Gentle Goal Setting For Myself – part one

What I have learned from a wholistic creative practice review

Late last year I started playing around in my journal with reviewing my year to date. I have read so much about reviewing and explored plenty of thoughtful analysis monthly, quarterly and annually, but never had it seemed so important as in 2020, the year that was nothing like what we expected. 

I’ve been supporting artists and makers since June 2020 through WebinArt and had so many conversations about what was working, how to plan in chaotic times, how to find motivation and above all, how to be gentle on ourselves. Living in a pandemic is hard. Running a creative business is hard at the best of times. We are often too hard on ourselves and focus too much on the perceived failures or negative feedback when actually the successes and positive things massively outweigh the less good stuff. Over the time I’ve been working closely with a cohort of makers in WebinArt, I’ve also been doing 1:1 sessions with other creative people and businesses, as well as exploring my own professional development with Kayte Ferris’ programmes The Playbook and The Trail.  I’ve also had some great conversations with other creatives including Melody Vaughan, Emma King, Helen Hallows and Martha Moger. All of this has added up to me being much more reflective and thoughtful about my short-term plans, added to pandemic life where long-term plans are almost impossible. 

I love planning. I love knowing what I’m going to be doing in the next few months and usually have work (teaching or exhibitions) booked a year or two in advance. I often work on long-term projects which can be planned into my diary months ahead. And suddenly that was gone. Last spring my long-term plans suddenly became pencil marks on an empty diary rather than fixed points to plan around. I had to learn to be more in the now, less in the future. It’s been quite an adjustment for me to let go of certainty and fixed points and go with the flow a bit more. For the 15 and a half years I have been self-employed, I have always worried that I’ve not got enough paid work scheduled in for the months ahead. And always for those 15 and a half years I have survived. Some years have been pretty lean and some have been disastrous but I have always been ok. Having things booked in advance helped keep me grounded, but looking back, those commitments also made me feel a bit trapped. When I booked a talk 20 months ahead, I often thought – “what if I’ve left the country or got another job by then?”. I was always very conflicted about these far away things. And now they are pretty much gone. Bookings are usually a few months ahead at most, exhibition dates have been moved into 2022 and long funded projects are a thing of the past now. I don’t have many fixed points in 2021. And actually that’s ok. 

Back in November when I started thinking about my process for creating some semi-fixed points for myself, coming up with some clear activities which were flexible enough for the 2021 but important and meaningful to me. I knew that the rigid goal-setting concept of scheduling in activities for months ahead with deadlines and milestones wasn’t going to work. I work for myself because I like the freedom to choose. I resent arbitrary fixed points. I also learned in 2020 that you can plan all you like and the world has other ideas. So I came up with the idea of Gentle Goals. Things that I could control, stuff I could be getting on with which didn’t rely on the outside world getting back to normal. I am not focussed on exhibition dates, teaching commitments, conferences, community projects or funding deadlines, for the first time in my professional life! It’s half liberating and half scary. I wanted to make sure that the gentle goals I set myself would work throughout the year, not just for a few weeks after the January reset (which wasn’t much of one) so I began by creating a review of the year, focussing on what worked and what didn’t, and crucially what I learned about myself and my needs. 

As soon as I started this, I realised I wanted to share this process. I actually love working with other people and felt that this process might help other people too. I created a workbook and developed a workshop for creative businesses to join me for sessions in December and January and to work through the ideas and explorations in the workbook with support and sharing. It has worked incredibly well and I’ve had lovely feedback and a couple of participants have also opted to do some additional work with me to work out their needs and plans.  The workbook is now available for self-study – 40 pages of things to think about and to help you plan your way forward with self compassion and gentleness. 

What did I learn about myself from reviewing last year? 

I definitely need human interaction to spark creativity. I am a sociable introvert, which means I like being around people when I choose to do so but I find it very tiring and need time by myself to replenish. I have all the time by myself now and not so much of the human interaction. I absolutely love talking to artists and creative people about their work and this is a big part of my professional purpose. I love mentoring and teaching and supporting others but I also realised that I need some input and talking myself! It’s kind of obvious but I have totally forgotten it over the last year or so. 

I have learned so much. While pandemic-life feels static, I have actually discovered new things, tried new approaches, uncovered confidence and leadership in a way I would never have imagined. We have all had to pivot, readjust and change our way of working and I have done so much new stuff that it surprises me when I look back. 

