Exhibitions at Waddesdon

There’s textile delights aplenty at Waddesdon Manor at the moment. I particularly wanted to see Sacred Stitches, an exhibition of ecclesiastic textiles from the Rothschild Collection which is reviews in Embroidery magazine (July / August).  I love Medieval church textiles so was excited to see examples that have not been displayed before, and I was not disappointed. The small exhibition also includes some other, later, treasures including a few gorgeous saint statue robes.  There’s a small book of the exhibition which has some great images and looks well-written and informative too, assuming it is similar to the exhibition text, which is pretty good going considering I know far too much about this kind of stuff already.

The house is full of interesting textiles too, mostly on upholstery and in wall hangings.

An unexpected extra pleasure was the Folded Beauty exhibition of historic napkin folding by Catalan artist Joan Sallas. Truly extraordinary and amazing!

I was disappointed that the Philippa Lawrence garden artworks hadn’t succeeded. I got a glimpse of the half-grown piece on my drive in but it sounds like things didn’t work out as planned. I’ve been interested in her work for a while so will definitely be back to see it next year.

Apply & Layer

Final part of Fabric Manipulation book preview. Read about the other chapters: Pleat and Fold &  Stitch and Gather

The Apply & Layer chapter covers a whole lot more than just  appliqué, although the majority of the techniques are appliqué in its loosest sense. Layering up fabrics and applying shapes on a foundation have many exciting possibilities and this chapter only touches the surface. There are some well-known techniques, from the basics of hand and machine quilting (with the emphasis on using them to make manipulated fabric, not for making large quilts) and stitch and slash. I have covered trapunto quilting in depth as it is one of my most favourite techniques, although there’s a an awful lot more about trapunto that I had to leave out! I use trapunto in my own artwork quite often as I find it to be a beautiful, subtle technique that can be used in many way.

Cut surface quilting is my interpretation of a technique used by designer <Helen Amy Murray to create stunning textured leather for upholstery. I have adapted the technique for a variety of materials and tried out a number of variations. Since I wrote this chapter, I’ve made a large piece of my own using a version of this technique.

Applied decoration is very popular on contemporary couture fashion, and has been for some years. The techniques are generally worked by hand and are often very time-consuming, but the effects are stunning. I got the idea for looped strips from a couture coat I saw a picture of years ago. Dresses from the 1830s-1880s are also good for innovative appliqué. You can see examples in my Pinterest board. Personally, I particularly love Petals and Split Circles. I made a huge framed artwork using vintage fabric in the petals technique a few years ago, and more recently revamped a blouse using split circles and embellished a jumper with delicate trapunto.

The scalloped edges technique is one I keep coming back to in my own work – it has such potential.The orange piece below is the first piece I used it in – inspired by roof tiles on a Victorian building when I was artist in residence at Bilston Craft Gallery in 2007. Simple scallops are used to edge the cape project, made during the same residency and it also uses shadow work reverse appliqué.I currently have plans for a large quilt using cut-surface quilting and definitely more trapunto. 

Stitch & Gather

Part two of Fabric Manipulation book previews.

It is quite hard to define and name this group of techniques – Stitch & Gather is the best I’ve come up with. This part of the book covers a wide range of techniques where thread is used to create shape and structure, often by gathering with simple machine or hand stitching.

Monumental Folly frame, detail

Monumental Folly frame, detail

As with pleats, gathering techniques have been used to create decoration on 18th century gowns. Wide strips of bias-cut silk fabric with decorative pinked (zigzag cut) edged are swirled and stitched down the front of gowns and stomachers. Using bias-cut strips allows you to curve the fabric beautifully, See Single Edge Gathers p78 for how to achieve this look.

Rutfle scarf pattern

Rutfle scarf pattern

I’ve played around with this technique many times and have found bias-cut fabrics to be perfect for making draped scarves and ruffles. The scarf on p81 is made with 3 different fabrics layered up together before gathering. I’ve also used the technique to make embellishments for cushions and interior décor.

The Pattern Stitched Ribbon Ruffles (below) technique as shown on p82-83 is traditionally used to make fabric flowers and I first saw it in a 1920s book on ribbon art. I found the same technique, used on fabric as a detail on a couture dress made by Mainbocher for Wallis Simpson in 1937 and now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The collar centre-back seam is gathered using the Zigzag shirring technique on p87.


Other well-known techniques in this section include Suffolk Puffs, shirring and smocking. I love Suffolk puffs immensely and have used them for several years in my own work, creating new ways of using them in textile artworks. I like to create the puffs in fabric that matches the background and hand stitch them to create a seamless effect. I enjoy creating movement and variation in a repetitive design by using different sizes of puff and added stuffing behind some of them to create added dimension.

