Making Meaning Podcast Episode Five – Kathryn Parsons

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.

Kathryn Parsons is an artist and visual story-teller.  

Kathryn’s approach is research-based and multi-faceted – From a Herbarium of Stories made from leaves and sunlight, to wildflower shoes sculpted in sugar, she creates intricate artworks that weave together tales of nature, place and people.

She has exhibited at The Victoria and Albert Museum and National Centre for Craft & Design, and created site-inspired artworks for Burghley House, the John Clare Trust, and Derby Museum’s porcelain gallery. 

Currently Artist in Residence with Langdyke Countryside Trust, Kathryn also runs creative workshops… she loves to inspire deeper connections with the natural world while nurturing creativity.

The first time I saw Kathryn’s exquisite work I was bowled over by the delicacy and subtly of it. Kathryn has such an interesting perspective on the world, seeing nature with such open curiosity. In this podcast we talk about seeking inspiration in the world and in museums, about how important it is for both of us to be open to new ideas & to work with the materials that are right for the project. We talk about working in small scale, in loving the details in this. We also talk about museums and creating site-specific work related to locations and landscapes. Kathryn is passionate about sharing her work, about making stories accessible to others through art-making and about nurturing a love of the wild. It’s a lovely conversation which I am sure you will enjoy too.

See below for links to things we talked about in the podcast.

As always, behind the scenes and more chat about the podcast and my guests (and their pets if possible!) is available to Patreon members for just £4.50 a month.

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Play here

Kathryn and her work

Kathryn Parsons

Kathryn regularly runs workshops online and in person in the English Midlands. Please check her website and social media to keep in touch or join her mailing list

The Langdyke Stories project Kathryn talked about was produced by Art Pop Up

#solaceinnature is Kathryn’s every-growing collection of photographs that capture the small, beautiful details of nature. She started taking these photographs just before we went in to the first lockdown in 2020, going out each day to look for beauty in order to share it with others via social media. She was blown away by the response and has continued (though not daily any more). Find these beautiful posts on her social media links above.

Support the podcast

If you have enjoyed the podcast, please consider making a contribution towards my costs to create and host these conversations. You can make a one-off donation below or join my Podcast Supporters Membership on Patreon for £4.50 per month. You can also support for free by subscribing, reviewing and sharing the podcast on your social media. Thank you!

Podcast donation

A small contribution towards the podcast costs

£2.00

Making Meaning Podcast Episode Four – Richard McVetis

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.

Richard McVetis

My practice is deeply rooted in process and hand embroidery. I record Time and Space through multiples of dots, lines, and crosses. These meticulously rendered stitches reflect a preoccupation with the repetitive nature, exploring the subtle differences that emerge through ritualistic and habitual making.

Richard makes work for exhibitions and commissions and shares his unique style of stitch and the meditative process behind it through workshops. In the 10 years or so since I first came across Richard’s work, he’s exhibited widely including the Crafts Council’s Collect Open in 2017, and he’s got a solo exhibition coming up in 2022. In this conversation we talk about research and our methods for gathering ideas, what inspires us and how place and family heritage are so important. Richard talks about never not being an artist which rings so true for me, and about being curious and always exploring ideas.

See below for links to things we talked about in the podcast.

As always, behind the scenes and more chat about the podcast and my guests (and their pets if possible!) is available to Patreon members for just £4.50 a month.

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Play here

Richard and his recent work

Richard McVetis

Support the podcast

If you have enjoyed the podcast, please consider making a contribution towards my costs to create and host these conversations. You can make a one-off donation below or join my Podcast Supporters Membership on Patreon for £4.50 per month. You can also support for free by subscribing, reviewing and sharing the podcast on your social media. Thank you!

Podcast donation

A small contribution towards the podcast costs

£2.00

Making Meaning Podcast Episode Three – Caren Garfen

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.

Caren Garfen is an award-winning artist specialising in textiles and painstaking hand stitching creating carefully considered pieces with profound messages.

Caren’s approach is to extensively research the subject matter of each project that she undertakes. Currently, she is focusing on the Holocaust, as well as examining the shattering rise in global antisemitism in the 21st century. She incorporates everyday objects (e.g. spectacles, stamps and coins) into her work to address sensitive topics in an accessible way.

Caren’s work has been exhibited widely in the UK and Europe, as well as in Japan, USA, Canada, and Australia, and can be found in public and private collections. 

Caren and I first met at the opening of an exhibition in 2013 which we were both showing new work in. Caren’s research-based work was hugely influential to me at that stage of my career as I was just beginning to exhibit my own narrative-based work and find where this kind of work fitted in the gallery world.

Caren has continue to make work around powerful and meaningful themes including eating disorders and most recently anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. In this episode we talk our research, making processes and how textiles and objects can help us tell important stories.

The exhibition we shared in 2013 was On My Mother’s Knee and there is an online catalogue available free here.

As always, behind the scenes and more chat about the podcast and my guests (and their pets!) is available to Patreon members for just £4.50 a month.

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Play here

Making Meaning Episode 3 with Caren Garfen

Caren and her recent work

Caren Garfen

Support the podcast

If you have enjoyed the podcast, please consider making a contribution towards my costs to create and host these conversations. You can make a one-off donation below or join my Podcast Supporters Membership on Patreon for £4.50 per month. You can also support for free by subscribing, reviewing and sharing the podcast on your social media. Thank you!

Podcast donation

A small contribution towards the podcast costs

£2.00

Download the transcript here

This is an auto-generated transcript, which I have edited a little but may still have mistakes and unclear bits.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode Two – Gillian McFarland

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.

