My Maker Membership is all about creative growth – learning new things, looking at your own work in new ways, connecting and sharing with others and taking your creative practice forward. I have invited current Membership to share their work in a new online exhibition focussing on how they have grown creatively through the membership and the community of other makers. I wanted to offer members an opportunity to show their work (some have not exhibited or shared their work at all before), to have a deadline to finish a new piece and to see what the others in the group have been working on. I am so pleased and proud to present a very eclectic but highly creative and thoughtful group of works. Have a look at the exhibition here.
The online exhibition of 13 members work, plus a group project and one of my new pieces of work, is available now until the end of April 2023.
If you would like to boost your creative growth through this group and the support I offer, membership is open to all makers. You can find out more about Membership here.
If you are looking for a creative community with ongoing support and resources to challenge your thinking and take your creative practice further, have a look at my Maker Membership. It’s a monthly rolling membership that you can join any time. I create workbooks, blog posts and videos about all kinds of things including research, creative development and reflection. There’s also a lively community who share their work and their thoughts via the members chat and we meet monthly on Zoom for a group mentoring session which is always really inspiring and encouraging. It’s £25 per month to join with no minimum term. Find out more here.
On 20th April I’m giving a talk for a symposium at De Montfort University, Leicester. The programme is full of fascinating talks and presentations about biographies through objects. My presentation description is below. The event is free and all are welcome.
Emotional Repair: personal stories in cloth and stitch
My artist practice is entirely tied up with my first career in museums. Since my Museum Studies MA 25 years ago, I have been intrigued by our reverence for objects and the power of objects both to fascinate us and to embody stories. This has become a fundamental part of my research-led textile practice, in which I often work with historic garments as source or material. My work stems from my museum training of exploring objects from different angles and my passion for textiles and the stories we create around them. My artistic practice is counterpoint to museum practice by considering irreparable textiles as valuable. My work with old cloth is a thoughtful and considered interpretation of conservation and preservation methodologies and practices.
In this paper I plan to present two bodies of work which come from the same core interest in how cloth holds life stories. Garment Ghosts is an ongoing body of work created from badly damaged and irreparable antique clothing, to which I give new life by remaking. I unpick clothing and textiles beyond repair and the fragmentary cloth is brought back to life through trapping the disintegrating garment between transparent layers, keeping the outline of the piece but also opening up seam allowances and pleats to take the fabric back to its original form.
Imprint is a commission to make a new piece of work inspired by a family textile collection, where I was asked to preserve the garments intact which presented me with an intriguing challenge of working with a textile collection without cutting anything. Unlike much of my work using garments divorced from their humans, I had a clear provenance and stories to go with these pieces. I created an archive box of small pieces telling stories of damage, use, fragility and human experience.
I was thinking yesterday, on a museum visit, of the power of personal stories in heritage and in art practice. I often use objects as my source material but the stories about real, named women are what has made Criminal Quilts so impactful. It’s been important to me all the way through this 12-year long project to emphasise that the women in the photographs were real, troubled women with multiple challenges in their lives, in a harsh system which tried to remove their individuality in prison. Their stories deserve to be told and remembered. My Criminal Quilts book has short case studies of 37 women and I have added extended biographies to my website since the book was written which you can find below.
Criminal Quilts is my first self-published book and it’s been a joy to share it across the world. It’s 80 pages full of prison photographs, the background to prison photography and details of the 500+ photos of women in the Stafford Prison archive. It also covers all the textiles I made up to 2018 and much more besides. It’s £16 available directly from me here.
I’ve been asked a thousand times how I got into this project and how I got from prison photographs to the quilts and other work I have made over the years. It’s almost impossible for me to define my long, slow working process, but I have been working on ways to share my research and development processes with others. My Maker Membership is designed to do this: helping other creatives who want to build in more research, meaning and connection into their practice. It’s an online group with resources and workbooks to help you define your practice and a friendly group to share and connect with. Members always tell me just how brilliant it is to find your people – others that understand what you are trying to do with your work and are properly interested in your ideas and want to support you to do your best work. I am really proud of this amazing space I’ve created and I want as many of you as possible to benefit from the support and development it offers. I have some free Find Out More events coming up soon but you can always find info here.
Before I visited Festival of Quilts earlier this year, I was thinking about another world where something other than quilts were on display in a huge, annual competition. I was inspired by Fashion Fictions which Dr Amy Twigger Holroyd introduced in Making Meaning Live where alternative versions of the world are explored where there are restrictions on clothing or fabric production as a way of creatively imagining ways to address over-production and over-consumption.
First of all I pondered a world where it wasn’t possible to buy new fabric to cut up and sew it back together into patchwork… where we had to use scraps to make patchwork for practical purposes if cloth wasn’t so over-abundant and little-valued like it is here and now.
I was also thinking about alternative cloth / sewn things that might have become popular to make other than quilts. Why have quilts become the thing we make for pleasure, creativity or retail? What if patchwork had never grown into the art form it is now? What other large-scale textiles might there be on display? Flags? Sails? Banners? Unique handmade garments?