Volunteering and co-running a foodbank and community support has been invaluable to my wellbeing, sense of place and connection. I have loved being part of this project and hated the hours spent on the phone to the bank to sort out something so simple as our own account! This work has really clarified to me how I want my professional life to progress during and post-pandemic too. It is valuable in so many ways. 

I wanted to be doing more of my own projects and less following someone else’s brief. I wanted a break from exhibiting. I got both of these, more by accident than design. I did do some paid projects for other people and I am able to analyse which bits I loved (talking to creative people) and which bits are not playing to my strengths (marketing). 

I invested in help for my business, with courses and programmes and with an assistant who is now so vital to my work that I can’t imagine having to figure out all these technical and administrative problems myself. 

The key points I picked out from working through my own workbook as that connection and creativity are key, and this is what I am working on as my main goals for the year, in all kinds of different ways. 

In my next post I’ll share how I created some gentle goals for myself and how they relate to what matters most to me in my life and work. 

Remembering Rosie


Everything I do at the moment seems to be a bittersweet reminder of my lovely friend Rosie who died a couple of weeks ago. For the last 10 years she’s been so involved in my work, coming to workshops, buying and commissioning textile pieces, sharing stories of antique shopping and cats! I think of her with every stitch, knowing she’d be interested in what I’m doing. I think of her when I am writing newsletters and blog posts because she read them all. I think of her when my cat is cute and funny because she loved cats so much. I think of her when I look at the news because she was so cruelly taken by covid caught in hospital.

She contributed to Textiles in Lockdown and my Criminal Quilts collaboration quilt and the Petri Dish Project as well as so many of my workshops, exhibitions, talks and events. Rosie started coming to workshops when I began running them in Leicester in 2012 and once I stopped doing them locally, she travelled to visit exhibitions and attend workshops further afield. Her support and enthusiasm was incredibly important to me during those workshop years.

Rosie’s contribution to the Petri Dish project about DNA – centre left – a petri dish full of fur from her beloved cats!

She was a creative muse for me, over the years. I often kept Rosie in mind when creating new workshops or new collections of work. Rosie and her husband Graham bought a number of pieces from me and commissioned some really wonderful works which I loved making, discussing with them both and seeing them hung in their home. The first of my Treasure Boxes was a commission for Rosie, her idea, which was truly inspired.

This led to a larger commissioned framed piece using Rosie’s own collections of textile treasures, buttons she had made and additions of my own.

Rosie was treated in Harefield Hospital late last year and was so delighted that she would get to see the quilt I made for the hospital’s centenary in 2015. The last time I saw her, winter 2019, they came to choose some pieces from me to purchase, and Rosie gave me a stitched poem in remembrance of my lovely old cat Maya who had recently died. Her warmth, humour, enthusiasm and energy will be missed so very much. In time I will be making some colourful stitches in her memory.

Precious Objects Sampler Workshop

Online creative workshop with Ruth Singer 29th-31st January 2021. £75

Do you have boxes of precious fabric scraps and tiny treasures like buttons and keys? Would you like an excuse to get these out and make something really special from them? This workshop gives you the ideas and inspiration to create your own beautiful and meaningful sampler using your own personal treasures to keep or to gift. You might want to include family heirlooms and antique textiles or broken china and scraps of dishcloths. The idea of this workshop is to create something out of all those tiny bits you cherish but don’t really know what to do with.

Precious objects samplers are as unique as you are – everyone’s choices will be different. You will learn how to create textile backgrounds with scraps and hand embroidery, how to wrap and stitched into tiny objects and how to attach them. We will also look at how to finish your piece ready for display.

This workshop is all about working slowly and thoughtfully so it is timed to run over a whole weekend but you can dip in and out at your own pace

When you join this workshop you can: 
Come along to a live Zoom introduction and meet other participants. Friday 29th January 5pm GMT (one hour) 
Join a Facebook group to share your work and thoughts with others around the world (optional) 
Watch 5 pre-recorded instructional videos from my studio covering:

Exploring meanings and stories in your work 
Planning, choosing and editing your objects and fabrics 
Preparing the backing with scraps and stitches 
Working with tiny objects 
Finishing and attaching

Come back together with the group to show and share your work Sunday 31st January 5pm GMT (one hour)

You can work at your own pace over the weekend and continue for a week or two if you need to. The videos remain accessible for two weeks, as will the Facebook group.

This workshop does NOT include materials. Packs of treasures and vintage fabric scraps are available separately here.

You will need fabrics and tiny treasures as well as threads and sewing kit. More information will be given when you book. Online booking and payment available here. Please contact me if you need to book and pay a different way.

