinement, her case could not be investigated.

She now 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.

Admitted.

Bill Nighy Recording

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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.

 

‘A time piece – Mr Jude Law plays Hamlet’

The garment was donated by actor Jude Law and is the costume he wore to play Hamlet. He chose the following quote from Hamlet and wrote them in his own handwriting. I then hand stitched his handwriting onto the front of the garment. The back stitching is inspired by watching murmuration of starlings…alluded to by the word ‘augury’ interspersed with tiny antique time pieces. When Jude 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 this project and to see my own small gem stone so beautifully preserved! It’s truly a thrill!

‘A boy who loved to run’ – Stephen Lawrence garment

‘A Boy who loved to run’ 

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 was donated by his mother, Dr Doreen Lawrence.  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.

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.

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.  When Doreen saw the work, 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.