Rethink your Mind

I’m pleased to have a new piece of work selected for the ReThinkYourMind Yellow Book project.

My piece Ash Map will be included in the new book for 2017 which will be launched this week after an awards reception at the House of Lords last week, although I was at the Contemporary Craft Festival so wasn’t able to attend the awards.

The theme for entries was ‘I feel better when….’ and for me this is walking in the countryside. The line of the piece follows the route of a walk and is stitched with the seeds of an ash tree (called keys) which I collected. This work and a number of others exploring the natural world and the therapeutic nature of walking were created in late 2015 as I was dealing with a painful relationship break up when walking was essential to calm my mind and focus on things outside of my own head. Walking a lot is nothing new for me, I have always loved walking, but these pieces are the first work I have produced which use this experience of walking as a theme and inspiration to making. I am continuing to develop new work around walking, my experience of the natural world and hope to have an exhibition of new pieces in 2018.

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Exploring quilt history

As I develop new work for my Fragments exhibition in the summer, I am investigating and exploring a lot of old quilts. I am continuing to explore my photographs and notes from the research visit to the Quilt Association’s collections in February and creating new technique ideas based on the structures, designs and history of the quilts. I am also investigating the antique quilts and pieces which I own myself and working out ways of incorporating elements from these pieces into new work.

 

 

I have also been investigating my own collections of quilts and bits, engaging in Quilt Archaeology (credit to someone on Instagram but alas I forget who). What interests me is not the fineness of the stitching or the patchwork patterns but the textures, the tactility and the reasons these quilts were made and used (or not).  I’ve been using drawing, painting, mark making and print techniques to explore my ideas, some of which are very large scale which will have dramatic impact and some much smaller and more intimate, like the quilts themselves, and invite close consideration.

 

Meanwhile, my Harefield Hospital Centenary Quilt project has been featured this week on the People’s History of the NHS blog.

Rowan leaves to represent Rowan Ward. Hand embroidery.

Antique Textile Inspiration course

In June I will be running an exciting new 4-day course for West Dean College. In this course I will be sharing my own way of working taking inspiration from antique textiles and creating sketchbooks and samplers to develop into new textile pieces. Find out more about West Dean from my previous blog posts.

My original career plan was to work as a costume and textile curator in museums and I specialised for some years in medieval textiles. It didn’t quite work out like that and textile history became my hobby as my day job in museums was focussed on exhibitions and other projects covering a wide range of social and design history. I spent my days off researching medieval textiles in the V&A and other collections and developing a series of talks and workshops investigating textile and fashion history. When I started out making textile pieces in 2005 I chose to work with techniques drawn from my research, in particular 18th & 19th century dress trimmings.

These days my textile research is purely for inspiration as I work in a much broader way but is still key to forming my ideas and ways of working. I am excited to be able to share my textile collections and research through this course. I am also building up a lovely Pinterest board of ideas related to this course, so you can get a flavour of the colours, textures and patterns we will be enjoying throughout the week.

 

This intensive and exploratory workshop is designed for others with a love of antique textiles, those who love to explore museums and antique shops and want to make work inspired by what they find.  I aim to share the skills to research and explore old textiles, develop your understanding of design and technique as well as learn ways of translating what you love about old textiles into your own original contemporary work. Tuition will concentrate on sparking and developing your ideas, growing your confidence in working from inspiration material and selecting the best techniques to use to take your design ideas forward.

During the course you will have time to study my large personal collection of historic embroidered, embellished and quilted textiles and you are welcome to bring your own and explore the many textile treasures to be found in West Dean College buildings.  I will share my experience and knowledge of textile techniques and design and you will develop a sketchbook of shapes, colours, patterns, materials and textures drawn directly from the textile sources, then spend time exploring and experimenting with how to translate the feel of the historic pieces into your own contemporary work. I will demonstrate a wide variety of techniques which you can use for your own designs including hand and machine embroidery, fabric manipulation, painting and stencil printing, appliqué and other methods of embellishment to create exciting surface textures and pattern to develop ideas, designs and stitched samples.

For further information please see the course details on West Dean website.

You might also enjoy my textile history posts about smocking and trapunto quilting, two of my favourite obsessions.

Stitched textiles inspired by historic textile sources

12 to 16 June 2017
£426.00

Postcard from West Dean (2)

Alongside my teaching, my week at West Dean involved a lot of both looking closely at details and looking (and walking) to points far away. I found myself with nearly two days off before teaching, time to explore, wind down and replenish. Between teaching sessions the gardens were my playground.  The wide open views of the South Downs are a much-needed counterpoint to city life. The chance to stretch my vision, my horizon and my legs. The college building and the gardens invite close inspection while in contrast the farther hills and the wider landscape need wide angle eyes to take it all in.