Textiles In Lockdown Online Talk

Join Ruth Singer to hear more about the textiles in lockdown project with Gawthorpe Textiles Collection, Monday 18th January.

Textiles in Lockdown was a commission from Gawthorpe Textiles Collection to gather stories about textile making during the first UK lockdown in March-June 2020. I worked with them over the late summer to collect stories from over 300 professional and hobby makers about their textile practice during this time and how impactful it had been for their wellbeing, mental health and creative businesses. From these stories I created an ebook and a podcast, both of which are now freely available to enjoy.

Graphic with rainbow of threads in a circle shape with text Textiles in Lockdown and funders logos

Gawthorpe Textiles Collection have invited me back this month to present a live Zoom talk about the project, about my work and creating the ebook and podcast. On Monday 18th January at 7pm I will be sharing my thoughts and answering your questions about the project and about how important textile making is for our wellbeing in this new 2021 lockdown. Tickets are just £5. Please book here, directly with Gawthorpe.

Image of Ruth Singer, side view, sitting in her studio working on a piece of hand embroidery. Wooden shelves and boxes in the background.

Foodbank stories in textile

Textiles and social justice work combine in a new body of work using data from a volunteer-run emergency foodbank in Leicester.

A new piece of work: 1292 Foodbank Visits in 18 Weeks, Ruth Singer, 2020. Hand stitch on cotton.

One thousand, two hundred and ninety two people supported by the emergency food bank my co-volunteers have created on my street this year. It has been an intense and powerful thing to be part of and given me lots to think about around food poverty, period poverty and hidden deprivation in this city I love. My aim in making this work is like most of my work: to make you think. To use artwork, soft, lovely textiles to help engage people with the harder stories that matter so much. I hope it will encourage you to find out about food poverty where you live. To support the volunteers who make foodbank a happen and to add your voice to campaigns and policies that work towards ending the need for foodbanks in this highly wealthy country.

I posted this on Instagram in December, and the app offered me the option of fundraising. Our foodbank is tiny and not a registered charity so can’t fundraise via Instagram. Instead I chose to support the Trussell Trust, a national foodbank charity. It was an interesting experiment. In the first few hours of posting, this image got more engagement (likes & comments) than I expected. Hundreds. Yet only a couple of donations. Within a week I’d met the modest £75 fundraising target through 4 donations. It’s been so interesting. I didn’t intend this outcome but it’s a useful learning experience towards how I can combine my volunteer work with my practice and grow both. I’m the treasurer for the volunteer group so have been heavily involved in fundraising and negotiating with the council for support for the last 6 months.

This work is also in my shop and 25% of the sale price will be donated straight back to the foodbank as 100% of my effort to keep feeding people in need this winter and campaigning for an end to austerity and cruel, unnecessary Tory policies which have led to this situation. Our foodbank continues to support our community during this lockdown and is almost entirely supported by personal donations. If you want to help us, please have a look at our fundraising page here. I’d love to hear your thoughts about food banks, food poverty and what needs to change.


This work was created for the Leicester Society of Artists annual exhibition which you can see online. LSA members have supported this project by donating their exhibition fees to the foodbank and one lovely member donated the entire sale price of her work straight to us. Support like this is amazing and so heartening.

Great British Quilter Podcast

Ruth Singer interviewed on the Great British Quilter Podcast

I was recently interviewed by Sarah Ashford for Great British Quilter Podcast and the interview is out today! Initially we planned to talk about my Textiles in Lockdown project and the quilting aspects of that but Sarah actually came up with a great set of questions about my work so we ranged much wider.

image with the text : Great British Quilter Podcast. Series 2, Episode 5: Meet Ruth Singer. Textile artist and maker. Sponsors logos.

We talked about Textiles in Lockdown, Criminal Quilts, hand stitching, my inspiration, favourite works, using old textiles and my new online workshop for 2021, Scrap Patchwork.

Some of the pieces I talked about are shown here and you can find out more about them here.

Postable Presents

Small gifts from Ruth Singer ready for shipping

Some ideas for small, postable gifts and digital gifts for the crime or craft-loving person on your list. Or you can add these to your own Christmas list. I’m happy to gift wrap and send to your recipient with a hand written card too, to save two lots of postage. Just leave a note in the order form and I’ll contact you to confirm. Browse the whole shop here. I’ve also got digital products for instant arrival and gift vouchers – you can choose to email a PDF or I’ll send a printed one in a card.

