Themed school workshops

I love collaboration; I find it exciting and engaging both creatively and practically. Sharing skills, knowledge and expertise is vital to creating a good outcome and I always find it pushes my own creative boundaries and helps me work better and learn all the time. Whether it is working with schools, community groups or other makers, I always find it invigorating coming up with new ideas to show them as well as seeing how they take my ideas and techniques into new an exciting directions.

The school workshop shown below covered 3D fabric manipulation and appliqué techniques, following the students’ own inspiration and research, including projects as varied as fungus & lichen, decayed building, peacock feathers and jellyfish.

The images below show a session I ran for GCSE students to create weather-inspired samples using shadow trapunto techniques.

I loved this school’s textile classroom with inspiration walls and a great display of dried fruit and vegetable skins.

 

Find out more about workshops for school groups here.

Fabric Manipulation book in Spanish and German

My Fabric Manipulation book has been translated into German and Spanish. I love the cover of the Spanish version.

image

image

With my three books, I now have been published in Finnish (twice) Norwegian, Russian, Spanish & German. I’m really quite chuffed that people all over the world read my books! I posted a copy to Brazil recently too. Amazing.

Pleated dress and hat decorations

In my research into manipulated fabrics, I have often come across trimmings created using pleated or gathered ribbon, most often on hats, although sometimes on garments too. 18th century dress trimmings are usually made from self-fabric (strips of the same fabric the garment is made from) rather than ribbons.  Box pleating is common, as are bias-cut ruffles.

18th century Caracao (jacket) from Manchester Museums collection

Caracao (jacket) from Manchester Museums collection with pleated self-fabric trim

18th century box pleats started a journey of discovery for me when I started working in textile, investigating and experimenting with techniques to create contemporary work inspired by these old folds.

 

Antique ribbons can be pretty special items in themselves, but when they are used to create interesting decorations and trimmings, ribbons become something even more amazing. Ribbons have been used for hundreds of years to decorate hats, dresses and accessories.

Corsage by Ruth Singer using vintage ribbon and 1920s techniques.

Corsage by Ruth Singer using vintage ribbon and 1920s techniques.

Beautiful ribbons were woven in Coventry (as well as other places) from the 1700s which were pleated, gathered and arranged to make stunning hat decorations, taking a bonnet from basic to beautiful.

Ribbon woven in Coventry. (c) V&A

Ribbon woven in Coventry. (c) V&A

 

Extra-wide ribbons were made specifically for trimming dresses and millinery and their designs could easily be enhanced by the methods of folding and stitching used, as shown in this example where the stripes are manipulated to create decorative effects.

Hat ribbon trim (c) National Trust

Hat ribbon trim (c) National Trust

 

I recently came across illustrations via Pinterest from a German women’s magazine called Der Bazar dated 1871 on Google books which shows several fantastic pleated ribbon trims which I am keen to try out myself, and you can often spot folded and manipulated ribbon trims on original garments and in fashion plate illustrations in the later 19th century.

Der Bazar pleated fold illustration

Der Bazar pleated fold illustration

In the 1920s, pleated and manipulated ribbons had another moment under the spotlight of fashion as ribbon pleated and folded into sunbursts and stars shone out from the sides of cloche hats. Cockades or trimmings were made at home, as well as by professional milliners. A hat could be updated and transformed with a bit of ingenuity and ribbon.

Hat (c) Metropolitan Museum

Hat (c) Metropolitan Museum

I bought the vintage hat below a few years ago and was intrigued by the folded trim. It took a few goes to figure it out and quite a few more goes for the technique to stick in my head – it is not at all simple, but I figured it out using weave lines in in the grosgrain ribbon as my guide.

Pleated hat trim

Pleated hat trim

My version of the technique is in my book Fabric Manipulation, called Arrowhead folds. I used this technique to create the necklace below.

Arrowhead necklace

Arrowhead necklace

 

My book has lots of other ribbon folding techniques, many of them inspired by Indian ribbon work using real metal ribbon, known as Gota.

Detail of blouse with gota trimming (c) V&A

Detail of blouse with gota trimming (c) V&A

 

Gota work was traditionally used to decorate luxurious costumes and clothing in the 19th century alongside fine silks and metal thread embroidery. The pure metal wefts of the ribbon allow it to be folded precisely to create intricate 3D folds and twists, and the ribbon could also be embossed for added effects. Nowadays, most gota work is done in inferior plastic ribbon which has neither the sheen, weight or crispness of the metal ribbon, but still looks pretty gorgeous. I’ve seen real vintage Gota ribbon for sale at Cloth House, my favourite fabric shop in London.

