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.
Commissioned artworks in response to a family textile collection
This project has been one of my slowest ever, but it’s finally coming together. Months ago I was commissioned to make a new piece of work inspired by a family collection of textiles and clothing. It’s been tricky all along because the client wanted the textiles back intact so I couldn’t cut and stitch the cloth into something new so that limited my options. Intriguingly, the client also doesn’t want an artwork back so I suggested creating works which could be scanned / photographed so she can have a digital version. In many ways an open brief is harder to work with than a very tight brief. Too many options can be quite overwhelming so I struggled for a while to work out what to make. But it’s up and running now and nearing completion and I’m very happy with what I’ve done.
I decided to make a series of small pieces presented like museum prints or drawings in an acid-free box. The client has worked in archives for many years so the connection made immediate sense. I’ve used print, drawing and photography techniques to create an archive of the collection without using any of the textiles in an irreversible way. As time has passed, the client is actually happy for me to use the textiles as I wish but I’ve gone down the route of preserving them so although I’ve done a little stitch work with some smaller textile pieces, no scissors have been involved and everything I have done is reversible, like in textile conservation – a regular source of inspiration to me.
Until I decided to stitch a few of the textiles, this project was more like a museum project – creating work inspired by but not using this collection and that’s been enjoyable and challenging for me. I’ve never done anything like this before, using a personal / family collection of treasures and stories which have huge importance as a group. I think find it particularly fascinating as I don’t actually have a family textile collection of my own. The museum / archive / stories aspect of this project has given me a lot to think about and a lot of reflection on my own future work in collaboration with museums, and maybe with other family collections.
This project forms part of my research and development for my new long-term creative work around evidence and absence, looking at histories and objects, movement and loss. I’m hoping to show the finished work in an exhibition next year. All along, I’ve been sharing the development of this work with my Maker Membership group over the last year or so, as an example of how I go from idea to finished work. This project has been particularly relevant to our earlier theme of Objects where I shared my experience of working in museums early in my career and now working with museums (and old things) as my inspiration. These resources are still accessible for all members of the group too. Find out more about membership here.
What family archives / textiles collections do you have? Do they inspire your creative work? Or don’t know where to start? I’m open to similar commissions with other family collections of textiles and clothing, it’s been so much fun to explore new ideas.
Would you like to stitch part of a collaborative artwork for my Criminal Quilts project? Throughout the years I’ve research women in Stafford Prison, I’ve noticed the words used to label women. The nature of the prison documents means the words are quite judgemental and absolute.
With this project I want to reflect on the words used to describe and label women then and now. The artwork will be made of stitched words, both positive and negative, created by women participants through community workshops and women working on them at home. Being part of a collective project about women’s lives and the perception of women is really powerful. I’d love to hear your voice in this work. Find out more and how to contribute your stitched words on my website here.
I’ll be running free drop-in sessions at Llantarnam Grange on International’s Women’s Day 8th March, stitching words for the artwork. You can book yourself a space here.
My Criminal Quilts exhibition has been touring since 2018 and after some pandemic cancellations and rescheduling, the last hurrah is coming up in February 2022. The exhibition will be on show at Llantarnam Grange 5th February – 2nd April.
I will be hosting an an online preview event accessible to all on Friday 4th February time TBC.
The exhibition will include lots of new work made in the last couple of years which you can see here as well as other pieces still in progress plus new collaborative community work.
There will be events in the gallery and online during the spring including a collaborative project inviting contributions from around the world.
After the exhibition, I’m creating an online live gathering event with other artists to share stories about making craft with powerful social and historical narratives. If you are interested in sharing your work at this event please contact me.
Maker Membership with Ruth Singer, for textile makers who want to be inspired, creative, imaginative and make work with meaning.
When I was starting out as a textile maker, I really struggled with the reality of making a consistent body of work. I made all sorts of things in all kinds of designs, textures, patterns, colours and materials. I just wanted to make what I wanted to make. I don’t have a textile degree or any formal education as an artist / maker and really hadn’t had to create a consistent style for myself. As things progressed I became more and more aware of this being a problem and that it was holding me back from making an impact with my work. Fabric manipulation became my trademark and that helped me refine my style quite a lot. I used one technique on each piece of work and mostly used the same fabric throughout which really simplified and toned down all my colourful and textural excesses. I also fixed on making pieces on frames / panels which again slowed down my need to make clothes, bags, cushions and ALL THE THINGS.
