I’m now a member of Find a Maker, a lovely new website from Craft Festival for connecting with craft makers. There are also loads of other wonderful makers and lots to discover and it’s great to be part of a new community of makers whilst we can’t meet up.
Protest Pincushion is a craftivist approach to activism and protest, making clear my objection to the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. I have used textile techniques and a gentle kind of object to make my point. I wanted to use text in textile, reflecting protest banners but in a small and personal way. I took my inspiration from historic pincushions with text made in pins giving in remembrance and as gifts at a birth. This approach also works for me as decorative pincushions are folk art, created at home for creative expression, not commercial pursuit. I’m also influenced by the new Craftspace exhibition We Are Commoners which explores collectivism and community. This piece is part of my commitment to making work which has social justice at its core and will, I hope, give viewers pause for reflection, consider the issues, research and investigate and form and express their own opinion, and take action where possible.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill went through the first stage of parliamentary approval a couple of weeks ago, but there has been huge opposition to the bill which seems to have surprised the government. Civil liberties groups have expressed concerns about the proposed changes to police powers and there is widespread anger that the bill would impose 10 year sentences for damage to statues, which is considerably harsher than many sentences for violent sexual offences against women. And then there was the policing of the Sarah Everard vigil in London. I recommend this article in the Guardian for a simple outline of the issues. There are also issues with this bill about trespass laws which will have a huge negative impact on Gypsy and travelling people.
I have a complex relationship with public protest and have been to a few events over the years but I don’t personally like going to protest events. But it’s not about what I feel comfortable doing, it’s about our right as citizens to express our feelings about policy, laws and government activities in a meaningful and public way. I wholeheartedly believe that we should be able to and that they should be policed proportionately. Violence and criminal behaviour is what gets the press attention but it really is only part of the story. Peaceful protest is incredibly powerful and meaningful.
As a child, I watched tv coverage of Greenham Common protests with both pride and fear when my mum and her friends were there. It has become one of the most important stories of UK protest of the late 20th century. I’m interested in other people’s relationship to protest and what we take a physical stand for. Do you have a protest story you would be willing to share? I hope to create a piece of work reflecting on our feelings about protest.
Find out more about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the implications of it.
As well as the Guardian article above, there are petitions galore including this one from 38 Degrees.
For the law around trespass, there’s an article from the Ramblers Association here and I recommend Nick Haynes ‘The Book of Trespass’ to find out more about what rights we have already lost and what more is to come.
What you can do if you believe in the right to peaceful protest
There are plenty of petitions, I have linked to one below.
Write to your MP and the Prime Minister.
Go to a local protest if that’s possible for you.
Support other protesters – share the information, tell your friends, take cups of tea, print posters.
Create your own textile or other creative work and share this online and images with your MP.
Talk to your friends and family about why this matters to you.
Donate to relevant organisations (a bit of research should find an organisation who you align with).
I’m currently selling some of my archive pieces of my older work: manipulated textile wall panels and hoops, as well as newer embroideries and other pieces. The question I am always asked about is how to keep them clean and safe. I’ve had many of these on my studio walls for years with no damage so I thought I’d explain the principles I follow to keep them in good condition. My first career was working in museums and I specialised in textile curatorial work so I’ve learned a lot about this area.
Light. UV light is the greatest risk to textiles in your home. If you’ve got old curtains that have shredded where the sun hits them then you know the problem. UV light weakens fibres and dyes so to keep your textiles in the best condition you need to protect them from direct light. Either hang them on a wall which doesn’t get any sun or keep blinds closed on sunny days. The only other solution is to install UV filters on your windows.
Dust. Dust in itself isn’t too much of a problem, it’s only a disaster if it’s damp or greasy. So don’t hang textiles in the kitchen unless you can wash them. Textured textiles like mine do gather dust but it’s easy to remove. You have probably seen videos of National Trust conservators gently vacuuming tapestries on walls once a year before covering up for the closed season. The same applies to my work. I take the piece off the wall, go outside with it and bang on the back to dislodge most of the dust. A soft dusting brush can also be useful, again outside is best. I use a goat hair brush from Objects of Use. Make sure it isn’t too stuff and scratchy as that might damage fibres.
Vacuum. You will need a soft brush attachment as shown. I keep one for textiles only and a separate one for cleaning the house. Check for any loose threads on the piece before you vacuum. The top edge is usually the worst spot for dust so start there and work your way down. If there are loose threads or things that may get pulled off by the vacuum, cover the nozzle with fine cloth or netting, so the dust goes up the nozzle but the threads, beads etc can’t. Have a look at the National Trust recommendations here.
Damp. Hanging textiles on a damp or cold outside wall can be risky as mould can develop and there’s nothing you can do about this once it’s stained the fabric.
