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.

 

 

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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Fabric Manipulation course at West Dean College

I’m teaching a Fabric Manipulation long weekend workshop at West Dean College 16-19 March 2017. If you love texture and structure in textiles this is a perfect course for you to get really absorbed into exciting techniques and develop your own style with three days of teaching with loads of studio time and inspiration.

 

Over the weekend you will have chance to try out a wide range of fabric manipulation techniques, taking inspiration from historic textiles and contemporary fashion. Techniques include formal and organic pleating and folding, stitching and gathering to create interesting textures and 3D appliqué to create bold, exciting fabrics from scratch. You can make samples or work towards a finished textile piece. Fabric manipulation techniques can be combined with embroidery and quilting to make really unique and exciting projects, or learn skills to add into fashion and dressmaking.

West Dean is a spectacularly lovely place to study (and indeed teach) which makes it a perfect place to recharge, learn new things and absorb inspiration. The workshop starts on Thursday evening with dinner with the students and tutor, followed by three intensive but relaxed days of tuition. Students can choose a full-board residential option and stay on site and have access to studios in the evenings, with all meals and equipment provided. You will need to bring some of your own materials to get the best of this course but there is nothing expensive required.

I’ll be returning to West Dean in the summer to teach Stitched Textiles from Historical Inspiration. 

 

 

Workshops 2016

I’ve really cut back on the amount of workshops I am teaching in 2016 so these are very exclusive dates! Details on my workshops page.

precious objects sampler - Ruth SInger

West Dean College – Creating Cloth with Meaning 30th May – 2nd June

Black Country Living Museum – Wild Dyes 18th June

Indigo Moon, Montgomery, Wales. Precious Object Samplers 2nd July

Black Country Living Museum – Textile Stories: using text and image in textile work. 5th November

 

 

 

 

 

Themed school workshops

I love collaboration; I find it exciting and engaging both creatively and practically. Sharing skills, knowledge and expertise is vital to creating a good outcome and I always find it pushes my own creative boundaries and helps me work better and learn all the time. Whether it is working with schools, community groups or other makers, I always find it invigorating coming up with new ideas to show them as well as seeing how they take my ideas and techniques into new an exciting directions.

The school workshop shown below covered 3D fabric manipulation and appliqué techniques, following the students’ own inspiration and research, including projects as varied as fungus & lichen, decayed building, peacock feathers and jellyfish.

The images below show a session I ran for GCSE students to create weather-inspired samples using shadow trapunto techniques.

I loved this school’s textile classroom with inspiration walls and a great display of dried fruit and vegetable skins.

 

Find out more about workshops for school groups here.

Fabric Manipulation book in Spanish and German

My Fabric Manipulation book has been translated into German and Spanish. I love the cover of the Spanish version.

image

image

With my three books, I now have been published in Finnish (twice) Norwegian, Russian, Spanish & German. I’m really quite chuffed that people all over the world read my books! I posted a copy to Brazil recently too. Amazing.

Pleated dress and hat decorations

In my research into manipulated fabrics, I have often come across trimmings created using pleated or gathered ribbon, most often on hats, although sometimes on garments too. 18th century dress trimmings are usually made from self-fabric (strips of the same fabric the garment is made from) rather than ribbons.  Box pleating is common, as are bias-cut ruffles.

18th century Caracao (jacket) from Manchester Museums collection

Caracao (jacket) from Manchester Museums collection with pleated self-fabric trim

18th century box pleats started a journey of discovery for me when I started working in textile, investigating and experimenting with techniques to create contemporary work inspired by these old folds.

 

Antique ribbons can be pretty special items in themselves, but when they are used to create interesting decorations and trimmings, ribbons become something even more amazing. Ribbons have been used for hundreds of years to decorate hats, dresses and accessories.

Corsage by Ruth Singer using vintage ribbon and 1920s techniques.

Corsage by Ruth Singer using vintage ribbon and 1920s techniques.

Beautiful ribbons were woven in Coventry (as well as other places) from the 1700s which were pleated, gathered and arranged to make stunning hat decorations, taking a bonnet from basic to beautiful.

Ribbon woven in Coventry. (c) V&A

Ribbon woven in Coventry. (c) V&A

 

Extra-wide ribbons were made specifically for trimming dresses and millinery and their designs could easily be enhanced by the methods of folding and stitching used, as shown in this example where the stripes are manipulated to create decorative effects.

Hat ribbon trim (c) National Trust

Hat ribbon trim (c) National Trust

 

I recently came across illustrations via Pinterest from a German women’s magazine called Der Bazar dated 1871 on Google books which shows several fantastic pleated ribbon trims which I am keen to try out myself, and you can often spot folded and manipulated ribbon trims on original garments and in fashion plate illustrations in the later 19th century.

Der Bazar pleated fold illustration

Der Bazar pleated fold illustration

In the 1920s, pleated and manipulated ribbons had another moment under the spotlight of fashion as ribbon pleated and folded into sunbursts and stars shone out from the sides of cloche hats. Cockades or trimmings were made at home, as well as by professional milliners. A hat could be updated and transformed with a bit of ingenuity and ribbon.

Hat (c) Metropolitan Museum

Hat (c) Metropolitan Museum

I bought the vintage hat below a few years ago and was intrigued by the folded trim. It took a few goes to figure it out and quite a few more goes for the technique to stick in my head – it is not at all simple, but I figured it out using weave lines in in the grosgrain ribbon as my guide.

Pleated hat trim

Pleated hat trim

My version of the technique is in my book Fabric Manipulation, called Arrowhead folds. I used this technique to create the necklace below.

Arrowhead necklace

Arrowhead necklace

 

My book has lots of other ribbon folding techniques, many of them inspired by Indian ribbon work using real metal ribbon, known as Gota.

Detail of blouse with gota trimming (c) V&A

Detail of blouse with gota trimming (c) V&A

 

Gota work was traditionally used to decorate luxurious costumes and clothing in the 19th century alongside fine silks and metal thread embroidery. The pure metal wefts of the ribbon allow it to be folded precisely to create intricate 3D folds and twists, and the ribbon could also be embossed for added effects. Nowadays, most gota work is done in inferior plastic ribbon which has neither the sheen, weight or crispness of the metal ribbon, but still looks pretty gorgeous. I’ve seen real vintage Gota ribbon for sale at Cloth House, my favourite fabric shop in London.

I found a nice piece in a ribbon stash at the school I worked in yesterday; the widely-spaced folded-back zigzag ribbon fold detail was new to me – I am working on samples using different types of ribbon for different effects. The pointed Vs along top and bottom are one of the gota techniques I figured out a while back and it is included in my book.

Gota trimming

I taught my favourite box-pleating technique to the students at Chateau Dumas earlier this month, using French vintage striped ribbon. The day after the workshop, the students visited the local hat-making museum and decorated their hats with pleated French ribbon. What could be more more perfect?

You can find more ribbon work and related ideas in my Pinterest boards on Fabric Manipulation, particularly the pleating board and the appliqué board. One day I’ll have time to try them all out – in the mean time, please post links to any other interesting ribbon resources and if you have tried any of the techniques, please share them.

A shorter version of this post originally appeared on Mr X Stitch as one of my monthly textile history Pinning the Past columns. Explore the other columns here.