Even while making this work I had other creative outlets including designing for books and magazines, so I did get to use some of the extra ideas without confusing my actual exhibition work too much. I never really got the hang of a consistent colour palette though, using the excuse that I worked with recycled fabrics and had to use what I could get rather than buying within a colour range. It was a slow development from this kind of work to what I do now but there were two projects which really forced me (in a good way) to change the style of my work for good.
These pieces, Monumental Folly, were pivotal in changing the way I worked. I chose to work with fabric manipulation techniques but add in a few other materials and processes and work with a very subtle palette. Above all though, these pieces had a narrative and meaning for me and that was what really worked. It then took me years to show these to anyone and exhibit them as I struggled to know if they were good. I was lucky to get some amazing feedback from the brilliant Emma Daker (Craftspace) who encouraged me to show them and later awarded me a prize for this work. That really helped me press on with the idea of making narrative work with limited colour palettes and with a strong underlying thread of history, building on my previous career in museums.
Around the same time I also started on the first Criminal Quilts pieces, directly as a result of making the Monumental Folly pieces. It was a huge creative challenge to create work from a criminal justice building rather than purely textile inspiration but it was a steep learning curve that has set up my career for the last 10+ years and helped me find exactly the right niche in textile art where I belong.
This process of creative challenge, revision, limitation and experimentation has helped me find my unique creative voice and allowed me to be consistent and considered in my ongoing work. I diverge and do slightly different things, bring in new techniques and sometimes colour palettes, but I feel now that I have a recognisable style and theme which brings all my work together.
Maker Membership is my online programme which I hope will take makers (and aspiring makers) towards finding this special place themselves. Creating work which is meaningful, consistent and imaginative.
What is Maker Membership?
It’s about tapping into your own interests, researching, thinking, considering, editing, testing and rejecting lots of ideas until the right one filters out. My approach to teaching in Maker Membership is about growing your confidence in exploring and refining your ideas. It’s about seeding those ideas with research prompts and exercises in exploration and investigation and then refining your thoughts to filter out all the excess to get to the thing that’s important.
This programme is not about learning to make what I make, it’s about learning to think like I do and applying textile skills that make sense with the meaning of your work.
What will it be like?
Each month I will create resources (audio, video, written – it will vary) around a theme which fits into a quarterly over-arching topic. Members can then develop their own ideas, sketchbooks (if they want), samples and research in a way that works for them. There’s no testing, no right or wrong and no fixed outcome that you have to produce. Everything is digital so you can join from anywhere in the world. There will be a monthly live ‘thing’, probably on Zoom but I will tweak that as we get going and adapt to what suits the members best. You can fit it in around your commitments and make it part of your daily /regular studio practice. The membership runs through the established teaching platform Podia and you will get emails with all the content. You can find out more here.
Are you ready to learn and grow with me?
Membership is £25 per month and you can stay as long as you need.
I’m currently selling some of my archive pieces of my older work: manipulated textile wall panels and hoops, as well as newer embroideries and other pieces. The question I am always asked about is how to keep them clean and safe. I’ve had many of these on my studio walls for years with no damage so I thought I’d explain the principles I follow to keep them in good condition. My first career was working in museums and I specialised in textile curatorial work so I’ve learned a lot about this area.
Light. UV light is the greatest risk to textiles in your home. If you’ve got old curtains that have shredded where the sun hits them then you know the problem. UV light weakens fibres and dyes so to keep your textiles in the best condition you need to protect them from direct light. Either hang them on a wall which doesn’t get any sun or keep blinds closed on sunny days. The only other solution is to install UV filters on your windows.
Dust. Dust in itself isn’t too much of a problem, it’s only a disaster if it’s damp or greasy. So don’t hang textiles in the kitchen unless you can wash them. Textured textiles like mine do gather dust but it’s easy to remove. You have probably seen videos of National Trust conservators gently vacuuming tapestries on walls once a year before covering up for the closed season. The same applies to my work. I take the piece off the wall, go outside with it and bang on the back to dislodge most of the dust. A soft dusting brush can also be useful, again outside is best. I use a goat hair brush from Objects of Use. Make sure it isn’t too stuff and scratchy as that might damage fibres.