Moth. Silk and wool can be susceptible to moth attack. It’s wise to be vigilant about keeping your home moth-free if possible. Vacuuming and banging off the dust will also remove some moth eggs. If your textile clearly has moths, find a friend with a large chest freezer, wrap the textile in plastic bags and freeze for a couple of weeks. Let it warm up out of the plastic bag and air thoroughly. Then shake and/or vacuum. That should solve the current residents but avoidance is best.
Spills and dirt. The best way to avoid this is to hang your textile away from food and drink areas and keep them high up. Don’t hang anything fragile where people or furniture movements or doors rub against it or where pets can get near (my new cat thinks a fabric panel is great for scratching!). Wet spills are pretty serious for textiles that can’t be washed. But if the worst happens, contact me and I may be able to rescue it by taking the piece off it’s internal frame and washing or covering the damage.
Rips and tears. Some of the techniques I used can be vulnerable to knocks and curious little fingers which can pull stitches out. Contact me for repair advice – most things can be fixed by you or I will take back for repair.
That should keep your precious textile pieces going for many, many years. Do you feel more confident about rehoming one of these textile beauties? Find them in my shop and make them yours right now!
Early in January I had a lovely long chat with Isabella Rosner for the joyous podcast Sew What? It was so much fun to chat to someone else obsessed with historic textiles about all the things I love. She’s done a great job of turning a lot of excited rambling into a great podcast where I talk about how historic textiles inspire my work. She has chosen the title ‘Making Historic Needlework Now’ which I think is a wonderful description of what I do. You can listen to the podcast here on the website or through your podcast player. There are images of the works I talk about on Sew What? website and I’ve put some below too.
Get more of this kind of insight, exploration and discovery about my work by joining my membership on Patreon. This is where I share my current work in progress, behind the scenes in the studio and what’s on my creative mind. Members also get discounts on workshops and products, and it costs just £4.50 a month.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about the sustainability or otherwise of my own artist practice. I’ve been using Melody Vaughan’s sustainability audit to look at my working practices and think about things I could change. I’ve been very consciously working towards a sustainable practice throughout my nearly 16 years of making. When I started out making products I chose to work with recycled fabrics and did a lot of research into more sustainable textiles which I used for some of my ranges too. I also wrote a book about it (currently out of print) called Sew Eco, focussing on sustainable home sewing practice. The projects are a little dated now but my research into textiles and my passionate belief in re-use not buying new still stand today. In the wider sewing world I rather despair that so little has changed in more than a decade. Why do people still buy brand new, chemically-laded printed cotton which has travelled all over the world just to cut up into small pieces and sew back together again? I personally find it bizarre and shockingly wasteful. I have realised I don’t talk enough about how important I think this is.
My own practice is pretty sustainable although there are things I do which I don’t feel entirely comfortable about but at least most of my stash is decades old and I make conscious choices when buying for projects like Libraries Live. I was recently interviewed by TextileArtist.org about recycling and textiles, which puts my work alongside others who use old cloth, factory waste and other re-used materials. My tiniest scraps go in the compost if they are definitely natural fibres and cannot be used for anything else, while larger pieces go in materials packs or workshop kits.
This week I’ve been recording the videos for my Scrap Patchwork workshop (27th Feb) and talking about why I believe so passionately about re-use, about old cloth, about the important of using our waste and the power of creating something beautiful out of tiny, precious pieces of cloth that might otherwise go in the bin. Creating new work from these tiny, precious pieces is a meaningful and mindful act of making.
Last week I shared my process of reviewing my year and then developing the Gentle Goal Setting Workshop alongside it. This week I’m sharing the goals I have come up with following my review, and a little more about how I got there. Leading up to writing the workbook, I had done quite a a lot of thinking and planning and reviewing and contemplating, partly so I could use my own examples in the workbook. Feedback from the participants in that programme included some clear examples of how I got from review to goals, so I am going to try and share that here. Welcome to the inside of my head!
My approach is to create goals that don’t have a fixed completion, necessarily. This is counter to most goal-setting advice which recommends giving yourself a schedule, a reward, a stick to beat yourself with if you fail. I think this approach of targets just sets us up to fail. I had lots of plans for 2020 and almost all of them didn’t or couldn’t happen, not through any fault of my own. Stuff happens. Even in a more normal year. So I now set goals that I can work on even if the world isn’t back to normal, that I have some element of control over.
Step 1. Reviewing the past year.
I created a number of different ways to frame my view of the previous 12 months. I did a calendar-based review of what I had done in each month / quarter of the year including work achievements, failures, visiting friends then pandemic starting, getting my cat, having a weekend away (amazing!) and employing a virtual assistant. This covers the stuff that had an impact on my life, things I got done and things that happened, as well as the things that didn’t quite happen such as interviews for things I didn’t get, funding applications turned down and work I started but didn’t get finished. I try to do this with no judgement. The point of gentle goal setting is to be kind to oneself and just see what happened in my life and work over the last year.
