Criminal Quilts Exhibition at Erewash Museum

A new version of Ruth Singer’s Criminal Quilts exhibition is now open at Erewash Museum, Ilkeston, Derbyshire until 15th June 2021.

Museums are open again! I’m so pleased to have got this version of the exhibition open just a couple of week’s later than it should have been. Erewash Museum is a lovely old building, just perfect for showing a smaller version of Criminal Quilts in an intimate domestic scale space. With social distancing in place, I installed this entirely by myself so the small gallery space was welcome! I have added a time-lapse of putting up one of the piece at the end of this post for your entertainment. The exhibition is free and the museum is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays 10.30am-3pm. You will need to book in advance with the museum.

I’m pleased to have been able to fit in most of the larger exhibition pieces but I have now retired the small framed mini quilts from the show to make space for new 3D collaboration work, some of which is shown for the first time. I’ll add more information about these works to the website soon so those further afield can also enjoy them.

Protest Pincushion

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.

EDITED

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).

Caring for unframed textiles

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! 

Green Pebble Hoop £35
Polonaise Panel £199
DNA Repair Embroidery £75
Cloth and Concrete Bowls £25 each
Amelia Wall Panel £85
Blossom Wall Panel £299

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Prints from Textile

I’m pleased to say I’ve now got some of my print pieces available on the lovely Made by Hand Online shop, the home for amazing craft.

The prints are part of a continuing research project to find ways to preserve and record textile processes. I use print as a way of taking a record of the patchwork with the tacking and papers still in place. The sepia ink gives the print a feeling of an x-ray and the details of loose threads, weave and paper texture invite you to look closely and see patchwork in a different way. I’ve also created a series using embroidered textiles, some of which also have am altered textile piece alongside the print. You can see more of my print work here. If anything that’s not in the shop catches your eye please get in touch and I can let you know what is available.

Keep in touch

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Membership

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.

Foodbank stories in textile

Textiles and social justice work combine in a new body of work using data from a volunteer-run emergency foodbank in Leicester.

A new piece of work: 1292 Foodbank Visits in 18 Weeks, Ruth Singer, 2020. Hand stitch on cotton.

One thousand, two hundred and ninety two people supported by the emergency food bank my co-volunteers have created on my street this year. It has been an intense and powerful thing to be part of and given me lots to think about around food poverty, period poverty and hidden deprivation in this city I love. My aim in making this work is like most of my work: to make you think. To use artwork, soft, lovely textiles to help engage people with the harder stories that matter so much. I hope it will encourage you to find out about food poverty where you live. To support the volunteers who make foodbank a happen and to add your voice to campaigns and policies that work towards ending the need for foodbanks in this highly wealthy country.

I posted this on Instagram in December, and the app offered me the option of fundraising. Our foodbank is tiny and not a registered charity so can’t fundraise via Instagram. Instead I chose to support the Trussell Trust, a national foodbank charity. It was an interesting experiment. In the first few hours of posting, this image got more engagement (likes & comments) than I expected. Hundreds. Yet only a couple of donations. Within a week I’d met the modest £75 fundraising target through 4 donations. It’s been so interesting. I didn’t intend this outcome but it’s a useful learning experience towards how I can combine my volunteer work with my practice and grow both. I’m the treasurer for the volunteer group so have been heavily involved in fundraising and negotiating with the council for support for the last 6 months.

This work is also in my shop and 25% of the sale price will be donated straight back to the foodbank as 100% of my effort to keep feeding people in need this winter and campaigning for an end to austerity and cruel, unnecessary Tory policies which have led to this situation. Our foodbank continues to support our community during this lockdown and is almost entirely supported by personal donations. If you want to help us, please have a look at our fundraising page here. I’d love to hear your thoughts about food banks, food poverty and what needs to change.


This work was created for the Leicester Society of Artists annual exhibition which you can see online. LSA members have supported this project by donating their exhibition fees to the foodbank and one lovely member donated the entire sale price of her work straight to us. Support like this is amazing and so heartening.

Criminal Quilts and food poverty

Criminal Quilts tells the stories of women who fell through the cracks in Victorian and Edwardian England.

Bridget Warrilow struggled to make a living and ended up in prison so many times after stealing small things to sell to buy food. Over 100 years later and millions of people still struggle to make ends meet when wages and welfare are too low and living costs are too high. I’ve just shared a case study of Bridget, along with the stories of 5 other women. I’m also fundraising for my local food bank where I volunteer as treasurer and on the committee. We are trying desperately to stop families falling through the cracks but we shouldn’t need food banks in such a wealthy country. Find out more in this Guardian article and support us or your local food bank if you can. They need volunteers, funding and campaigning, as well as food donations.

New Edition of Criminal Quilts Book

Two years ago I created Criminal Quilts exhibition and self-published the accompanying book, alongside each other. Looking back, I am not sure how I managed to do both in a few short months as well as my other work. But somehow I did. It’s has taken a couple of years for the first print run of the book to sell out so I have revised and reprinted this year. The new version has a couple of extra pages and some new images as well as (hopefully) no more page reference errors!