That led me down a route of thinking about protest banners and political or social banners which were so important in the 19th century and how they are such a small part of our textile world now compared to quilts. Banners were an extraordinary art form in the 19th and early 20th century and an important means for women to use their skills and creativity to further a cause or social issue or promote a sense of belonging for a community. It’s something I keep coming back to myself for my own work – and I’ve started in a miniature way with my Protest Pincushion, a tiny sort of banner! (This was not in the Festival of Quilts because it’s too small and it’s not a quilt.)
Community quilts and group textile project, sometimes with a political or social message, were such a big thing during the pandemic and this demonstrated just how powerful and meaningful collective message-making. I found it so interesting to explore this in the Textiles in Lockdown podcast which I’ve republished as Making Meaning episode 18.
Thinking about this has made me appreciate group quilts and projects more and I’m really interested in exploring what is out there in the world of textile with a message. I visited the banners exhibition in the Textile Biennial in 2019 which was really amazing but it makes me sad and frustrated that banners aren’t as well-explored art form as quilts and there isn’t a place for banners to be shown annually, to be awarded prizes and publicity and where we can come together to make textiles that have a positive impact and use resources consciously.
So let’s imagine a fictional world where using precious textile resources was only acceptable when the finished piece had to say something. It had to be activist, community-made or share a message. Imagine those halls of the NEC full of protest banners or social group banners proclaiming their important social message. There is a competition for the best banner in a number of categories such as activism, community groups, human rights, image-based, text-based, political… and then I thought why aren’t they the groupings that quilts are entered into now? Why isn’t there a ‘statement’ category at Festival of Quilts? I really think there should be.
So with all these thoughts in mind, I visited the Festival of Quilts with the intention of seeing just how many pieces in the open competition had an obvious political, social, personal or community message. I know there will be some I didn’t see and I’m sure there were plenty of others that had a message but it wasn’t visually immediately obvious and was maybe more apparent in the artist statements in the catalogue, but I didn’t have one and very much didn’t have time to read them all.
I was so delighted to find so many with a message ranging from very subtle commentary within quilts to pieces overtly political or with a powerful, meaningful statement. I expected to find pieces made by groups with a strong meaning or message and I was amply rewarded. Quilts have a great history of being used by groups to come together and share emotions or to make a point or a message, partly because of their ideal format for individuals to make a piece which is then assembled into a whole. It really is a great vehicle for community practice and one which I have used myself many times.
The Grenfell Memorial Quilts were by far the most impactful pieces at the show, partly due to the size of them but mainly due to the impact and meaning behind them. I can’t help feeling though that they didn’t get the space, prominence or display impact they deserved, maybe because they are wonky and imperfect and very much community-made which is always a contrast to the perfection of competition quilts. There’s a place for both of course. I would LOVE to see community arts practice given the stage it really deserves in galleries and in society but that’s probably another blog post / life’s work.
The Sophie Hayes Foundation was a brilliant example of this kind of work done really well, and clearly with a bigger budget and structure behind it than the grassroots Grenfell Quilts. These really combined powerful messages, excellent craftsmanship and really good marketing. I don’t mean that I thought they were in any way ‘better’ than the Grenfell quilts, they are just differently produced and presented.
I really enjoyed hunting out pieces with a political, personal or social commentary within the competition quilts. As this isn’t a category of quilts to enter, they were dotted around and I am sure I missed lots. The group quilts category is a good place to look for statement pieces, there are still some covid-related pieces and I am sure I will have missed many of these shown last year when I didn’t attend. There are a number of them in Textiles in Lockdown and I know there are hundreds of them around. What fantastic records of life experience during 2020 they are.
Here are some of the pieces I spotted.
I would love to hear from makers of these or other quilts or textiles with a message. Where do you show and share your work? What’s the place for this kind of impactful textile? How would you change the textile world to allow more space for stitch with something to say?
My project celebrating the Stories of pandemic volunteering in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland is going on tour
I’ve been working on this project most of the year and even longer in the planning and development. It’s finally almost out in the world! Back in 2020 when volunteering to help run a local foodbank, I realised just how important volunteering was to me and other volunteers. We felt useful and engaged and were making a real difference. I wanted to capture that energy and celebrate it and make sure that volunteers got a proper thank you for their incredible work.
Eventually I turned this into a funding application and created Community Spirit of Leicestershire with support from Arts Council England and Leicester city community funds.
From 5th September the resulting work, created by volunteers, will be shown in libraries and community centres as well as the foodbank where it all started for me. And you can also see the project film here.
There’s details of the tour venues here and a press release here.
I’ve worked with Mandeep Dhadialla as associate artist while I’ve been both lead artist and project producer (plus marketing, admin, funding, workshop-leader!). It’s been a real joy to see this come together and to be able to use a creative project to say THANK YOU to all volunteers for your amazing work.
Projects around making things happen and bringing together people, places and stories
I love working with people to explore places and stories. I create and deliver projects inspired by my three sources of joy: textiles, artists and heritage. I add in research, partnerships and funding to produce experiences around People, Places and Stories.
