Criminal Quilts Case Study – Fanny and Ada Riddle

Criminal Quilts is my an exhibition, research project and book.  The textiles I have created are inspired by the stories of women who were photographed on release from Stafford Prison between 1877 and 1916.

I was fascinated when I first saw the photographs from the 1870s where the women have their hands on their chests. This was in case of missing fingers which would be used for identification. This is the first time prisons took photographs of prisoners to identify them if they offended again. They are usually photographed in their own clothes so we get to see what they really looked like. Photographs of working women are very rare so these are very special images of women who wouldn’t normally have photographs taken.

Find out more in the online exhibition of Criminal Quilts including a film and all the exhibition text.

This is the first in a series of case studies of some of the women recorded in the prison photographs.

Fanny and Ada Riddle

Sisters Fanny and Ada Riddle were born in Rutland to a family of labourers. In 1881 they were both at school but later worked as servants in Handsworth, Birmingham where some of their family also lived. They seem to have lived in Loughborough at one point but by 1895 were living in Birmingham. Both were able to read and write which is very unusual in the records of women prisoners.

This photograph was taken on 1st January 1895 when they were both released from Stafford Prison. Fanny was 21, Ada was 20. Fanny was convicted of obtaining money by false pretences. We think Ada was convicted of the same crime at the same time. Over a few years they were often convicted together for thefts of food, clothing and other small items for which they received sentences of 21 days to 3 calendar months.

Despite their respectable clothing and jobs, life was clearly difficult for them. Our research shows that their mother died in 1888 when they were 15 and 16 years old which may have been when the went out to work. By 1901, they were both in the Wolverhampton Union Workhouse, and Ada had a one year old illegitimate baby son with her, called Victor. Both of them worked as laundresses in the workhouse. Their family are quite easy to trace and both of their older brothers worked as postmen and were married with children. Sadly it seems their family were unable to support them and keep them out of the workhouse. I can’t trace either of them after 1901 but Ada’s son Victor does appear in records as emigrating to America as an unaccompanied child and seems to have family in Canada too. Fanny and Ada’s father remarried and had another young family in Handsworth and one widowed son lived with them too, but there is no sign of Fanny or Ada returning to live with them. They may have been cut off from their family because of their criminal records.

I have made a couple of small commissioned pieces featuring Fanny and Ada by customers who were touched by their story. I am happy to make commissions using other photographs from Stafford Prison or your own family photos.

Memorial Pincushions

My memorial pincushions are part of my new solo exhibition, Textile Traces, opening at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre 25th May -7th July 2019. I am running a workshop alongside the exhibition to make your own precious pincushion using antique fabrics, hand stitch and decorated with pins. The workshop is £45 including lunch.

image of 46 decorative pincushions arranged for exhibition

These pincushions are made in remembrance of my aunt, Ann Goodstein, who died in 1992. 46 pincushions represent the 46 years of her short life and celebrate the joy she brought to so many. They celebrate her vibrancy, her love of history. Some include antique textiles, pieces of her own cloth and details which I think she would have appreciated like medieval pins from the River Thames. Her son, Ben, also made one of the pincushions. Pincushions are personal and every day items and were once given as gifts or in remembrance. Many are inspired by pincushions in Gawthorpe Textile Collection. 2015-2018.

Suffrage Exhibition at Llantarnam Grange Art Centre

Suffrage is a new exhibition at Llantarnam Grange Art Centre focusing on textile art and political expression to mark the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage. I am one of the exhibiting makers alongside Morwenna Catt, Eleanor Edwardes, Caren Garfen, Rozanne Hawklsey and Sue Shields. The exhibition opens Saturday 6th October 2018.

My piece, Prison Apron,  explores the prison sentences of suffragettes, expressed through stitch. Over the last year I have been reading accounts of suffragettes in prison for my project Criminal Quilts and considering the bravery of those women who knew their actions would inevitably lead to prison sentences. Over 1000 people, mostly women, were imprisoned for criminal activity related to suffrage campaigning in the early 20th century. You can also find out more about the exhibition in the online catalogue. I will be at the exhibition preview on Saturday 6th October in conversation with the curator and other artists. I am also running a professional development day for makers at the gallery on 20th October. The exhibition continues until 17th November 2018. 

Recently, I have become very interested in using data as a way of telling a story. For me, using data allows me to step back from the personal story and away from the more obvious interpretations to find a new route into the narrative I am exploring. I have chosen to work with prison sentence data to create this piece, looking at sentence records of women including the famous Pankhursts, Alice Hawkins from my home town of Leicester and Welsh women including Lady Rhondda and lesser-known Kate Evans. 

The apron is an antique piece, selected for its similarity to those seen in prison photographs and descriptions I have read in documents. Prison clothing was marked with painted-on arrows to show the items belonged to the government. Rather than paint on these arrows, I have hand stitched them on using threads in shades of grey. 

I have taken a series of prison sentences imposed upon suffragettes, ranging from 7 days to 9 months as the starting point for this work and created arrows using one stitch per day in prison. Each sentence is a different thread. One of the arrows is made up of 270 stitches of a single 9 month prison sentence, while the others are made up of numerous shorter sentences served by different women. 

The stitch is hand embroidered chain stitch, a symbolic choice, where each single stitch forms a connected chain which completes the whole. There are a total of almost 1000 individual stitches in this piece,  representing the 1000 individuals sent to prison. Hand stitching, and the slow, careful work it involves, reflects the time spent in prison doing repetitive labour including needlework. 

