Rosalind Wyatt has worked with stitch and textiles for over twenty years. Originally trained in Western Calligraphy and Textiles at The Royal College of Art, London, much of her work is informed by language, philosophy and textile provenance.
Based in Putney, southwest London, Rosalind uses her needle as a writing tool. Each individual hand stitch is used to form letters and word sequences in thread, with the final garments and cloth works presenting an intimate, personal narrative.
Ahead of her stitched calligraphy workshop for TOAST, Rosalind writes about her process, her training and her human connection to cloth.
My earliest memory is of the human voice. When we come to shape sounds into words they carry a message called language. For me, it’s where they are coming from that counts; if they come from that deep universal source then they travel and their trajectory is far-reaching and lasting.
My first love was theatre. I was mesmerised by it. The grandeur of that dark space - thought becoming sound, being taken on a spoken journey and the applause that celebrated that. Art discovered me early on and I learned about what worked by watching and listening to actors on a stage.
I questioned how I could bring that electric power I felt on stage onto a page? How does one get to use voice as a mark? By studying calligraphy, of course. The endless repetition, a systemised craft that wanders into archaic territory in search of perfection - each letter steeped in beauty, balance and harmony.
After my calligraphy degree – a process which was as arduous as learning to write again - I began to find the steel straight-edge nib too hard and restrictive and sometimes unforgiving. I was searching for freedom – just give me one letter that pulsates with life!
I’ve always felt a very human connection to cloth. Our cities were built on the trade of it, and many of our streets were named after the manufacture of cloth and its associated tools. Our language is enhanced and enriched by it. Furthermore, my Grandfather Bertram, I am told, was a Savile Row bespoke tailor.
As you handle cloth, it engenders a kindred human feeling that goes right to your core. I am pointing to the human provenance of cloth; who made it, who traded it, bringing a conscious choice to how you present yourself. All of these thoughts are how it started. I see my connection with cloth as a balancing act of tension, sight and touch.
The first garment I stitched for my project ‘The Stitch Lives of London’ was about the Tuke family. They were Victorian doctors who looked at the state of medical treatment for the mentally afflicted and did something bold to change it. I took up their baton and stitched the story of three generations of Tuke on four separate garments. They were a family of doctors and artists – a brilliant and flawed mixture of humanity and service. Somehow I became part of their story and I felt closer to understanding their motives. It was a huge privilege and a learning curve. There’s no technique, just the document in front of me beside the cloth and my needle and thread: I am not an embroiderer, I’m a storyteller with needle and thread.
Slowly my stitchted works open up and reveal themselves as in quiet conversation. There is an emotional draw to certain handwritings, just as one is attracted by particular personalities and types. Underlying all this wonderful diversity a profound truth is there in the same line running throughout – it’s that line we make with our hands through the breath, direct from the brain onto a surface. A line that is living and is as unique as the DNA that forms us.
The click that takes place in my brain is that line between calligraphy, painting and poetry. A borderline obsessed with the painted line and how artists harness emotion into one single brush stroke, making it intensely unique to their own voice. The rule of legibility bound to Western calligraphy is released to become a painted line, freely exhaled in what I call “painting with words”.
No letter or mark is pre-printed in my work because there’s another superimposition. We must tell the story as cleanly as we can without adding or subtracting to get to the essential truth. Work from your own primary source and the next primary source, which in the case of the dead, are their remaining letters and belongings. By bringing the two together we can create a bridge.
Words and images by Rosalind Wyatt.