The experiences I create might be for artists, for textile-lovers, around heritage and stories, by, with and for communities.
Find out more about my Creative Producer work here.
My Criminal Quilts Prison Dress and Prison Portraits collaboration with Tim Fowler are on show in Leicester during May 2022
I was invited to show new work in this year’s Craft Month at LCB Depot in Leicester and chose to display this joint work with Tim Fowler who is also based in Leicester. We met when we both worked in Makers Yard studios, part of the LCB business premises group.
You can find out more about the paintings and the prison dress here. Criminal Quilts is an arts and heritage project created by Ruth Singer exploring the stories of women held in Stafford Prison 1877-1916.
The work is is on show at LCB Depot, Rutland St, Leicester until 1st June. Monday to Friday 9am-5pm. It’s free to visit. The main body of work is just inside the main entrance with one piece out in the courtyard. There’s a few other pieces and groups of craft work around the building, along with a student exhibition in the main gallery.
Find out more about Criminal Quilts
The Criminal Quilts exhibition tour has now concluded although I will continue to show individual pieces in group exhibitions. The final part of the project is an online conference called Making Meaning Live which takes place in July 2022 and is free to attend.
I’ve made a series of pre-recorded talks about different aspects of the Criminal Quilts project which you can stream and watch now.
Would you like to stitch part of a collaborative artwork for my Criminal Quilts project? Throughout the years I’ve research women in Stafford Prison, I’ve noticed the words used to label women. The nature of the prison documents means the words are quite judgemental and absolute.
With this project I want to reflect on the words used to describe and label women then and now. The artwork will be made of stitched words, both positive and negative, created by women participants through community workshops and women working on them at home. Being part of a collective project about women’s lives and the perception of women is really powerful. I’d love to hear your voice in this work. Find out more and how to contribute your stitched words on my website here.
I’ll be running free drop-in sessions at Llantarnam Grange on International’s Women’s Day 8th March, stitching words for the artwork. You can book yourself a space here.
I’ve got a short series of Criminal Quilts talks coming up in March. These are online live talks on Wednesday lunchtimes at 1pm, but they will all be recorded so you can watch later too. Each talk is £8 or you can book the series for £20. There’s also a discount for the Embroidered Images workshop when you book any of the talks or you can get a bigger discount if you book all talks and the workshop together. Book here.
Wednesday 2nd March Introduction to prison photographs and my research for this project
Wednesday 16th March. I’ll be talking about the textiles I have made in detail including the techniques and materials of my pieces
Wednesday 30th March. This talk is about my research into the clothing worn by the women in the photographs including prison uniform
I’ve got two workshops coming up in March and April.
In the Shadows teaches the technique I used to create my Fine Art Textiles Prize winning piece Criminal Quilts Hanging.
Take applique and layering to the next level with this exciting technique of using transparent fabrics layered and cut away. Using sheer fabrics, you will learn how to prepare and hand stitch a design by hand and create the subtle shadow effects by removing layers of fabric. This is a one-day equivalent workshop with pre-recorded videos for you to watch from 10am GMT and a live Zoom at 4pm GMT to share with others.
Embroidered Images workshop includes a digital printed image of one of the prison photographs, ready for you to stitch into.
The prisoner photographs from Stafford Prison are both moving and inspiring. In this workshop you will have the opportunity to stitch your own embroidered image using a digital print which will be sent to you in advance of the workshop (additional £8 postage for outside the UK) This includes: – 6 video lessons – Live Zoom introduction – Digital printed fabric posted to you – Colour palettes & stitch suggestions.
My exhibition opens at Llantarnam Grange on Saturday 5th Feb. Join me for a live stream preview event on Friday 4th Feb at 2pm GMT
I’m excited and sad to be showing my touring exhibition Criminal Quilts for the final time. The exhibition is open at Llantarnam Grange, Cwmbran, Wales from 5th February – 2nd April 2022. Monday – Saturday 9.30am-4pm
This final version of the show brings together brand new work with many of the pieces from the last 10 years of this project and is the last chance to see this body of work.
We are hosting a free live-stream preview on Friday 4th Feb at 2pm. Link and further details will be available shortly.
I’ll also be running an in-person creative workshop at the gallery and a short drop-in session for International Women’s day in March. Details to come
Alongside this, I’ll be running a series of online talks and workshops starting in February. To get the details of all of these events, please join my email list.
My Criminal Quilts exhibition has been touring since 2018 and after some pandemic cancellations and rescheduling, the last hurrah is coming up in February 2022. The exhibition will be on show at Llantarnam Grange 5th February – 2nd April.
I will be hosting an an online preview event accessible to all on Friday 4th February time TBC.
The exhibition will include lots of new work made in the last couple of years which you can see here as well as other pieces still in progress plus new collaborative community work.
There will be events in the gallery and online during the spring including a collaborative project inviting contributions from around the world.
After the exhibition, I’m creating an online live gathering event with other artists to share stories about making craft with powerful social and historical narratives. If you are interested in sharing your work at this event please contact me.