One of the starting points of my Blossom & Thorn project about hedges along the National Forest Way has been my work on paths. This piece, on a wall boundary, represents a path, a walk, an escape route, a boundary. My work crosses over lots of elements of personal and landscape history at the moment and the stories intermingle, grow together like hedge branches and twining honeysuckle and rose.
During the development of the Blossom & Thorn project concept I chose to bring together my interest in paths and walking routes with this project about hedges. At one point I was thinking about hedges across the whole National Forest area which is 200 square miles and was far too big for a 6 month project! I realised the National Forest Way, a 75 mile long distance footpath winding across the National Forest, starting a couple of miles from my house, was the perfect container for this idea.
During this month volunteer hedge spotters are walking parts of the National Forest Way and using my hedge spotters guide to look closely and think about the hedges they find on their walks. The process of looking at hedges on a walk makes you slow down and consider your surroundings. I hope it is helping people learn new things and see their familiar landscape in new ways. By slow looking and thinking we can engage in depth with something new. By walking along footpaths we take our time and we also walk in the footsteps of thousands before us who would have known these hedges too.
This week is National Hedgerows Week and I encourage you to go out and look at rural and urban hedges while they are at their best, full of greenery and blossom, before the thorns become more obvious again in the winter. If you are near enough the National Forest Way in Leicestershire, South Derbyshire or Staffordshire, please share you findings about the hedges you see along the National Forest Way and be part of my project mapping and recording the fascinating linear forests our landscape is crisscrossed by. Find out more about taking part here. Volunteers can win tickets to Timber Festival and join me on a walk exploring the old hedgerows of the festival site as well as much more!
This week is National Hedgerow Week, the perfect time to get out and explore some hedges near you. This project focuses on hedges alongside or near the National Forest Way long distance footpath but I encourage you to explore even if you are farther afield. If you are able to walk part of the National Forest Way, let me know about the hedges you find. There’s a hedge spotters guide here to download and I can post copies too. I’m collecting hedge stories until the end of May, then I’ll be focussing on making the artwork with the information I’ve gathered from volunteer hedge spotters.
The artwork will be made to fit a very old bit of hawthorn hedge I found on the Timber festival site when I visited in January to plan the project. It’s within woodland now so it’s hard to see that it was once a hedge. These lost hedges are fascinating to me, like traces of the landscape that has gone.
Left: Hedge as found in January. Middle: hedge in April Right: my rough drawing of how I will create the work and display it in the old hedge.
Timber is such a lovely festival, I’ve been a couple of times and really enjoyed it. This year will be completely different for me as I’ll be part of the festival not just a visitor, although I’ll be attending as much as I can as well as hanging out with my artwork and talking to people about it.
I was pleased to get a mention in this article about the Festival and can’t wait to be part of it. Anyone who volunteers to share their stories of hedgerows they have found along the National Forest Way can apply for free tickets to the festival which is a fantastic incentive I think! I’ll also be leading a free walk during the festival to look at ancient hedges around the festival site.
There’s still plenty of time to volunteer, walk and share your hedge stories by 31st May. Find out more here.
This project is funded by a National Forest Arts Grant
In winter and early spring they can be the most amazing sculptural forms which never cease to fascinate me.
In Spring they are bursting into leaf and blossom. Here in Leicestershire the Hawthorn or May blossom is just starting but there’s still some blackthorn left. I’ve also found some apple blossom recently too, as well as the verge plants like bluebells and hedge garlic coming through.
Different species of hedge trees come into leaf / flower at different times so in recent walks there have still been plenty of bare branches to enjoy as well as the fresh new leaves. Hedges will be completely different in a few weeks’ time so it can be really interesting to take a close look now and go back later and see what’s happening.
Look out for more posts about what I love about hedges, the inspiration I am exploring for this project and initial plans for the artwork I am creating.
