Fabric Manipulation workshop at West Dean College

This time five years ago I started work on my third book Fabric Manipulation which was published a year or so later. It gives me real pleasure to see these exciting techniques being enjoyed and re-invented.

 

It is always a pleasure to go back through my boxes of samples from the book and share them anew. Last week’s students at West Dean College produced some amazing pieces, variations and interpretations of the techniques. Shibori work is by Romor Designs.

I hope this course will be repeated at West Dean in a couple of years. In the meantime I have a smocking workshop in London in June and a couple of dates of manipulation techniques with Gillian Cooper Studio in Scotland in August. Next year I hope to launch some online courses exploring manipulation techniques in more detail. There are lots of links and resources on the Fabric Manipulation page too including extensive Pinterest boards and blog posts.

Close Distance at Woollaton Hall

A visit to the extraordinary installation Close Distance by Caroline Broadhead, Nic Sandiland and Angela Woodhouse this week was a real delight. The work, inspired by 17th century textiles from Woollaton Hall and the stories of those who lived there, has been created by three artists in collaboration using dance, construction and film. The works are displayed in a room not normally open to the public, up a narrow spiral staircase which creates a haunting sense of separateness in an empty, high up room. Access is only possible via tours (£3 for the Close Distance tours and £5 as part of a more general tour). We we lucky enough to be the only visitors on a damp Wednesday lunchtime and had the space to ourselves.

The Prospect Room is empty apart from the artists’ work and has views over the landscape from all sides – the wide vistas contrasting with the enclosed and claustrophobic work, much of it film of dance contained and compressed into drawers, boxes and cabinets. The sense of containment and  restriction echo the narrative behind the work : the jarring contrast between master and servant in this house, between the spaces used by each.

Unlike other installations in historic properties, the space around these pieces gives the installation a more gallery-like emphasis. They are simply placed and speak for themselves, without the chatter and interaction of other objects, textures and colours around them.

It is a brave decision to position contemporary work in a space with very limited access. It works perfectly for the installation’s meaning and the visitor experience but I feel it will have very little impact on non-arts audiences. It is a challenging and enlightening experience and well worth the effort to arrange to see it. I visited with Jennifer Collier on a day of research, inspiration and thinking and it was the perfect quiet, contemplative exhibition for us to visit.

 

Two beautiful 17th century textiles are on show in the main hall, completely divided from the work which they have inspired. I would have preferred a little more explanation of how they related. The textiles are poorly described with little interpretation though they are well displayed and easy to see.  The close up photographs show how the black silk thread has rotten leaving the impression of the stitches and the needle holes in the linen cloth. The fibre damage of the silk thread is caused by iron mordant use to create black dye which eventually damages the fibres but leaves the linen ground intact.

Close Distance

8 March – 1 May 2017
Wollaton Hall, Nottingham

 

Interview and free trapunto tutorial

Earlier this year I was asked to make a project for DHG (Dyeing House Gallery), an Italian supplier for felting, dye and textile art supplies and I opted for a trapunto quilting project. Exploring their exciting catalogue of wool products was very inspiring and I chose the giant yarn with the idea of making HUGE corded trapunto along with beautiful wool gauze (called Etamine) to create a shadow quilting effect.  The free tutorial is here.  There’s also an interview with me on their site.  There are lots of great tutorials and ideas on their site, it’s well worth exploring.

Criminal Quilts 2017

My Criminal Quilts series originally commissioned by Shire Hall Gallery is probably my best known work including the 2016 Fine Art Quilt Masters winner. This winning piece will be exhibited in the Minerva Arts Centre this summer and the patchwork piece will be at Unit Twelve from the end of April.  I’m really excited to be starting a new project taking this work further with Staffordshire Records Office in 2017-18. I’ve just received funding from Arts Council England to develop new work, exhibitions and community partnership projects based around the original archive material relating to Victorian women criminals.

To celebrate (or actually, co-incidentally) I’ve got a free workshop on Sunday 26th March at New Walk Museum in Leicester inspired by this series of work.

Inspired by Ruth’s work and using silhouettes of hands, create your own piece with a personal touch. Explore drawing and creating patterns on paper with your own hand outline and embellish with embroidery, fabric and paper collage.   No previous experience is required.  The workshop is FREE but booking is essential. Call the museum on 0116 225 4900 to book your place.

Antique textile repair

Alongside my own original creative work I occasionally get the pleasure of a repair job on an antique textile. I love being able to explore the insides, the seams, the reverse and the construction of the stitches. This is an ecclesiastical stole, still in active church use despite being about 100 years old.

The silk was shredded in the most vulnerable areas which I have covered in fine nylon tulle. Working from the back I repaired the damaged embroidery by tacking it down using matching threads. The back of the embroidery is joyfully colourful and messy and a glorious art work in its own right.

There’s so much to learn and to enjoy in close observation of skilled (and sometimes not-so-skilled) making. I started my working life aiming towards working with antique textiles in museum and had the pleasure of working with some really special textile and fashion collections before I diverted into other directions. Later, when I was no longer paid to work with textiles I spent my days off researching medieval textiles and still often yearn for those days of quiet study in museum store rooms. I make sure that in my own contemporary work I do get to work with museum collections and have my own small, growing museum of interesting textiles which inspire.

I’ve repaired some pieces of my own extensive antique textiles collection and plenty of vintage clothing and am happy to take commissions for interesting repairs. 

Trapunto project in Today’s Quilter

A trapunto wall panel project I designed for Today’s Quilter is now published in Issue Twenty.

Ruth Singer

 

Trapunto or stuffed / corded quilting is semi-forgotten technique these days and it’s my mission to bring it back to life with new contemporary designs. I have been researching and practicing trapunto for about 10 years, inspired by the oldest surviving example, the 14th century Tristan Quilt in the V&A. It was popular in the 17th century and had a brief resurgence between the wars in the UK although it has a more continuous tradition in France where it is called Boutis. I love trees – both naturalistic and stylised versions  and a branch makes a design for a sampler where you can try cording and lots of stuffed variations.

My love of trapunto continues unabated and I am always looking out for interesting pieces in museum collections and antique textile sales.  It’s been a delight to be asked to produce designs for books and magazines (another one due out this autumn) and to teach this technique as much as possible. I am teaching trapunto this year in various places including one hour tasters at the Festival of Quilts and a full weekend intensive stitching (details TBC) in October. My short history of trapunto is here. I am working on a short online course for beginners trapunto too which will be available later in the year.

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