Betty Panel (sold)

Betty Panel (sold)

I created the Circle Edge Gather (p103) technique as a development of Suffolk puffs and have used this technique to make the draping scarf below.

I came up with the idea of Stuffed Bobbles (p106) in the same experimental phase and later discovered that it is very similar to the effect created by Japanese shibori stitching. I enjoy the organic, irregular quality of this technique which I have used on wall panels as well as garments and accessories.

Buy individual patterns here.

Fabric Manipulation Book Launch

You are invited to Ruth Singer Studio to celebrate the publication of Fabric Manipulation, 150 Creative Sewing Techniques by Ruth Singer.

Thursday 4th July 5-7pm at Ruth Singer Studio in Leicester city centre.

As well as books for sale, you will be able to see my recent work on display, including smaller pieces and new range of cards.

If you wish to buy a signed copy of Fabric Manipulation (£19.99) please pre-order here so I can have enough stock available (select the Collect from Studio option for no postage charge) or just let me know that you wish to buy one and bring cash on the day. My first two books Sew It Up and Sew Eco will be available at a considerable discount so you can get a whole collection!

Pleat and Fold

Part 1 of a series of blog posts exploring my new book Fabric Manipulation in more detail, looking at the history of the techniques and how I have used them in my own work.

I first became fascinated by pleating when I started studying 18th century costume. The most luxurious women’s gowns have lavish decorations down the front, often made from pleating, folded, stitched or gathered fabric.

Once I started to explore, I found all sorted of pleated and folded decoration on costume from all kinds of periods and from all over the world. One of my favourite pieces is a 1940s hat with a pleated grosgrain trim which I bought in a vintage dress shop.  It took some experimentation to work out the technique used to make it but I got it eventually; this is the Arrowhead fold in page 60. I’ve also made a necklace using this technique (more about this in a future post).

Other techniques in the book have also come directly from historic clothing, although I tend to add my own interpretation to them. The Dips and Diamonds fold on page 46 is inspired by a Victorian dress in the V&A which you can also see in 19th century Dress in Detail, .

Decorative box pleating has been one of my favourites for years; I originally learned the technique from 1980s books about soft furnishings, used to create decorative trim from ribbons. I have used the technique to create embellished cushions  and cuffs and a few years ago developed the technique further to create the double-sided Box Pleat Neckpiece from silk organza.

Other techniques in this chapter have come from Indian dress; the Pointed Ribbon Fold (p59) and similar techniques are based on an old technique called Gota using real metal ribbon which I researched when I visited India in 2003 There’s a nice example of Gota work here.  Most modern gota-style work is made using synthetic ribbon, and finding the real metal ribbon is a challenge, but it can sometimes be found in vintage fabric shops or specialist ribbon shops.

I’ve included a selection of quite well-known techniques that I have seen around for a few years, such as Tuck and Fold, as well as some origami techniques transposed to fabric like Trefoil Fold and techniques that I have created myself through experimenting, such as Wings and Aeroplanes folds.

A shorter version of this post appears on Stitch, Craft, Create.

Trapunto quilting

One of the most popular sessions I teach is Trapunto or Italian quilting. My new book, Fabric Manipulation, 150 Creative Sewing Techniques, covers this technique in detail and includes lots of variations including shadow quilting, corded quilting and using stretch fabrics.

Time Bubble 1 detail
Detail of Time Bubble 1. 

I’ve been using Trapunto for years in small projects but this apron was the first major exhibition piece I created using the technique, stitched into a vintage apron.

round pincushion
Pincushion with trapunto, featured in Pretty Little Pincushions

Trapunto sample

I’m always on the look out for vintage examples of trapunto work, and recently bought a piece of corded quilting which I will be featuring on the new website later in the summer.  I’d love to know if you have seen or even own any vintage pieces with trapunto. 

Framed trapunto currently in the shop at NCCD

Detail of doll’s quilt in Pretty Little Mini Quilts
Trapunto purse in Quilt it With Wool

I am teaching trapunto this summer at Hampton Court Palace (2-day intensive summer school), and running 1 hour taster sessions in at Festival of Quilts and Fat Quarterly Retreat. 

Detail of History’s Hand.

Fabric Manipulation; 150 Creative Sewing Techniques

My new book is available for pre-order now! Signed copies will be sent out as soon as they arrive with me, early in June.

I’ll be doing book signings, demonstrations and related workshops throughout the summer. Sign up to my newsletter for more information.
There’s much more to come on this blog about the book but for now, why don’t you have a look on my Pinterest board for other examples of fabric manipulation.