For National Hedgerow Week (8-14 May), you might like to explore some of the National Forest Way in Leicestershire, Derbyshire & Staffordshire and share your hedge stories with me for my Blossom & Thorn project. I am collecting your findings about the hedges you find alongside the long-distance path to incorporate into an artwork which I will be sharing at Timber Festival in July.
With my hedge spotters guide you can walk and explore as little or as much as you like. Take your time to look at the trees and shrubs, search for signs of old hedge laying and see if you can spot hedges gone wild or hedges closely clipped and managed. Take the guide along with you and make notes to send to me. You can walk half a mile or 50 and send me one hedge report or lots using the online form here.
This project is supported by a National Forest Arts Grant.
Blossom & Thorn is a creative project looking at hedgerows in the National Forest in the English Midlands. You can take part in the project by joining a guided walk and / or walking parts of the National Forest Way with my hedge guide and sharing what you find.
You can find all the information on the main page for the project here.
Join the artist for a research walk on Saturday 29th April 10am-12pm at Newtown Linford, Leicestershire. This is approx 2 hours gentle walking mostly on footpaths with a couple of stiles and one road to cross. It will probably be muddy so please wear suitable footwear and waterproofs in case of rain. You can still volunteer if you can’t join this walk. Free! Book here.
Share your own walks
Walk in your own time on sections of the National Forest Way that are near you and send me your observations about the hedges you see. This is open until the end of May as I will need the data to make the artwork in June. You can walk as little or as much as you wish and send me one hedge report or 20. There’s a digital or printed booklet to help you explore hedges and you can send me your hedge stories online. Full details here. Volunteers can also get free tickets to Timber Festival where the artwork will be displayed, 7-9 July 2023.
I’ve had a rather hard winter so far, but a small beacon of joy has been the success of a project application to work with the National Forest on an arts project about hedges. I’ve been pretty obsessed with hedges for a long time but since moving to the edges of a town in 2021 and walking along hedgerows pretty much every day, they have started to creep into my creative consciousness, not just my environmental consciousness.
Blossom & Thorn, a hedgerow homage for the National Forest
An exploration of the extraordinary and humble hedgerows of the National Forest with artist Ruth Singer. Over the coming months, Ruth & a team of volunteers will be meeting with hedges along the National Forest Way and sharing their stories. From this gathering of hedge learning from old maps, from observation and emotional connection, Ruth will create an artwork to be shared within an ancient hedge.
This project gives me the opportunity to explore some of the hedges along the 75 miles of the National Forest Way, a long distance footpath starting about mile from my home and rambling across the National Forest in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire I will also be working with volunteers to walk sections of the Way and report back to me on any hedges they find, and their condition. I will collate all these hedge stories into an artwork which I hope to present at an event in the summer (tbc). If you would like to get involved please let me know using the contact form below.
I’ll be leading a guided walk on Saturday 29th April in Leicestershire and tickets for that will be available soon.
On 20th April I’m giving a talk for a symposium at De Montfort University, Leicester. The programme is full of fascinating talks and presentations about biographies through objects. My presentation description is below. The event is free and all are welcome.
Emotional Repair: personal stories in cloth and stitch
My artist practice is entirely tied up with my first career in museums. Since my Museum Studies MA 25 years ago, I have been intrigued by our reverence for objects and the power of objects both to fascinate us and to embody stories. This has become a fundamental part of my research-led textile practice, in which I often work with historic garments as source or material. My work stems from my museum training of exploring objects from different angles and my passion for textiles and the stories we create around them. My artistic practice is counterpoint to museum practice by considering irreparable textiles as valuable. My work with old cloth is a thoughtful and considered interpretation of conservation and preservation methodologies and practices.
In this paper I plan to present two bodies of work which come from the same core interest in how cloth holds life stories. Garment Ghosts is an ongoing body of work created from badly damaged and irreparable antique clothing, to which I give new life by remaking. I unpick clothing and textiles beyond repair and the fragmentary cloth is brought back to life through trapping the disintegrating garment between transparent layers, keeping the outline of the piece but also opening up seam allowances and pleats to take the fabric back to its original form.
