Fabric Manipulation book back in stock

My book Fabric Manipulation is now available in paperback. I have a handful of signed copies on my online shop for £15.99. They are of course also available from online retailers but if you buy direct from the writer then the profit comes to me rather than the global online retailer, and helps support my work. I also recommend ordering books from your local book shop to help keep them afloat, along with the writers they support.

 

 

Criminal Quilts : The Book

Criminal Quilts Book is open for pre-orders now!

Pre-orders are open until 20th July at a discounted price of £10 per copy which includes a signature, free postcard and the chance to include your name as a supporter in the back of the book.

ORDER HERE

The books will be printed at the end of July and posted out from mid-August. You can also collect at Festival of Quilts.

As well as the discount, your pre-order will help me pay for the massive printing costs for this book. I really appreciate you pre-ordering and will include your name (or another as preferred) in the back of the book. Please include your preferred name in the order.

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Exploring quilt history

As I develop new work for my Fragments exhibition in the summer, I am investigating and exploring a lot of old quilts. I am continuing to explore my photographs and notes from the research visit to the Quilt Association’s collections in February and creating new technique ideas based on the structures, designs and history of the quilts. I am also investigating the antique quilts and pieces which I own myself and working out ways of incorporating elements from these pieces into new work.

 

 

I have also been investigating my own collections of quilts and bits, engaging in Quilt Archaeology (credit to someone on Instagram but alas I forget who). What interests me is not the fineness of the stitching or the patchwork patterns but the textures, the tactility and the reasons these quilts were made and used (or not).  I’ve been using drawing, painting, mark making and print techniques to explore my ideas, some of which are very large scale which will have dramatic impact and some much smaller and more intimate, like the quilts themselves, and invite close consideration.

 

Meanwhile, my Harefield Hospital Centenary Quilt project has been featured this week on the People’s History of the NHS blog.

Rowan leaves to represent Rowan Ward. Hand embroidery.

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.

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.

Smocking

Smocking Past & Present

One-day workshop with Selvedge. Saturday 24th June, 2017. Selvedge Shop, London. £120. Book here SOLD OUT

Traditional English smocking has a very fine history from farming smocks of the mid-19th century to to Aesthetic Liberty gowns of the late 19th century as well as a revival in the 1970s. In this workshop we will learn the basics of traditional English smocking using variety of classic stitch patterns and try out some contemporary, experimental variations in unusual materials and new stitches to create highly original textile art.

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A short history of smocking

Smocking, like so many textile techniques, has a rather secretive history. From what I can find out, the technique of smocking is often confused with the garment called a smock. For centuries, women’s main undergarment was a nightdress-like linen smock, which could be decorated, were she wealthy enough, but often was not, and there’s not much evidence of this garment being decorated with actual smocking. There are a number of Tudor portraits which appear to show smocking on smocks necks and cuffs but it is impossible to say for sure if they really are made by smocking – which is a decorative stitching on top of previously pleated or gathered fabric.

This Spanish child’s smock, dating somewhere between 1700-1800 has what looks like proto-smocking; gathers overstitched with black thread for decorative effect. The garment most commonly called a smock nowadays used to be called a smock frock, which sort-of helps distinguish it. This practical, although decorated, garment developed during the 18thcentury as a protective, enveloping apron-like shirt worn by manual and agricultural workers to keep their clothes clean. It may well have developed from the voluminous, washable, linen undergarments that men and women continued to wear to keep their outer clothes clean from body odour and sweat.

Smock-frocks as we know them now, are made from rectangular pieces of cloth (no curves so no fabric waste) with gathering to create shape. Gathering pulls in the fabric which is then released below, to create an easy-to-wear and practical smock. Smocking itself allows the fabric to stretch a little which would also increase wearing comfort. In addition, smocking creates a thick, dense fabric full of small air pockets which act as insulation – a welcome benefit in outdoor work, as well as the protection of thicker layers.

