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Suresh Singh’s Tank Top

April 2, 2023
by the gentle author


Click here to book for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF THE CITY OF LONDON on Easter Monday


Suresh Singh has been wearing this tank top since 1973


Suresh Singh, author of A MODEST LIVING: MEMOIRS OF A COCKNEY SIKH, is giving a lecture at the Hanbury Hall this Tuesday 4th April at 6:00pm as part of the Spitalfields Series.

Click here for tickets


Perhaps everyone has a favourite piece of clothing they have worn for years? I always admired Suresh Singh’s jazzy tank top and I was astonished when he told me he has been wearing it for half a century.

Suresh’s father Joginder Singh came to London from the Punjab in 1949 and the Singh family have lived at 38 Princelet St longer than any other family in Spitalfields.

In our age of disposable fashion, the story of Suresh’s treasured tank top is an inspiring example of how a well made garment can be cherished for a lifetime.

“My mum made this tank top for me in 1973 when I was eleven. She had friends who all knitted and they had bits of wool left over – what you would call ‘cabbage’ –  so mum collected all these balls of different coloured wool. Otherwise, they would have been chucked away. She kept them in her carrier bag with her needles that she bought at Woolworths in Aldgate East. They were number ten needles.

Mum said to me, ‘Suresh, I’m going to knit you a tank top.’ I never asked her because dad had taught me that I should always be patient, but I think mum saw the twinkle in my eyes and she knew I wanted one. I had asthma, so it was to keep my chest warm. She knitted it over the winter, from November to January. Mum never had the spare time to spend all day long knitting, she had to do it in bits as she went along and keep putting it away.

Mum did not follow a pattern, she just looked at me and sometimes took measurements. It started getting really huge, so I said, ‘Mum, it’s going to be too big.’ She had a sense of scale, she did not draw round me and cut a pattern. Mum never did that. She replied, ‘You’ll grow into it.’ The idea was you would slowly grow into new clothes.

When my tank top was finished, it hung down to my knees and the armholes were at my waist, but Mum was adamant I would grow into it. I loved it because it was all the rainbow colours. There was red, then yellow, then black, then pink and that really beautiful green. It was so outrageous. No other Punjabi kid had one like it. They all wore Marks & Spencer or John Collier grey nylon jumpers, but I had this piece of art. To me, it was a masterpiece. It was so beautifully made, it was mum’s pride and joy. When I wore it, people would exclaim, ‘That tank top, mate, it’s classic!’ I would say, ‘Yeah, my mum made it.’ Sometimes, because it was too big, I could pull it up and tie it in a knot at the front.

Mum made it with such love that I have always kept it. Eventually, my children wore it, but I am claiming it these days. It is a one-off. What made the tank top special for mum was that she was making it for her son. People often say it is a work of art but mum never went to art school. She picked up the tradition of making something for your child. She put so much love into it and I wear it today and it is still really nice. It gives me comfort and it keeps my chest warm.

It has got swag, you know what I mean?

It fits me now.”

Suresh and his mum at 38 Princelet St

Suresh Singh aged four

Suresh Singh & Jagir Kaur at 38 Princelet St (Photograph by Patricia Niven)

You may also like to read about

A Modest Living

At 38 Princelet St

A Hard-Working Life

Joginder Singh’s Boy

How to Make A Chapati

A Cockney Sikh

The first Punjabi Punk

A Sikh at Christ Church

Three Punjabi Recipes


Click here to order copy of A MODEST LIVING for £20


12 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy permalink
    April 2, 2023

    Truly a lovely picture of Suresh and his tsnk top on a grey miserable day.

  2. April 2, 2023

    What a magnificent tank top! Really splendid! I love it.

  3. Maggie permalink
    April 2, 2023

    Lucky Suresh. Made with love and so colourful and joyful. My mum, and indeed most mums, knitted our jumpers all those years ago. How fortuitous that it turned out oversized and can still be worn boy and man ?

  4. Patricia permalink
    April 2, 2023

    A beautiful photograph of a Mum lovingly holding her little one. Suresh’s sense of being safely enveloped in his Mum’s arms is conveyed by his ‘in the moment’ bright eyed curiosity looking out at the camera.

  5. David Antscherl permalink
    April 2, 2023

    Wonderful story! It made me laugh as it brought back a memory.

    When I was about 12, my mother got ambitious and wanted to knit me a sweater. It was a of mohair, I think, and in brown, cream and black tiger stripe. It was very warm and I was proud of it – at first. However, I had the opposite problem to Mr. Singh. The sweater grew out of me! The loose knit kept getting looser until it was halfway down to my knees and the sleeves dangled six inches below my fingers. It was unwearable. It was years before I had the heart to discard the sweater, as it was the only thing my mother ever knitted.

  6. Ann permalink
    April 2, 2023

    What a lovely story.
    Looking forward to Tuesday 4th at Hanbury Hall x

  7. Helen permalink
    April 2, 2023

    I love this, the tank top is the same age as me!

  8. April 2, 2023

    An amazing technicolour dream tank top! I love clothes with a history and, of course, we should be living sustainability and holding onto them too. Thank you Suresh and the GA.

  9. Milo permalink
    April 3, 2023

    I want one!

  10. Cherub permalink
    April 4, 2023

    I love the story of Suresh’s tank top, it cheers me up every time I read it, as do the colours. What a lovely mum to have knitted it, and what a lovely son who still wears it with pride.

  11. Marcia Howard permalink
    April 6, 2023

    Knitted with Love.

  12. Michael Lott permalink
    April 7, 2023

    That’s wonderful – I still have all of the vests and sweaters my mom knitted me. Some the moths have gotten to, but I still have them tucked away. I still wear the scarves she made.

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