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.

Criminal Quilts 2017

My Criminal Quilts series originally commissioned by Shire Hall Gallery is probably my best known work including the 2016 Fine Art Quilt Masters winner. This winning piece will be exhibited in the Minerva Arts Centre this summer and the patchwork piece will be at Unit Twelve from the end of April.  I’m really excited to be starting a new project taking this work further with Staffordshire Records Office in 2017-18. I’ve just received funding from Arts Council England to develop new work, exhibitions and community partnership projects based around the original archive material relating to Victorian women criminals.

To celebrate (or actually, co-incidentally) I’ve got a free workshop on Sunday 26th March at New Walk Museum in Leicester inspired by this series of work.

Inspired by Ruth’s work and using silhouettes of hands, create your own piece with a personal touch. Explore drawing and creating patterns on paper with your own hand outline and embellish with embroidery, fabric and paper collage.   No previous experience is required.  The workshop is FREE but booking is essential. Call the museum on 0116 225 4900 to book your place.

Fragments – Researching a new series of work

Small fragments of cloth combined to make a greater whole. Each stitch, each thread, each moment of the maker contribute to a broad canvas of narrative.

I have been invited by the Quilt Association to showcase some work in their summer show and chose to spend time developing new work inspired by their collections. Fragments is a series of work in textile and mixed media developed from my research with these quilts, from years of considering antique textiles and the stories they hold and from my desire to express my thoughts about museum collections through making.

For me, the joy of this collection is that it is mainly rescued quilts – saved from charity shops, from life as dust sheets and from languishing forgotten and unloved in garages. This collection does not aim to be a representative array of fine Welsh quilts it merely (and importantly) aims to save old quilts so others may study and enjoy their making. While the quilts vary enormously in age, provenance, quality and condition, they share a defining characteristic of narrative. Many of the locally-made quilts come with priceless stories about their making or their family history (accurate or otherwise) and those which do not have equally exquisite (to me at least) stories of tragic retirements in sheds and subsequent rescue. The stories which these quilts embody interest me as much as the cut of the cloth and the finesse of the stitching.

The quilts speak of poverty and extravagance, of luxury and desperation, of comfort and of tragedy.  They tell stories not just of their making but of their long lives. Some have been repurposed to catch paint or oil spills when handmade quilts had no charm or value. Some were made from the humblest of materials to keep loved ones warm and were never intended to be preserved, admired or studied. Others have had harder lives in the more recent past – badly repaired and hacked about or nearly ruined by machine washing with the best of intentions but with the most damaging effects.

 

To quilt enthusiasts, my preference for the discoloured reverse, the wrecked by laundering, the oil and paint-spattered and the pieced army blankets may be puzzling. But I am not a quilter, not a quilt scholar (except I admit of trapunto quilting) and I do not look at these pieces of old cloth as a someone who wishes to chart the piecing pattern or pass judgement on the number of stitches per inch. The humbler the better for me. The feel of the quilt is most important to me. What it says about those who made it, bought it, sold it, used it, abused it, preserved it and mended it interests me far more. My training in museum work taught me to look at objects from every angle, exploring every possible story to understand the thing as a whole, not as a purely visual object. As an artist I choose to look from one very specific angle and to explore that rich seam of narrative in as much detail as I can. I am interested in sharing, through my making, how these quilts make me feel.

I will be sharing the development of this work over the next six months on the blog and social media. You can also keep in touch via my email newsletter once a fortnight.

Alongside this new work I will also be showing my Fine Art Quilt Masters winning piece and other pieces from the Criminal Quilts series. The exhibition takes place at Minerva Arts Centre, Llanidloes, Mid Wales 5 August 2017 – 16 September 2017. I am also running a three-day Summer School on Experimental Quilting 31 August 2017 – 2 September 2017 (full details to come shortly).

Ruth Singer Criminal Quilt

Surface Pattern exhibition at Unit Twelve

Criminal Quilts: Patchwork

This piece will be exhibited in Unit Twelve’s new exhibition (Surface) Pattern 27th April- 26th August 2017.

 

I’m also running a natural dye workshop at the gallery on Saturday 29th July where you can create lovely patterns on cloth using foraged plant materials.

Little Selves exhibition

Little Selves is an exhibition celebrating the portrait miniature showcasing exquisite pieces from the collections at New Walk Museum Leicester alongside new work by Leicester Society of Artists members and a schools competition. The exhibition takes place 25 March – 25 June 2017.

min-eye-miniature-timms-1 Although I am no portraitist, I was intrigued by the potential it gave me to create something new. I worked, years ago, on the development of the V&A Portrait Miniatures gallery and have a fondness for tiny, personal portraits. My inspiration for this piece came from this eye miniature of Mrs. Fitzherbert, George Engleheart (1750-1829). Watercolour and gouache on ivory.

“Mrs Maria Fitzherbert was secretly married to the Prince of Wales, later George IV. He stopped all contact with her on his official marriage, but was buried with a miniature of her around his neck. The identity of the single eye was known to the owner, but to no-one else.” From The Story of Leicester.

 

 

 

I am fascinated by personal mementoes and memorials and by human hair and chose to create an eye miniature of my own stitched with hair. Within is drawn from my own eye and stitched with donated human hair on a scrap of Victorian cotton taken from a disintegrated patchwork quilt.

 

Leicester Society of Artists

Earlier this year I was accepted as a member of Leicester Society of Artists and I’m pleased to be showing work in their 2016 exhibition at New Walk Museum, Leicester, 4th November – 3rd December.

I’ll be showing two of my Garment Ghosts; suspended transparent pieces made from fragmentary antique clothing. For an invite to the preview, please join my mailing list using the link on the right (below Instagram images).

The Beauty of Stains goes travelling

The Beauty of Stains, the gloriously food spattered, tea splattered and embroidered tablecloth from my solo exhibition will be exhibited in R-Space Gallery, Lisburn, Northern Ireland during September in their Form Function & Food exhibition.