As with many other practical garments, they could be embellished and embroidered. When smocks first began to have decorative stitching is unknown, but those that survive from the early 19th century can be stunning. Of course, the finest ones that were looked after are the ones that survive, and the every day ones, worn out and threadbare, would have been recycled rather than preserved, so we tend to see only the best examples.

By the end of the 19th century, the smock was out of favour – many agricultural workers having had to move to cities and work in factories, for which a flowing garment was impractical. Just as the farmers’ smock goes out of style, the technique of decorative smocking starts to come intostyle in fashionable circles.

The women of the aesthetic movement (closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites) took to wearing loose-fitting, ‘healthy’ garments which didn’t require the wearing of a corset. The style of flowing and comfortable garments were heavily-influenced by smocks, along with other styles of dress, and it was unsurprising that smocking was also used to create shaping and decorative effects. This velvet example at FIT is stunning.

Smocking from dressmaking book

Smocking from dressmaking book

Smocks were also popular for aesthetic children’s wear, judging by this Liberty of London child’s smock, a fancy silk version of the traditional rural garment. Patterns using the techniques appear in women’s magazines too, such as this smocked bag from a 19th century magazine.

In the early 20th century, smocking appears in women’s magazines and sewing manuals on garments, domestic textiles and children’s wear, such as this example from the Women’s Home Companion, 1916. The 1930s and 1940s were the heyday of patterns and innovative stitch development along with some stunning uses of the simplest honeycomb stitch pattern such as this velvet dress by Maggie Rouff. As with many crafts, smocking was revived in the 1970s when such delights as the smocked plunge-neckline swimming costume was created….alongside Victorian-esque party dresses for women and girls, made popular by Laura Ashley. It is also sometimes seen on folk or traditional costume from Europe. This 19th century Russian blouse makes beautiful use of shaped smocking on the cuff.

True smocking is hand stitched, and incredibly time-consuming to prepare. The reverse fabric is marked with regular dots (for which embroidery transfers were produced) or marked with a grid, then regular stitches are made right across the piece to create completely even rows of gathers. The decorative stitches are worked from the front side and can be as simple as honeycomb stitch (my personal favourite) or covered with complex and varied designs.

Faux smocking using shirring elastic came in during the smocking craze in the 1970s, and it is this much-faster technique that became most commonly used for women’s and girl’s dresses, including many of the Laura Ashley classics.

American or Canadian smocking is a different technique altogether. This type of smocking is all worked from the back, with the gathering and decorative pattern-making all rolled up into one. The earliest example of this technique that I have ever seen is on an 18th century French dress, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ruth Singer smockingSewing manuals of the 19th and 20th century don’t seem to include reverse / American smocking, so it may be that it was fairly unknown to the amateur sewer, and only occasionally used by the professional. It became very fashionable in the 1930s and 40s and had a renaissance in the 70s.  The most popular use of this technique was on cushions square, bolster and round cushions in synthetic velvet from the 60s and 70s.  There’s no shortage of brilliant patterns for products using American smocking, some of which I have gathered on my Smocking Pinterest board, along with other historic and contemporary forms of smocking.

The acknowledged expert at making this American smocking fashionable today is Nitin Goyal, a London-based designer who creates stunning silk cushions, bedspreads and scarves using some amazing variations on the technique. I believe the work is made in India. His work is now thoroughly copied and new American-smocked cushions can be picked up in many high street shops.

Smocked pendant by Tinctory

Smocked pendant by Tinctory

As far as English smocking goes, perhaps the best use of the technique is Tinctory, who makes stunning textile jewellery using circular English smocking. I am lucky enough to own this piece.

As smocking is such a time-consuming technique, it doesn’t seem to be used that much in clothing, but it does sometimes still appear in couture, like this Versace piece, which is glorious at odds with agricultural smocks! If you are intrigued by these gorgeous techniques, please have a look at my book Fabric Manipulation.

This article first appeared on Mr X Stitch.

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