 

 

 

 

 

Last year’s Postcard from West DeanPostcard from West Dean

Close Distance at Woollaton Hall

A visit to the extraordinary installation Close Distance by Caroline Broadhead, Nic Sandiland and Angela Woodhouse this week was a real delight. The work, inspired by 17th century textiles from Woollaton Hall and the stories of those who lived there, has been created by three artists in collaboration using dance, construction and film. The works are displayed in a room not normally open to the public, up a narrow spiral staircase which creates a haunting sense of separateness in an empty, high up room. Access is only possible via tours (£3 for the Close Distance tours and £5 as part of a more general tour). We we lucky enough to be the only visitors on a damp Wednesday lunchtime and had the space to ourselves.

The Prospect Room is empty apart from the artists’ work and has views over the landscape from all sides – the wide vistas contrasting with the enclosed and claustrophobic work, much of it film of dance contained and compressed into drawers, boxes and cabinets. The sense of containment and  restriction echo the narrative behind the work : the jarring contrast between master and servant in this house, between the spaces used by each.

Unlike other installations in historic properties, the space around these pieces gives the installation a more gallery-like emphasis. They are simply placed and speak for themselves, without the chatter and interaction of other objects, textures and colours around them.

It is a brave decision to position contemporary work in a space with very limited access. It works perfectly for the installation’s meaning and the visitor experience but I feel it will have very little impact on non-arts audiences. It is a challenging and enlightening experience and well worth the effort to arrange to see it. I visited with Jennifer Collier on a day of research, inspiration and thinking and it was the perfect quiet, contemplative exhibition for us to visit.

 

Two beautiful 17th century textiles are on show in the main hall, completely divided from the work which they have inspired. I would have preferred a little more explanation of how they related. The textiles are poorly described with little interpretation though they are well displayed and easy to see.  The close up photographs show how the black silk thread has rotten leaving the impression of the stitches and the needle holes in the linen cloth. The fibre damage of the silk thread is caused by iron mordant use to create black dye which eventually damages the fibres but leaves the linen ground intact.

Close Distance

8 March – 1 May 2017
Wollaton Hall, Nottingham

 

Fragments – Researching a new series of work

Small fragments of cloth combined to make a greater whole. Each stitch, each thread, each moment of the maker contribute to a broad canvas of narrative.

I have been invited by the Quilt Association to showcase some work in their summer show and chose to spend time developing new work inspired by their collections. Fragments is a series of work in textile and mixed media developed from my research with these quilts, from years of considering antique textiles and the stories they hold and from my desire to express my thoughts about museum collections through making.

For me, the joy of this collection is that it is mainly rescued quilts – saved from charity shops, from life as dust sheets and from languishing forgotten and unloved in garages. This collection does not aim to be a representative array of fine Welsh quilts it merely (and importantly) aims to save old quilts so others may study and enjoy their making. While the quilts vary enormously in age, provenance, quality and condition, they share a defining characteristic of narrative. Many of the locally-made quilts come with priceless stories about their making or their family history (accurate or otherwise) and those which do not have equally exquisite (to me at least) stories of tragic retirements in sheds and subsequent rescue. The stories which these quilts embody interest me as much as the cut of the cloth and the finesse of the stitching.

The quilts speak of poverty and extravagance, of luxury and desperation, of comfort and of tragedy.  They tell stories not just of their making but of their long lives. Some have been repurposed to catch paint or oil spills when handmade quilts had no charm or value. Some were made from the humblest of materials to keep loved ones warm and were never intended to be preserved, admired or studied. Others have had harder lives in the more recent past – badly repaired and hacked about or nearly ruined by machine washing with the best of intentions but with the most damaging effects.

 

To quilt enthusiasts, my preference for the discoloured reverse, the wrecked by laundering, the oil and paint-spattered and the pieced army blankets may be puzzling. But I am not a quilter, not a quilt scholar (except I admit of trapunto quilting) and I do not look at these pieces of old cloth as a someone who wishes to chart the piecing pattern or pass judgement on the number of stitches per inch. The humbler the better for me. The feel of the quilt is most important to me. What it says about those who made it, bought it, sold it, used it, abused it, preserved it and mended it interests me far more. My training in museum work taught me to look at objects from every angle, exploring every possible story to understand the thing as a whole, not as a purely visual object. As an artist I choose to look from one very specific angle and to explore that rich seam of narrative in as much detail as I can. I am interested in sharing, through my making, how these quilts make me feel.

