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 online programme which I hope will take makers (and aspiring makers) 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 teaching platform Podia 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 £25 per month and you can stay as long as you need.

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.

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.

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.

Criminal Quilts talk

Textiles Inspired by Women Photographed in Stafford Prison 1877-1916.

Friday 24th July 2020 
4-5.30pm BST

In this talk, I will look at the background to this project which I started in 2012, creating textiles about the stories of Victorian and Edwardian women prisoners. As well as showing the textile artworks from the touring exhibition, I will also share some of the historical research which the volunteer team and I put together, including case studies of several women and my own research into prison clothing visible in the photographs.

This talk will be live on Zoom with a recording available afterwards. You will be able to ask questions. Book here.