Book and Cards Gift Bundle £25
Mini digital print £15
Rainbow Pin £75
Gift Voucher from £5
Colouring book – from £5
6 Point Star Original Print £37
Cover of book Fabric Manipulation by Ruth Singer featuring purple pleated trim on white
Fabric Manipulation Signed Copy £16
Workshop 29th January £75

Gentle Goal Setting

Reviewing the year and soulful planning for creative businesses in 2021

It’s hard to see the wood for the trees at the moment. Hard to see the path through towards running a business in 2021. This year has been really rough for small businesses as well as so many others. I’ve been working on ways to review my year and make plans for next year which take self-compassion and energy into account, not just focus on finances and big leaps. Tiny steps are enough. I wanted to share this approach with others so I’ve created Gentle Goal Setting – a new workshop for artists / makers / writers / creative businesses / freelancers (and anyone aspiring to be one of those in 2021) to take a reflective look back over what you have learned from everything 2020 has thrown at us and learn how to use your values, what you love and what works for you to create realistic and meaningful goals for the new year. A two-part workshop with a workbook to contemplate over the holidays. This workshop, with two live sessions and a workbook as well as a private Facebook group is just £45.

It’s been such a strange and difficult year to be running a creative business / artist practice. Do you need to have a bit of time out to review the good and bad of the year? Would you like to look back and then look forward to set some achievable and meaningful goals for next year? 
My way of ending one year and starting the next is to look back over the whole year with a holistic and realistic review and then take a slow and mindful approach to thinking about what I want to do next year.

I will guide you through my review process in a live online workshop, then give you a workbook for quiet, slow reflection on your own business journey for a month over the holidays. This will take you from reviewing the year to working out some goals about how you want to feel about your business / practice. 
You can share with a like-minded group of other creatives in a private Facebook group and then get back together with me and others in a follow up live session in January (optional). 
Live session will be via Zoom at 4pm GMT Friday 11th December. 
Then you have a month to explore the workbook and share with other students in the Facebook group. 
On January 11th at 4pm GMT we will come back together live on Zoom to talk through goal setting, ask questions and share your thoughts (optional). 
Both live events will be recorded so you can catch up if unable to attend live. 
The Facebook group will remain open until 31st January 2021 for you to keep in touch with others.

If you need more help, you can also book 1:1 video call sessions or email feedback with me in January at 10% off my usual rate.

Criminal Quilts and food poverty

Criminal Quilts tells the stories of women who fell through the cracks in Victorian and Edwardian England.

Bridget Warrilow struggled to make a living and ended up in prison so many times after stealing small things to sell to buy food. Over 100 years later and millions of people still struggle to make ends meet when wages and welfare are too low and living costs are too high. I’ve just shared a case study of Bridget, along with the stories of 5 other women. I’m also fundraising for my local food bank where I volunteer as treasurer and on the committee. We are trying desperately to stop families falling through the cracks but we shouldn’t need food banks in such a wealthy country. Find out more in this Guardian article and support us or your local food bank if you can. They need volunteers, funding and campaigning, as well as food donations.

Textiles in Lockdown Commission – ebook and podcast

Ruth Singer creates an archive of stories, a podcast and an ebook for Gawthorpe Textiles Collection about textile making during lockdown.

I’ve been busy sharing my finished Textiles in Lockdown commission all over the internet and I have forgotten to share it on my own blog! The podcast and ebook are now available for free online, all the links are here. It has been a really amazing project to create and develop. I have got to talk to textile makers about their work, which is probably one my favourite things to do. I loved making the podcast – interviewing people by Zoom was great! But then choosing just a couple of minutes from an hour long conversation was hard. I’m really inspired to think about making a podcast of my own one of these days, if I can work out how to find the time.

The ebook came out much larger than I intended – It was supposed to be about 30-40 pages to support the podcast but so much amazing material was shared by over 300 contributors that I needed to expand it to fit as much as possible. I know I had to leave some people’s words and images out and I feel bad about that but otherwise it would have been too big. All the contributions form a digital archive in the museum at Gawthorpe Textiles Collection to be used by future researchers.

It has been a real honour to hear and share such personal and powerful stories of how textiles have helped so many people through such a difficult year. I’ve had such warm feedback too from both contributors and textile organisations, I’m really proud of this project. If you catch this in time, I will be talking live on the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection Facebook page today (28th October) at 7pm. Please join me then if you can.

I’m so looking forward to this as I contributed in a small way to Ruth’s research that is so important to document.

Jo Hague