Artist Gillian Adair McFarland and I met in 2014 when she moved into our shared studio in Leicester. We immediately found common ground with our work and became great friends. We have collaborated a lot on projects over the last few years and continue to work remotely now Gillian has moved back to Scotland. In this conversation, we talk about the areas of interest where we cross over, starting with stains and marks of time, land and human experience. We also talk a lot about the process of making art, comparing our experiences in very different fields – Gillian more in fine art and me in craft / textiles. We also discuss the idea of value in art-making and the challenges of working in a capitalist world where financial value is placed above other kinds of value. We both collaborate a lot with other artists as well as each other so we also talk about the importance of working with others, including scientists. We talk about the difficulty of focussing on just one idea out of so many and how this works so well in our collaborative work.

We have worked together on art-science projects as well as other collaborations. We have recently finished a new Criminal Quilts collaboration and are just starting a co-creation project with the Hutton Institute, Dundee which you can get involved in. Please sign up to my mailing list to find out about that when it’s ready.

Listen here

Gillian and her recent work


Images below of Gillian, Gayle Price glassblower at University of Leicester and photos from our genetics residency

More images and information about our Genetics Residency can be found on our website McFarland & Singer


Gillian Adair McFarland

head and shoulders image of Ruth Singer, white woman with short dark hair and glasses

Support the podcast

If you have enjoyed the podcast, please consider making a contribution towards my costs to create and host these conversations. You can make a one-off donation below or join my Podcast Supporters Membership on Patreon for £4.50 per month. You can also support for free by subscribing, reviewing and sharing the podcast on your social media. Thank you!

Podcast donation

A small contribution towards the podcast costs

£2.00

Download the transcript here

This is an auto-generated transcript, which I have edited a little but may still have mistakes and unclear bits.

Developing a body of work

Maker Membership with Ruth Singer, for textile makers who want to be inspired, creative, imaginative and make work with meaning.

When I was starting out as a textile maker, I really struggled with the reality of making a consistent body of work. I made all sorts of things in all kinds of designs, textures, patterns, colours and materials. I just wanted to make what I wanted to make. I don’t have a textile degree or any formal education as an artist / maker and really hadn’t had to create a consistent style for myself. As things progressed I became more and more aware of this being a problem and that it was holding me back from making an impact with my work. Fabric manipulation became my trademark and that helped me refine my style quite a lot. I used one technique on each piece of work and mostly used the same fabric throughout which really simplified and toned down all my colourful and textural excesses. I also fixed on making pieces on frames / panels which again slowed down my need to make clothes, bags, cushions and ALL THE THINGS.

Even while making this work I had other creative outlets including designing for books and magazines, so I did get to use some of the extra ideas without confusing my actual exhibition work too much. I never really got the hang of a consistent colour palette though, using the excuse that I worked with recycled fabrics and had to use what I could get rather than buying within a colour range. It was a slow development from this kind of work to what I do now but there were two projects which really forced me (in a good way) to change the style of my work for good.

These pieces, Monumental Folly, were pivotal in changing the way I worked. I chose to work with fabric manipulation techniques but add in a few other materials and processes and work with a very subtle palette. Above all though, these pieces had a narrative and meaning for me and that was what really worked. It then took me years to show these to anyone and exhibit them as I struggled to know if they were good. I was lucky to get some amazing feedback from the brilliant Emma Daker (Craftspace) who encouraged me to show them and later awarded me a prize for this work. That really helped me press on with the idea of making narrative work with limited colour palettes and with a strong underlying thread of history, building on my previous career in museums.

Around the same time I also started on the first Criminal Quilts pieces, directly as a result of making the Monumental Folly pieces. It was a huge creative challenge to create work from a criminal justice building rather than purely textile inspiration but it was a steep learning curve that has set up my career for the last 10+ years and helped me find exactly the right niche in textile art where I belong.

This process of creative challenge, revision, limitation and experimentation has helped me find my unique creative voice and allowed me to be consistent and considered in my ongoing work. I diverge and do slightly different things, bring in new techniques and sometimes colour palettes, but I feel now that I have a recognisable style and theme which brings all my work together.

Maker Membership is my new online programme which I hope will take textile artists (and aspiring artists) towards finding this special place themselves. Creating work which is meaningful, consistent and imaginative.

What is Maker Membership?

It’s about tapping into your own interests, researching, thinking, considering, editing, testing and rejecting lots of ideas until the right one filters out. My approach to teaching in Maker Membership is about growing your confidence in exploring and refining your ideas. It’s about seeding those ideas with research prompts and exercises in exploration and investigation and then refining your thoughts to filter out all the excess to get to the thing that’s important. 

This programme is not about learning to make what I make, it’s about learning to think like I do and applying textile skills that make sense with the meaning of your work. 

What will it be like?

Each month I will create resources (audio, video, written – it will vary) around a theme which fits into a quarterly over-arching topic. Members can then develop their own ideas, sketchbooks (if they want), samples and research in a way that works for them. There’s no testing, no right or wrong and no fixed outcome that you have to produce. Everything is digital so you can join from anywhere in the world. There will be a monthly live ‘thing’, probably on Zoom but I will tweak that as we get going and adapt to what suits the members best. You can fit it in around your commitments and make it part of your daily /regular studio practice. The membership runs through the established membership platform Patreon, which I have been using for over a year and you will get emails with all the content. You can find out more here.

Are you ready to learn and grow with me?

Membership is £21+vat per month and you can stay as long as you need. But the first quarter has limited membership and will close on 30th June at 6pm BST or when the remaining 11 places have been taken. If you would like to be part of this group, please click below to join.

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.