Imprint is a commission to make a new piece of work inspired by a family textile collection, where I was asked to preserve the garments intact which presented me with an intriguing challenge of working with a textile collection without cutting anything. Unlike much of my work using garments divorced from their humans, I had a clear provenance and stories to go with these pieces. I created an archive box of small pieces telling stories of damage, use, fragility and human experience.
I was thinking yesterday, on a museum visit, of the power of personal stories in heritage and in art practice. I often use objects as my source material but the stories about real, named women are what has made Criminal Quilts so impactful. It’s been important to me all the way through this 12-year long project to emphasise that the women in the photographs were real, troubled women with multiple challenges in their lives, in a harsh system which tried to remove their individuality in prison. Their stories deserve to be told and remembered. My Criminal Quilts book has short case studies of 37 women and I have added extended biographies to my website since the book was written which you can find below.
Criminal Quilts is my first self-published book and it’s been a joy to share it across the world. It’s 80 pages full of prison photographs, the background to prison photography and details of the 500+ photos of women in the Stafford Prison archive. It also covers all the textiles I made up to 2018 and much more besides. It’s £16 available directly from me here.
I’ve been asked a thousand times how I got into this project and how I got from prison photographs to the quilts and other work I have made over the years. It’s almost impossible for me to define my long, slow working process, but I have been working on ways to share my research and development processes with others. My Maker Membership is designed to do this: helping other creatives who want to build in more research, meaning and connection into their practice. It’s an online group with resources and workbooks to help you define your practice and a friendly group to share and connect with. Members always tell me just how brilliant it is to find your people – others that understand what you are trying to do with your work and are properly interested in your ideas and want to support you to do your best work. I am really proud of this amazing space I’ve created and I want as many of you as possible to benefit from the support and development it offers. I have some free Find Out More events coming up soon but you can always find info here.
I’ve recently completed a small series of works for sale with the lovely Beyond Measure shop. I don’t make a lot of things for retail so these are pretty special.
The darning cards are £36.50 and you can find them here. This scissors start at £49 and you can find them here. Beyond Measure also stock the very last of my Patchwork Colouring Books.
The darned darning cards and embellished scissors ideas both started life in this exhibition piece I made in 2018.
I inherited my grandmother’s sewing box over 40 years after she died. I never knew her, yet we share a thread of textile inheritance. I spent several years pondering this box of embroidery threads, unfinished projects, tools and bits and pieces before I worked out what I wanted to make with them. I started by unravelling, tidying and sorting her threads and tools and then once I could see everything clearly, I decided to make small embellished pieces. I only used threads that were already started, short lengths and scraps and only used the tools and other things found in the same box.
Wrapping and embellishing scissors and functional things makes them even more precious and turns them into miniature works of art which resonate with stories and past lives. I collect old darning cards with wonderful old graphic design and scissors which have been used over decades and love to select threads and stitches which give new life to things which have languished in sewing boxes for years.
I’ve made a few commissions using these techniques too, details below and worked some boxes full of these kind of sewing tool treasures (I have one or two of these left, please get in touch if you would like to see images).
My new Find Your Focus course starts in January. It covers core values, a realistic review of your year, looking at what matters most and then working on how to build in more of the good stuff and less of the stuff that’s not taking you forwards. The course is delivered through 5 video lessons starting on 3rd January, fresh and ready for the new year.
What I learned from taking a week out to just be an artist again
It makes me laugh when I get comments saying how nice it must be just to stitch all day in my lovely studio. I think it would be nice too, but that isn’t quite the reality of making a living from my creative practice. I spend 90% of my working hours online and sometimes it feels like 90% of my entire life in front of the computer! Time spent actually making stuff with my hands is only a small part of what I do. But I’m not saying that to make you feel sorry for me. I chose this working life and on the whole it suits me. I love the work I do on the computer from 1:1 mentoring to writing resources for my Maker Membership to recording the Making Meaning podcast to writing blog posts like this. It’s all creative practice and it’s all stuff I love but I also love the artist studio bit too. It’s all too easy for that to get squeezed out by the challenges of making a living, delivering projects and running a complex multi-stranded business pretty much singlehandedly.
