This ongoing series of work was originally initiated following a commission for Shire Hall Gallery (now closed) in late 2012, inspired by photographs of women criminals with their hands on their chests. The first series of six miniature quilts has been purchased by the Shire Hall Gallery and is now displayed outside the 18th century court room. I have continued to make new pieces in this series since 2013 including Criminal Quilts: Hanging (made 2015) which won the Fine Art Quilt Masters competition at the Festival of Quilts 2016, and a number of small and large pieces which were shown in my solo exhibition Narrative Threads.
Criminal Quilts has received Arts Council funding for an extended project in Staffordshire throughout 2017-18 with exhibitions, seminar and a publication. Find out more about this project here.
See below for more information about the research behind the work. Original archive photographs are courtesy of Staffordshire Records Office.
Criminal Quilts: Hanging
Winner of the Fine Art Quilt Masters competition 2016.
This piece uses four layers of transparent cloth with a print of one of the original archive photographs behind. Naturally-dyed silk organza, hand embroidery, reverse appliqué and appliqué.
Criminal Quilts: Patchwork
A series of seven small pieces exploring the possibilities of small quilt-like pieces, with a personal & domestic feel. Techniques include trapunto quilting, embroidery and digital print. These pieces were shown in the Textile Art Center, New York, 2013. Two were shown in the Leicester Open 26 exhibition from March 2015 and one in Cank Street Gallery, Leicester 2016.
Shire Hall Gallery Collection
This series of quilts are part of the permanent collection of Staffordshire Museums & Galleries and on display at the Shire Hall Gallery, outside the historic court room.
Background to the work
Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford, who were looking for work inspired by their building, an eighteenth century courtroom. When I visited the building, I found the images of criminals photographed with their hands on their chests completely fascinating. Their hands were photographed like this in case of any missing fingers, which would count as identifying marks. I chose to work with photographs of women as I found the details of their clothing so intriguing.I have used the motif of hands to create pieces exploring the layers of history embedded within the building and within the lives of the women shown in the photographs. Some of the pieces take the form of miniature quilts which refer back to the domestic lives of these women and reflect the clothing and fabrics they would have known and worn. Quilts are usually associated with comfort and security, which I imagine would have been lacking in the lives of these women, particularly during their time in prison. The muted colour palette I have chosen also links to the sepia-toned photographs as well as the structure of the building in wood, brick, stone and lead.
The commission process
The curator was interested in my Monumental Folly pieces and wanted to commission a piece inspired by the Shire Hall Gallery building. The gallery is based in converted 18th century court building with surviving panelled courtrooms, pastel-coloured plasterwork ceilings, holding cells and a whole range of interesting patterns, textures and shapes. Normally, details like this would lead my work. I love texture, pattern and detail like this. But when I visited the building, what really struck me – almost haunted me – were the Victorian mug shots of criminals, particularly those with their hands on their chests. I didn’t exactly choose them, they chose me. I have used the motif of hands to create a collection exploring the layers of history embedded within the building and within the lives of the women shown in the photographs. Several of the pieces take the form of miniature quilts which refer back to the domestic lives of these women and I am very much influenced by the types of clothing and fabrics they might have known during their life times.