 

 

Llantarnam Grange Art Centre

St David’s Road
Cwmbran
Torfaen  NP44 1PD
Tel: 01633 483321
Email: info@lgac.org.uk

Opening Times

Monday to Friday 9.30am – 5pm
(Closed Bank Holiday Mondays)
Saturday 9.30am – 4pm
Admission is free

New Autumn Workshops

I have drastically cut down the amount of public workshops I run since last year and now only run workshops with galleries and museums alongside my exhibitions. This has given me more time to spend on my own work and the chance to write a new book and so much more. My car is feeling neglected as I’ve stopped driving thousands of miles a year too – all good stuff!

The downside is that I feel bad that my loyal fans don’t get much chance to come to workshops with me any more, and I do miss the interaction with lovely people and seeing beautiful things being made. I will be doing a few workshops alongside my touring Criminal Quilts exhibition over the next year or so, including two in September and October at The Brewhouse Arts Centre, Burton-upon-Trent during the exhibition run. These are funded workshops so are very much cheaper than most workshops, so I expect they will book up fast! I am also giving a talk towards the end of the exhibition run.

See below for details. You will need to call the Brewhouse to book: 01283 508100

The workshops are

Embroidered Images, Saturday 29th September 11am-3pm. £15 including materials

Try out embroidering onto digital prints and screen prints of archive photos from Stafford Prison. Using fabrics printed with images from the project, you will learn some new embroidery stitches to embellish and transform a black and white photograph into something completely new. Some hand embroidery experience necessary.

 

Experimental Patchwork, Saturday 13th October, 11am-3pm. £10 including materials

Working with Criminal Quilts artist Ruth Singer, you will have the chance to try some exciting new ways of using paper-piecing in patchwork including working with embroidered paper, collage, digitally-printed cloth and vintage textiles. Hand sewing skills required.

Criminal Herstories Talk

Join artist and researcher Ruth Singer to find out more about the stories of women convicted of crimes and imprisoned in Stafford Gaol 1877-1916. Over the last 12 months, Ruth Singer and a team of volunteers, have been researching the stories of over 500 women photographed on release from the prison, and the social history surrounding their lives. In this talk Ruth will also pick out a couple of local stories of women from the Burton area.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018
12noon-2pm
£3

 

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Criminal Quilts Work in Progress Showcase

Over the last 6 months I have been working with Wolverhampton University Fashion and Textiles Department as creative partners in Criminal Quilts.

I will be showing a small display of new work in progress during the University Degree Show 9th-20th June. Monday to Saturday 10-4.  Find the display on the first floor within Fashion and Textiles

Wolverhampton School of Art
The George Wallis Building (
MK Building)
Molineux Street
City Campus Molineux (North)
WV1 1DT

Full details and opening times here.

 

Criminal Herstories

Criminal Herstories is a local history display for Staffordshire libraries related to Criminal Quilts. The display contains a large book based on a prison photo album, of images and information about the prison photo albums and our research about the women appearing in them. It also includes a patchwork made by project volunteers and a new piece of work by me.

There will be a small launch event at Stafford Library on Thursday 31st May 2018 5-7pm. All welcome. The display is then at Stafford Library until 28th June and is free to access during normal open hours.

I will be giving a FREE talk at Stafford Library Tuesday 5th June 1- 2pm and another at Stone Library (where the display moves to in July) Tuesday 17th July, 2-4pm.

Talks and other event details here.

Display tour dates

Stafford Library 1st-28th June 2018

Stone Library 29th June – 3rd August 2018

Burton-on-Trent Library 14th August – 25th October

Wombourne Library 6th Nov 2018 – 10th Jan 2019

 

 

 

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Textiles and Dress from Below – Criminal Clothing Research

In June I will be presenting my research on the clothing worn by women in the Stafford Prison photo albums 1877-1916 (from my Criminal Quilts project) at an academic workshop at Wolverhampton University on Thursday 7th June.

The event  Textiles and Dress from Below: Ordinary and Everyday Textiles and Dress in Museums and Historic Houses looks at every day clothing and textiles across a broad spectrum. The event is open to all and tickets are £20

 

The photographs provide an unique resource for the study of working class women’s clothing and prison issue clothing in the period. Although there are numerous collections of similar photographs very little has been published focussing on women and their clothing. The Staffordshire collections are unusually abundant with nearly 500 images, including some women who appear several times over a couple of decades. Alongside extensive research and the creation of art works inspired by these images and records, I am researching further into the details of clothing and hats which can be seen in the images. Research shows that most of the photographs were taken a few days before release from prison so it is unclear if they would be wearing their own garments or prison-issue.

A considerable number of women are shown wearing woven wool shawls, particularly in the 19th century images, which is fairly common for working women but it is still unclear how many of these are their own clothes or if the shawls were prison issue. Later photographs seem to show standard prison issue garments comprising a gingham apron, high neck collarless bodice and checked neckerchief. In many of the remaining images the women are wearing some kind of dark jacket or coat which may be prison uniform – certainly one or two images show the typical convict arrows on the garment.

Headwear is also intriguing – most of the women are wearing hats and the period range of the photos shows the fashionable development from the 1870s to the First World War.
As part of this research I am looking at comparable images from other collections, including those taken by police, which having been taken at arrest, must show women’s own clothes. There is also a possible connection between certain types of particularly showy clothing which may indicate prostitution. This paper presents the work in progress in analysing the images and comparable collections and draws connections to surviving clothing in museum collections and other resources as well as introducing my own textile work inspired by the photographs.

 

This research will also be presented in the Criminal Quilts book to be published in August 2018