My Gentle Goal Setting Workbook includes exercises and journalling questions for personal and business reflection, asking questions about confidence and skills, about what you missed and what went better than expected. When working through these reflections I could see patterns emerging showing what I felt was important, what was having a big impact on me and what I needed to build in for 2021.
Step 2. Creating your own version of success.
We all come up against the feeling that there’s something we should be doing in our business. That person over there is doing public art! That person over there is curating exhibitions! That person over there is writing a book! Should I be doing all of these things too? We can too easily get stuck in what we think we ought to be doing rather than what we want to be doing. I worked out that my own criteria for success in my working life is: not getting ill, connecting with people, making work with meaning and making conscious, proactive choices not reactive to what others’ want.
Step 3. Turning all this into goals.
From these I was able to make a series of goals, most of which are open and expansive, rather than tight time-bound, achievement-focussed. My goals are feelings and ways of working that I want to achieve, things I want to build more of into my life. I have a couple which are more specific such as finishing my book, but that is actually a stepping stone or building block towards some of my broader goals about getting my work out in the world and connecting with people. I would also class “Do more funding applications” as a gentler goal, as I’ve not set myself a number, a deadline nor am I assuming success. I just have to keep trying. As long as I am working towards these things, I am making progress, and that’s what it’s all about.
I’ve created the diagram showing how I’ve made goals from the Things That Are Important To Me list.
Step 4. Building blocks towards your goals.
I am dead-set against the timetabling of tasks weeks and months ahead, setting ourselves unrealistic To Do lists and constantly feeling behind in what we are trying to get done. In working towards these broad and expansive goals, I have created a set of building blocks or steps towards the goals and do one, some or a bit of each every week or month when I can and pick up later if I can’t. There’s no judgement or self-flagellation if I don’t ‘achieve’ my goals when something else happens or I just don’t feel like working on that thing this week. Of course there are deadlines and dates when things have to be done because other people are waiting for them but my goals are things to be working on, steadily all year.
Some examples of building blocks towards my goals:
Goal: Decluttering and selling more of my work. Building blocks for this include creating a photo area in my house, setting myself a reminder to take photos when the weather is suitable and upgrading my online shop. Some of those are short-term goals such as setting up a photo space and some are ongoing like taking photos. I have a lot of lists of all the things I want to deal with, photograph, share and sell. I might set myself a challenge or focus for each month, but whatever I do, every small step is progress.
Goal: Connecting with others. This covers so much of my work and what I want to do more of. It links to many of my other goals. The overall purpose of this goal is to feel more connected at the end of the year than I did at the start. There’s no assessment or criteria for this, it is a feeling and I’ll know if I am making progress. Some of the building blocks for this are to create more workshops for other creative people, to launch a podcast where I talk to other artists who I admire, to do some more Instagram live chats, to revamp and develop my Patreon membership group… there are so many ways I will build connection into my working and personal life. Within each of these broader building blocks are smaller steps and specific tasks which I build into my work plan every week. My other goal of mentoring programmes is very closely linked in with this, as is my creativity goal as talking to others inspires me.
Goal: Integrating social justice into my work. I have struggled to know how to do this for the last year or so, but volunteering for the foodbank and working right in the midst of community activism has helped clarify things for me. My building blocks are : talking more about this in everything I do (such as mentioning it here!), look for funding sources, continue to make work based on the foodbank, work with others to create projects, talk and write more. Again, many of these overlap with my other goals, which is why I think this approach will work for me this year.
Step 5. Motivation and keeping moving towards your goals.
This one can be hard. It is all too easy to write a load of challenging and exciting goals in January and then close the notebook and never look at it again. This year I am trying the Goals Planner diary to help me keep track. This has a section at the front with short and long term goals and then space to review and plan each month referring back to the bigger goals. A visual and practical reminder which seems to work for me. The goal-setting advice in the planner is not my approach (obviously!) and I don’t use the milestones and targets bit, I just make lists. Then each month I review and plan what I am going to do next month. If I don’t get all the things done that’s ok. As long as I am making a little progress I am happy. That’s why my goal setting is gentle.
Would you like to try Gentle Goal Setting yourself?
If you would like to try out my review and goal setting journey, the workbook is now available as a stand alone download. It also includes a bonus section on exploring your values and purpose, using my own template around creative business. This will help guide you through everything you do in work and life, hopefully! I’m also working on some new plans including a monthly creative business reflection and journalling ‘club’, group mentoring programmes and more workshops on specific creative business topics like project planning and refining your practice, all part of my connecting and mentoring goals! Please do feel free to share your thoughts about this and your gentle goals for 2021 in the comments.
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 – 20 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.
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.
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.
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.