The first print run was only ever sold directly by me online, at events and alongside the exhibition in gallery shops. The new version has an ISBN number and is already listed on Amazon and I will be selling wholesale to bookshops too. Self-publishing allows me total control of the book production and sales. Both editions are printed on recycled paper with no plastic coating of the cover, for maximum sustainability. This has cost me more but fits with my values. It is also printed by a small (female-owned) local company, a few minutes from my house so I can walk to the printers to check things. My brilliant graphic designer Sophie has done a great job as always. The downsides of self-publishing are that all the copies have to be stored in my (small, already crowded) house! Please help me make space to move by purchasing a copy (or 10) of this book.

It’s been an amazing couple of years with this book. The best part of being both author and publisher is that I know exactly where this book has been sent. It has travelled all over the world which amazes and delights me. It has been devoured by textile enthusiasts, criminologists, historians, Stafford residents, prison, probation and community work professionals, schools, photographers, universities and academics. It’s been reviewed in an academic publication too as well as in textile press.

The back cover blurb reads:

Criminal Quilts is an art & heritage project created by artist Ruth Singer which explores the stories of women photographed in Stafford Prison 1877-1916. This book covers the research which Ruth and a team of volunteers undertook in the development of the project, including many of the personal stories of women in the archives of Stafford Prison.
It also covers additional research around clothing in the photographs as well as daily life in a Victorian prison.

This book is also a catalogue of the textiles pieces which Ruth has created alongside her research, giving the full background from the initial commission in 2012 to the work created in 2018 for the touring exhibition. This is a revised edition for 2020.

Ruth Singer is an established British textile artist with a background working in the museum sector. Her training and first career continue to influence her artistic practice through her interest in heritage, narrative, material culture and society. Ruth’s work is focussed on research and personal exploration of stories, resulting in subtle, emotive and sensitive work. She creates exhibitions, commissions, community projects and undertakes artist residencies to explore subjects and places in detail. She has presented a number of solo exhibitions as well as Criminal Quilts and was awarded the Fine Art Quilt Masters Prize in 2016, and written several books. She also works as a consultant, artist mentor and tutor.

Fifteen Years

This summer I marked (but not really celebrated) 15 years of running my own creative business. I was hoping to bring out a new book this year covering what I’ve done in those years but this year has of course not gone remotely according to plan! I should have it ready next year. In the meantime, every month, I share a 10 page PDF letter / mini magazine with my Patreon supporters which covers a lot of the same behind-the-scenes studio insider stories as the book eventually will. The September issue is a focus on those 15 years of working as an artist /maker. I love writing my Patreon letters and twice-monthly blog posts as I selfishly get to focus on my own practice and share behind the scenes in my studio (and often my office) life. If you would like to delve more into my life and practice, Patreon is the place to do it. Over the last 6 months I’ve written about creative collaborations, fabric manipulation, my 2019 solo exhibition work, self-publishing, work in progress, behind the scenes at a photo shoot and much more. Every subscriber gets a discount for my online shop too and over the summer I gave away tickets to my online Criminal Quilts talk. All the previous content is free for new subscribers too, so there’s masses to explore which should keep you going until my new book is finally ready!

Online Exhibition for Festival of Quilts

Today is the launch of Beyond the Festival of Quilts – and online version of the huge event which would normally take place this weekend. I have been part of it every year, one way or another for the last decade or more. I launched my Criminal Quilts book and exhibition there in 2018 and won the Fine Art Quilt Masters competition in 2016, and I have taught so many workshops there that I have lost count. This year I have created an online exhibition featuring some of my pieces from my 2019 solo exhibition Textile Traces. I’ve recorded a talk about the work available alongside the images.

Screen shot of online exhibition website.

Criminal Quilts Review

My Criminal Quilts exhibition has been reviewed in the academic journal Textile: Cloth and Culture, by Dr Annebella Pollen, Principal Lecturer in the History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton.

The article is available free to read or download here and I’m delighted that the editor Dr Catherine Harper (a long time supporter of my work) chose one of my images for the journal cover too.

Criminal Quilts, in its display and book form, is deeply informed by scholarship and made with skill. It is both a beautiful set of works and a call to action. 

The exhibition will be back in September at Shire Hall Dorchester. (4th September – 8th November 2020) and then to Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre in January 2021. Keep up to date with events, talks and exhibition by subscribing to my newsletter. And in the meantime, come along to my talk on Friday where I will be sharing the background to the project, my research, the work I’ve made and some of the new collaborations and directions I’m taking the project in 2021.

My Criminal Quilts book has also been reviewed in another academic journal: Family & Community History Volume 22, 2019 but this is not freely available online unfortunately. This review is by Dr Vivienne Richmond, Lecturer,  Goldsmiths, University of London

And what all readers, historians included, will find in the first part of the book and the project as a whole, is an innovative means of bringing to a public audience in an accessible, intelligent, sensitive and thought-provoking way, the largely neglected history of the numerous women incarcerated in Victorian and Edwardian prisons.

I’ve almost completely sold out of the first edition of Criminal Quilts, with the last few copies available in my shop here.