Fragments – Researching a new series of work

Small fragments of cloth combined to make a greater whole. Each stitch, each thread, each moment of the maker contribute to a broad canvas of narrative.

I have been invited by the Quilt Association to showcase some work in their summer show and chose to spend time developing new work inspired by their collections. Fragments is a series of work in textile and mixed media developed from my research with these quilts, from years of considering antique textiles and the stories they hold and from my desire to express my thoughts about museum collections through making.

For me, the joy of this collection is that it is mainly rescued quilts – saved from charity shops, from life as dust sheets and from languishing forgotten and unloved in garages. This collection does not aim to be a representative array of fine Welsh quilts it merely (and importantly) aims to save old quilts so others may study and enjoy their making. While the quilts vary enormously in age, provenance, quality and condition, they share a defining characteristic of narrative. Many of the locally-made quilts come with priceless stories about their making or their family history (accurate or otherwise) and those which do not have equally exquisite (to me at least) stories of tragic retirements in sheds and subsequent rescue. The stories which these quilts embody interest me as much as the cut of the cloth and the finesse of the stitching.

The quilts speak of poverty and extravagance, of luxury and desperation, of comfort and of tragedy.  They tell stories not just of their making but of their long lives. Some have been repurposed to catch paint or oil spills when handmade quilts had no charm or value. Some were made from the humblest of materials to keep loved ones warm and were never intended to be preserved, admired or studied. Others have had harder lives in the more recent past – badly repaired and hacked about or nearly ruined by machine washing with the best of intentions but with the most damaging effects.

 

To quilt enthusiasts, my preference for the discoloured reverse, the wrecked by laundering, the oil and paint-spattered and the pieced army blankets may be puzzling. But I am not a quilter, not a quilt scholar (except I admit of trapunto quilting) and I do not look at these pieces of old cloth as a someone who wishes to chart the piecing pattern or pass judgement on the number of stitches per inch. The humbler the better for me. The feel of the quilt is most important to me. What it says about those who made it, bought it, sold it, used it, abused it, preserved it and mended it interests me far more. My training in museum work taught me to look at objects from every angle, exploring every possible story to understand the thing as a whole, not as a purely visual object. As an artist I choose to look from one very specific angle and to explore that rich seam of narrative in as much detail as I can. I am interested in sharing, through my making, how these quilts make me feel.

I will be sharing the development of this work over the next six months on the blog and social media. You can also keep in touch via my email newsletter once a fortnight.

Alongside this new work I will also be showing my Fine Art Quilt Masters winning piece and other pieces from the Criminal Quilts series. The exhibition takes place at Minerva Arts Centre, Llanidloes, Mid Wales 5 August 2017 – 16 September 2017. I am also running a three-day Summer School on Experimental Quilting 31 August 2017 – 2 September 2017 (full details to come shortly).

Ruth Singer Criminal Quilt

4 thoughts on “Fragments – Researching a new series of work

  1. Your comments ring very true Ruth. As a collector/restorer of antique and vintage quilts (in varying stages of repair) I truly value the work and skill of women who have gone before me, and so often wonder about who they were, why the quilts were made and for whom, and where they have travelled. I believe it is important to treasure these items and honour their intrinsic value as historical items.

  2. I am looking forward to seeing what you do with these different quilts. I am also drawn to old quilts and feel similarly to you in the importance of the story and how the fibers were used, appreciated or not, by people who are no longer around. I can’t wait to see what you choose to do with them and look forward to seeing the pics!

    As an aside, I have a small (24-30 inch), round crazy quilt table cover with atrociously ugly 4+ inch hanging caterpillar-like edging that hangs off of it. This was made by my (great?), great grandmother and has her initials on an piece of the fabric in the center and also initials of my (great?), great grandfather. (I need to go back to look at the family tree to be sure of lineage.) Any suggestions on what I might do with it? I really like it and it is definitely showing age. Just twisting/braiding the edging and putting it in a frame seems like a lame choice. 🙂

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