I found a nice piece in a ribbon stash at the school I worked in yesterday; the widely-spaced folded-back zigzag ribbon fold detail was new to me – I am working on samples using different types of ribbon for different effects. The pointed Vs along top and bottom are one of the gota techniques I figured out a while back and it is included in my book.

Gota trimming

I taught my favourite box-pleating technique to the students at Chateau Dumas earlier this month, using French vintage striped ribbon. The day after the workshop, the students visited the local hat-making museum and decorated their hats with pleated French ribbon. What could be more more perfect?

You can find more ribbon work and related ideas in my Pinterest boards on Fabric Manipulation, particularly the pleating board and the appliqué board. One day I’ll have time to try them all out – in the mean time, please post links to any other interesting ribbon resources and if you have tried any of the techniques, please share them.

A shorter version of this post originally appeared on Mr X Stitch as one of my monthly textile history Pinning the Past columns. Explore the other columns here.

 

Fabric Manipulation : Stitch & Slash

Would you believe that ripped jeans of the 1990s are simply harking back to the 16th century? For a brief period, it was the height of fashion to ‘pink’ or slash luxury fabrics to create pattern and to reveal yet another fancy fabric underneath. That’s where the term pinking shears comes from, although they appear somewhat later.

pinking shears
Cutting a decorative edging to cloth goes back considerably earlier too; in the 15th century some garments were finished with the fine, felted (fulled) wool cloth cut into decorative patterns resembling oak leaves and other shapes. Amongst the wealthy and fashionable, it was also de rigeur to have sleeves of the upper gown cut open to reveal another, fancier fabric beneath, or even a fine linen shirt or smock. This style reached its peak in the late 15th and early 16th century among the Landsknecht mercenary soldiers of Switzerland Germany who favoured ridiculously over-decorated clothings covered in slashes revealing bright coloured garments beneath and started added additional linings just to show through.

The slash and reveal style made it to English style, with Henry VIII often depicted wearing garments with slashing to show the variety of luxury silks he wore and the decoration could be on any thing from shoes to codpieces.

1491_Henry_VIIIA rare early 17th century men’s suit now in the V&A is made of silk covered in tiny cuts on the bias, interspersed with stamped decoration – the silk was embossed using a heated metal tool. The cuts were probably made in a similar way, with a sharp chisel-like tool pressed onto the fabric on top of a lead block. Find out more about it in this audio clip.

Slashed garments appear occasionally in the 19th century – there’s nothing new about looking back – but it then pretty much vanished until the punks started ripping and slashing their garments in the early 1980s.

 

Dress sleeve, c1810 © V&A

Dress sleeve, c1810 © V&A

 

Slashing and cutting the surface of fabric is now a more decorative technique used in textile art and quilting rather than fashion, more’s the pity. Textile artists have been using Stitch & Slash for many years, to create layered decorative finishes. In some forms it is known as faux chenille as when washed or brushed the cut edges create a fluffy finish, popular with quilters. Karina Thompson refined the technique more recently to create large-scale artworks using subtly-toned fabrics.

karina Thompson

Karina Thompson

Helen Amy Murray, a textile designer working with luxury upholstery, developed a technique at University to pad, stitch, and slash leather and other luxury materials to create raised effects for use on furniture, similar in effect to stitch and slash, but with a more complicated design. I’ve interpreted this technique and described it in my book, called cut surface quilting and have used it myself to create geometric designs loosely inspired by traditional square patchwork quilts (left).

A version of this post originally appeared on Mr X Stitch for my monthly column on historic and contemporary textile techniques, Pinning the Past.

Collaboration with Bethany Walker: work in progress

I’ve long been fascinated by Bethany’s combination of textiles and cement; the contrasting soft and hard materials, the transformation of cloth from malleable to solid objects and the potential her innovative techniques would hold for my kind of manipulated textiles.

Last year I applied to a-n’s collaboration bursary to fund our travel and expenses to develop a collaboration and we started working together in January 2014.

Our aim is to create work suitable for public art commissions, large-scale installations and projects. I wanted to explore Bethany’s techniques and she wanted to look at more organic forms, moving away from her usual square-format.

We started by simply setting a whole series of my textile and paper samples into cement to see how they worked and then moved on to making specific samples to test based on what worked best and looked most interesting.

 

Plenty was simply scrapped as uninteresting, or not sufficiently exciting to stand out. I wanted to make sure what I made was sufficiently different to Bethany’s existing work too. A new set of samples worked much better and gave us new avenues to explore.