Vacuum. You will need a soft brush attachment as shown. I keep one for textiles only and a separate one for cleaning the house. Check for any loose threads on the piece before you vacuum. The top edge is usually the worst spot for dust so start there and work your way down. If there are loose threads or things that may get pulled off by the vacuum, cover the nozzle with fine cloth or netting, so the dust goes up the nozzle but the threads, beads etc can’t. Have a look at the National Trust recommendations here.
Damp. Hanging textiles on a damp or cold outside wall can be risky as mould can develop and there’s nothing you can do about this once it’s stained the fabric.
Moth. Silk and wool can be susceptible to moth attack. It’s wise to be vigilant about keeping your home moth-free if possible. Vacuuming and banging off the dust will also remove some moth eggs. If your textile clearly has moths, find a friend with a large chest freezer, wrap the textile in plastic bags and freeze for a couple of weeks. Let it warm up out of the plastic bag and air thoroughly. Then shake and/or vacuum. That should solve the current residents but avoidance is best.
Spills and dirt. The best way to avoid this is to hang your textile away from food and drink areas and keep them high up. Don’t hang anything fragile where people or furniture movements or doors rub against it or where pets can get near (my new cat thinks a fabric panel is great for scratching!). Wet spills are pretty serious for textiles that can’t be washed. But if the worst happens, contact me and I may be able to rescue it by taking the piece off it’s internal frame and washing or covering the damage.
Rips and tears. Some of the techniques I used can be vulnerable to knocks and curious little fingers which can pull stitches out. Contact me for repair advice – most things can be fixed by you or I will take back for repair.
That should keep your precious textile pieces going for many, many years. Do you feel more confident about rehoming one of these textile beauties? Find them in my shop and make them yours right now!
Success! You're on the list.
Whoops! There was an error and we couldn't process your subscription. Please reload the page and try again.
Today is the launch of Beyond the Festival of Quilts – and online version of the huge event which would normally take place this weekend. I have been part of it every year, one way or another for the last decade or more. I launched my Criminal Quilts book and exhibition there in 2018 and won the Fine Art Quilt Masters competition in 2016, and I have taught so many workshops there that I have lost count. This year I have created an online exhibition featuring some of my pieces from my 2019 solo exhibition Textile Traces. I’ve recorded a talk about the work available alongside the images.
I am hosting a new three-day course at the lovely West Dean College, this June, one of only three workshops I am running this year.
This art textiles course aims to be a relaxed and enjoyable adventure into creative textiles following the studio practice of textile artist Ruth Singer. Over the course of three days you will explore a range of slow, thoughtful textile practices to create cloth with meaning.
The course begins with an exploration of antique and personal textiles, the stories they hold and how you can use them to tell personal narratives. You will experiment with simple, effective hand stitch to add pattern and text onto fabric, as well as fabric manipulation techniques such as reverse appliqué, shadow work and trapunto quilting to add texture and structure. Also experiment with using found objects, scraps, natural materials and vintage haberdashery. You can choose to create samples during the course or keep working on a piece to make a finished artwork, such as an heirloom pin cushion. 8th – 11th June. Book here. £383.00 for the course, plus accommodation.
In recent months I have completed a couple of commissions.
The large panel is worked onto blue linen with scraps of antique fabrics including 18th century tapestry, 19th century embroidery and 17th century brocade. I’ve added lots of hand embroidery details and several found objects embellished with hand stitch and silk threads. The objects include medieval metal detector finds including belt ends and buckles. I love these little details and the historical stories in the textiles, all of which are meaningful to the customers.
Another commission made last year.
This piece is more focussed around textiles and sewing, with thread winders, tape measure, thimble and some of the customers’ own handmade buttons and reflects their love of colour! This one is mounted on cream wool felt.
Commissions like these cost £350-£500 depending on size, complexity and materials (plus framing, I use bespoke, solid wood frames without glass). Smaller pieces are also an option with just one or two elements.