Interlace on show in Craft and Conflict at Bilston Craft Gallery

Work by Interlace is on show in Craft and Conflict at Bilston Craft Gallery until 22nd November 2014.


Interlace by Ruth Singer & Bethany Walker

Interlace by Ruth Singer & Bethany Walker

We created work specifically for this show, using white petals instead of our usual colours. By creating fragile textile forms fixed into concrete, we explore making the ephemeral permanent and preserving memories set in stone. The mass of petals in the work represent the fragile mass of humanity lost in conflict, while the softness of textile next to the rigidity of concrete echoes the brutality of war. The petals are hand embroidered in red wool thread. The bowls are presented in a wreath-like shape.



The rest of the exhibition is thought-provoking and fascinating. There are some very interesting interpretations of the theme of craft and conflict, some beautiful, haunting works, many referencing recent and current conflicts. Alongside craft pieces there are objects made in Bilston and the Black Country for both world wars as well as personal and commemorative items. It is a considered and thoughtful combination of objects mass produced in times of war, celebrating the skill of the makers and the industry as well as craft pieces created in remembrance, in horror and with hope. I loved it.


Old Textiles at October’s Sew Sociable

This month’s Sew Sociable will be all about old textiles. I’ll be giving a talk about my love of antique textiles, about museum collections, about my own collection of textiles and how I take inspiration from them to create my own textile art. Anyone coming to the event is enthusiastically encouraged to bring along their own historic textile treasures to show to the others. I hope I’ll be able to to identify things, or at least tell the owners something about them, and offer advice on looking after them. I’ll also be bringing along books about antique textiles for you to browse.

What to bring?

Quilts, handkies, embroideries, tablecloths, vintage clothes, handbags, trimmings, haberdashery, old sewing books… anything textile related is welcome!


Sew Sociable October with Ruth Singer

Sew Sociable October with Ruth Singer

Sew Sociable is a free monthly event for all stitchers. There are talks, events, activities, competitions and lovely food and drink in St Martins Tea & Coffee House, St Martin’s Square, Leicester city centre. Antique textile Sew Sociable takes place on Friday 17th October 7.30-10pm. The venue is easily accessible by train and bus for those coming from out of town, and there is parking nearby too. All welcome, even if you haven’t been before.

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.

Family Stories

After my Grandad died (aged 96) in late 2012, I cleared out a huge amount of textiles from his house, along with masses of curios and generations of junk that he had kept. His second wife’s family ran a small laundry business, and it was the ex-laundry buildings where Grandad kept all sorts of interesting stuff. They had masses of top quality cotton sheets and table linen; some abandoned at the laundry, some donated, some simply rescued from far finer houses. Grandad has been a gardener all his adult life and worked for some very wealthy people. When they upgraded their homes, he was asked to take unwanted things away, and it seems he simply took them away to his shed! He wasn’t really a hoarder, the house was very sparse , but he couldn’t bear to see good things thrown away. He wasn’t much interested in the things he kept. Maybe, subconsciously, he knew he’d have a granddaughter one day who would covet the old but fine quality linens, china cups, standard lamps and carved ebony screens that he piled up in his extensive outbuildings before I was even born.

I’d known for a long time that I wanted to do something creative using the family linens. I also wanted to make some work that reflected my modest Grandad and the incredible collections he accidentally created. Over the last 10 years or so, I realised that his house and sheds where almost like a museum to me; full of fascinating stories and interesting objects. The sheds, particularly, were a kind of representation of the man himself. Practical, unfussy, organised, down-to-earth and full of charm. I want to preserve that memory, that sense of the man, by creating work that honours and remembers him. In 2013 I created two collections of work inspired by my Grandad; the Tool Shed series and Metamorphosis. I have plans for more work too, for my forthcoming solo show at NCCD in late 2015.

For several years, I have created work inspired by historic buildings, places, objects and themes, as well as using personal experiences and emotions in my work. By creating work using my own family history, I feel the work has added depth and humanity. People connect with the work in a different way. Every viewer has their own interpretation of my work and each makes their own connections to their own family.

In my Family Stories workshop on 26th April, I aim to share some of the creative processes behind my work and explore how you can use your family history to create unique, personal textiles to commemorate your family. We will look at how to create a sense of the family by selecting colours and fabrics that have significance. I will show you how to create printed textiles using documents and photos such as letters, maps, certificates and official documents and turn these into stitched and appliqué details for your piece. You can also bring along small objects to use as silhouettes or motifs in the work, or actually incorporate them into the work itself. Personal textiles, buttons, trimmings and off-cuts are also great for personalising your work.

This workshop is also available for groups and guilds.

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.

Embroidery commission for Jan Garside

I recently completed a small embroidery commission for my friend, the weaver Jan Garside, who I’ve collaborated with before. She asked me to make some pieces based on Elizabethan embroideries at Hardwick Hall for a commission she was working on.

Jan & her finished pieces. Find out more about Jan & her work here.

This was an interesting project. I’m not a traditional embroiderer and although I started my textile career making historical reproductions, it isn’t the way I work now. These embroideries are inspired by Elizabethan stitches, rather than being replicas. I know plenty about Elizabethan embroidery and already knew the Hardwick textiles so had a good idea what Jan wanted when she first asked me about the commission, but I also knew I couldn’t make a reproduction. Working on a commission like this is a challenge, trying to make my own interpretation of the source material but also work within the brief given me by Jan, as the embroideries formed part of her work, with her name on caption. Luckily Jan and I have similar ideas, although different ways of working, and it helped that we had collaborated before. I enjoyed making these pieces enormously and intend to develop the ideas further in my own work, from the stitches used to the idea of working with lettering.

Note added: Some of the linen fabric I used was kindly donated by Scrapiana and came from her handmade wedding outfit!

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.

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.