At this stage I was struggling to find a theme which worked for me, beyond simply exploring interesting shapes. Our discussions lead to the idea of growth and renewal and eventually to mould, lichen, moss and fungus. We also worked on colour palettes; looking for something that contrasted well with the grey of the cement but would also work with my quite subtle-coloured work. We used Pinterest to share ideas, much like I did with my collaboration with Alys Power. Our palette became delicate pink. Bethany continued to work on new shapes and forms while I experimented with fungus-inspired growths made in textile using fabrics I dyed with elderberry.

Their success was limited but other pieces definitely worked and we have finally hit upon the perfect combination of form, textile structure, colour-palette, type of fabric and display concept which we are really happy with.

mosaic

The finished work is a series of smaller pieces; potentially a lot of small pieces, so we are busy making more and more. Our aim is to exhibit the work in 2015 and use it as a basis for joint application for projects and commissions.

 

 

Trapunto Quilting

Trapunto, Italian quilting or stuffed quilting is an old and rather under-appreciated technique which I am a huge fan of. Unlike ‘normal’ quiting, where two layers of fabric have a layer of wadding between them and are stitched through all the layers, Trapunto uses two layers of fabric and the stuffing is only placed in defined areas, after all the stitching is complete. Narrow lines are filled with cord while larger areas are filled with cotton or wool traditionally and often polyester stuffing these days. The old French version of stuffed quilting called Boutis is always worked in white and all shapes are stuffed with a soft, cotton cord.

Image showing detail of art apron by Ruth Singer using trapunto and embroidery

The oldest known quilt still surviving dates from the 14th century (1360-1400) and is made using stuffed quilting. This gorgeous, minimalist white linen quilt, called the Tristan Quilt, was made in Sicily, presumably for an extremely wealthy client. Textiles were as valuable, if not more valuable than gold in the middle ages, and skilled craftsmen were in demand. This, like many other luxury textiles such as tapestry and embroidery, were made in specialist professional workshops staffed by men and women, and not by noble women sitting around in castles with nothing to do. The quilt depicts scenes from the Legend of Tristan & Isolde (or Iseult), a classic bit of medieval courtly love / tragedy.

Detail of Tristan Quilt

Detail of Tristan Quilt

Despite this amazing survival, showing brilliant craftsmanship, the technique seems not to have been used much since – or at least it has not survived very well. We start finding examples of stuffed quilting, often the corded kind, in 19th century garments, such as these corset covers, though it isn’t until the 20th century that trapunto is used regularly – I’ve seen it on elegant coat collars from the 1930s, satin dressing gowns  and nightwear, on tiesdresses,  and on homemade accessories like this handkerchief pouch, made using corded quilting. There are lots more examples, modern and vintage, on my Pinterest board.

Handkerchief pouch

Handkerchief pouch

The most extraordinary example is a dress by the surrealist-influenced fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in 1938. She used bold stuffed quilting to create prominent ribs and spine on a figure-hugging black dress – quite the most remarkable use of trapunto I have ever seen.

Elsa Schiaparelli  - Skeleton Dress

Elsa Schiaparelli – Skeleton Dress

I like to use the technique because of its subtlety and tactility. The play of light on the fabric shows up the design which can be almost invisible in flat lighting and dark colours. Outlining the motifs in contrasting thread helps to make them stand out and you can also use a sheer fabric top layer to create shadow quilting, which I’ve also seen in pre-war pieces.

Trapunto by Ruth Singer

Trapunto by Ruth Singer, part of Criminal Quilts series

Trapunto Example by Ruth Singer

Trapunto by Ruth Singer, part of Criminal Quilts series

The techniques of trapunto are covered in detail in my book Fabric Manipulation, 150 Creative Sewing Techniques  and a few other books on quilting and manipulated textiles.

2014 textiles workshops

Just a brief outline of the new workshops to come in 2014, full details soon!

Workshops 2014
All workshops are 10am-4pm on Saturdays at Ruth Singer Studio, Leicester. £55 each or book 3 for £150

Miniature Art Quilts. 25th January
Criminal Quilts 2

Shadow Embroidery. 23rd February

Criminal Quilts 2

Cut-surface quilting. 22nd March

'Squares'  hanging, 2013. More details here

‘Squares’ hanging, 2013. More details here

Family Stories. 26th April

Whiting Laundry

Handmade fabrics. 31st May

Suffolk puff cushion

Smocking, Shirring & Gathering. 28th June  Rescheduled for 21st June

English smocking

Found objects and amulets . 19th July

Metamorphosis detailPhotos on Fabric. 30th August

Monumental Folly pincushion  25x15cm More  details here

Monumental Folly pincushion 25x15cm More
details here

Wild Dyes. 28th September Rescheduled for 20th September

mixed dyes

Trapunto Quilting. 1st November

Trapunto quilting

Transparency. 6th December. Rescheduled for 13th December

shadowwork detail