I will be sharing the development of this work over the next six months on the blog and social media. You can also keep in touch via my email newsletter once a fortnight.

Alongside this new work I will also be showing my Fine Art Quilt Masters winning piece and other pieces from the Criminal Quilts series. The exhibition takes place at Minerva Arts Centre, Llanidloes, Mid Wales 5 August 2017 – 16 September 2017. I am also running a three-day Summer School on Experimental Quilting 31 August 2017 – 2 September 2017 (full details to come shortly).

Ruth Singer Criminal Quilt

Creative Workshop With Helen Hallows

I treated myself to another creative experimentation day this weekend, trying new materials, techniques and ideas. I spent the day on a Mark Making workshop with artist friend Helen Hallows whose work and philosophy I have long admired.

helen-hallows

Helen Hallows

When you teach a lot of workshops you really appreciate all the hard work which goes into making a workshop really special for the participants, and it’s also a reminder of what it is like on the other side of the teaching table.

Helen made the day very lovely and it was extra special to find my friend Alys there, also having a birthday treat workshop day!

We made mood boards, splashed paint around, printed, stamped and got thoroughly messy, covering paper in colour and pattern. I loved trying mono print again but in totally different ways to the workshop last week and covering papers in bold, strong colour, layering, marking and scraping away. I have created a huge stash of beautiful papers which I think I will use for stitching into, creating collage and more experimental work and I have also stretched my imagination, tried different colour palettes and lots of new ideas for creating colour and pattern which will seep their way into my work in lots of different ways. I left the workshop invigorated and excited and I’ve now got my dining room floor papered in drying painty sheets of paper!

 

 

 

Little Selves exhibition

Little Selves is an exhibition celebrating the portrait miniature showcasing exquisite pieces from the collections at New Walk Museum Leicester alongside new work by Leicester Society of Artists members and a schools competition. The exhibition takes place 25 March – 25 June 2017.

min-eye-miniature-timms-1 Although I am no portraitist, I was intrigued by the potential it gave me to create something new. I worked, years ago, on the development of the V&A Portrait Miniatures gallery and have a fondness for tiny, personal portraits. My inspiration for this piece came from this eye miniature of Mrs. Fitzherbert, George Engleheart (1750-1829). Watercolour and gouache on ivory.

“Mrs Maria Fitzherbert was secretly married to the Prince of Wales, later George IV. He stopped all contact with her on his official marriage, but was buried with a miniature of her around his neck. The identity of the single eye was known to the owner, but to no-one else.” From The Story of Leicester.

 

 

 

I am fascinated by personal mementoes and memorials and by human hair and chose to create an eye miniature of my own stitched with hair. Within is drawn from my own eye and stitched with donated human hair on a scrap of Victorian cotton taken from a disintegrated patchwork quilt.

 

Exploring DNA

Following on from our studio session exploring stains a couple of weeks ago, Gillian & I have started work on a new research and development project, inspired DNA using found objects as our source material. Each object will be changed, developed and combined with other altered objects to create a sequence of interactions and combinations.

 

We are working on a funding application to take this much further but for now we are experimenting with visual representations of DNA through generations. The creative part is fantastic but I realise my knowledge of DNA and biochemistry is a bit sparse! I have a lot to learn and lots of ideas to explore, which is very exciting.

 

On Patience

People often tell me how patient I am to hand stitch my work. I often counter that I am only patient with sewing, not with anything else (although that’s not really true*). We can all be patient doing something we love. It doesn’t require patience to get to the end of a good book as you are enjoying the act of reading. In the same way, I enjoy the act of sewing:

  • the feel of the needle pulling a thread through cloth
  • the patterns it makes
  • the textures thread makes in the cloth
  • the quietness
  • the slowness
  • the connection with the cloth, the thread, the needle
  • the feeling of putting a bit of myself into my sewing

It isn’t about patience, it is about enjoying the process.

I was asked last week about why I sew by hand rather than by machine. I find this an odd question as my work wouldn’t be my work if I made it by machine. I couldn’t make it by machine. It would be completely different work. It wouldn’t be me.

Today, out walking, I figured out the perfect way to explain this:

It is like choosing to walk on a footpath rather than to drive on a road through the countryside. 

IMG_20151008_140513

Just because there are sewing machines, and faster techniques, doesn’t mean I have to use them. Life isn’t about doing the most in the time available, it is about enjoying the process. I am not a machine. I refuse to confine my creativity within bounds of commercial productivity and speed.  I like slow.

*mostly my lack of patience occurs when people make statements about my personality or lifestyle based on the needle in my hand. I am actually a pretty patient person. Maybe that’s because I love slow sewing.