Moving house last year and settling into my new studio has proved to be an excellent decision. The new space is inspiring and I have access to country walks within minutes of my home which really helps me with thinking and reflecting on my creative work. I haven’t however, got into a good routine of using this space for making / studio work on a regular basis. I have only just over the last 6 months or so got back into making new work after lockdowns which sapped pretty much all of my creativity.
I’m winding up a lot of projects at the moment and looking forward to the autumn and winter of getting back to some things of my own that have been on pause for far too long – a book I planned in 2018 for a start – and finishing off several pieces and groups of work that have been waiting for me. To kickstart this I took myself on an artists retreat in early September and I’m going to share a bit more about that and why it worked so well for me.
A few years ago I started taking a few days in autumn or winter to reflect, focus on my practice and basically get away from the computer for few days. It seems like a real indulgence, spending money to go somewhere else to do what I could be doing in my own studio. And yes it is, in some ways, but also it is an acknowledgement that my artist practice doesn’t get the attention it deserves in an average week. Also I tell myself, I have a home studio so I am not paying rent for it every month, so I can save it up and go away for a few days of space to think and work.
This time I invited my long-time friend and collaborator Gillian McFarland to join me. We used to share a studio in Leicester but she now lives back in Scotland so we met in the middle, near Barnard Castle. We also co-mentor each other so have really got to explore our practice together in the last few months so this was a perfect time to reflect and get moving with some new things.
We walked and talked, gathered and drew. We did some printing and some natural dyeing and lots of reflecting on our own practices and where we were going. There was lots of reading and sharing ideas, and listening and suggesting.
I made a start on some ideas that have been brewing for years, stitched paths on fragments of cloth and printed paths on lino.
I also visited a lot of medieval sites, churches, abbeys, castles – returning to my roots as a medievalist! This has been a powerful reminder of just how much I want to revisit with the eyes of an artist rather than an academic history student.
I did two research visits to museum collections as well, looking at corded quilting which was absolute heaven! And spent some time just browsing for fun at the Bowes Museum. Museum browsing is probably my top choice for inspiration and idea-nurturing.
So what have I learned from this trip?
Creativity needs space to thrive. I can find that space at home in a normal busy week but allowing myself the space to expand into a bigger creative space was really useful
Time to think and reflect is fundamental.
Talking to someone about your practice helps you figure things out yourself
There’s always a lot of unknown with creative practice. You have to learn to be comfortable with not knowing if what you do will be good or useful or what you intended.
Experimenting and releasing some of the self-imposed restrictions on what you do can be joyful as well as scary
And I learned that the ideas that are bubbling away under the surface need to rise up and get the attention they deserve, whether or not they turn out to be good.
So that’s what I’m doing over the next few months. Allowing my creative practice some space. Pausing and ending some projects to allow the capacity for some others – my podcast is pausing over the autumn and will restart some time in the new year and my community projects are all coming to an end. I’m going to try spending one day a week properly focussing in my studio and not turning the computer on at all. I am going to take drawing and writing out on my walks and do a lot more visiting inspiring places and just see what happens.
If you would like some support and nurturing of your creative practice, wherever you are in your career, I would love to help. I really do love mentoring, being trusted to travel alongside a creative journey and help you figure things out. I would love to grow this side of my work and help more people so I have created some new mentoring package – 3 or 6 months of 1:1 support via monthly Zoom calls. You can find out more here. If 1:1 isn’t right for you at this time, you might like to look at my Maker Membership which is by far the most affordable way to work with me and get feedback on your creative practice, as well as be part of a supportive community. And finally, my Find Your Focus course runs in January – this is a development from my Gentle Goal Setting workshops / workbook which involves reflection, finding your own criteria for success and creating guiding light principles and activities which will take you forwards. Find out more here.