Alongside my own original creative work I occasionally get the pleasure of a repair job on an antique textile. I love being able to explore the insides, the seams, the reverse and the construction of the stitches. This is an ecclesiastical stole, still in active church use despite being about 100 years old.
The silk was shredded in the most vulnerable areas which I have covered in fine nylon tulle. Working from the back I repaired the damaged embroidery by tacking it down using matching threads. The back of the embroidery is joyfully colourful and messy and a glorious art work in its own right.
There’s so much to learn and to enjoy in close observation of skilled (and sometimes not-so-skilled) making. I started my working life aiming towards working with antique textiles in museum and had the pleasure of working with some really special textile and fashion collections before I diverted into other directions. Later, when I was no longer paid to work with textiles I spent my days off researching medieval textiles and still often yearn for those days of quiet study in museum store rooms. I make sure that in my own contemporary work I do get to work with museum collections and have my own small, growing museum of interesting textiles which inspire.
I’ve repaired some pieces of my own extensive antique textiles collection and plenty of vintage clothing and am happy to take commissions for interesting repairs.
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.
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.
This October, Leicester Footpaths group are running a Green Festival Of Making and Mending and I am helping with the sewing aspects.
During the Festival on 31st October 2015 I will be running a stall sharing ideas on how to do more complicated mends and revitalise your clothes and household textiles including replacing elastic and invisible zips, reinforcing weak fabric, added faced hems, fixing knits, mending delicate fabrics underwear and vintage clothes. I’ll also be able to help out with mending bags, rucksacks and other practical items. I will also be selling tools and materials for repair including lingerie elastic and darning wool as well as zips and buttons.
Mending volunteers required! Can you already darn / mend or would you like to learn and pass on the skills?
I’m looking for volunteers to be part of my mending circle at the festival. Please get in touch if you can help out for an hour or two on the day.
Just occasionally I get to do a bit of fun sewing. Not often enough. I had a bit of time off over Christmas & had a lovely few hours making a quilt from my friend’s baby, Tillie, who was born in early January.
The bugs fabric is by Paula Ozier, there’s quite a bit of Cloud 9 in there too, as well as some Liberty, Kaffe Fasset & Amy Butler, and some plain organic cottons and the yellow border fabric (and backing) fabric is an old curtain. The blue with black sprigs is a V&A heritage print.
It is quite unusual for me to use so many shop-bought fabrics but mostly they were scraps left over from other projects or samples I bought to find out what the quality was like. Or just because I loved the idea of fabric with bugs on it for a baby quilt.
I am pretty obsessed with irregular, improvised log cabin patchwork at the moment; I’ve got a massive quilt on the go but can’t work on it until I have moved into the new studio where I’ll have space to spread it out!
I’m sharing the love with a workshop on this very technique in April.
Log Cabin Patchwork Cushion
Sunday 28th April
Discover the delights of this traditional patchwork technique with a contemporary twist. You will learn how to create irregular, freestyle log cabin patchwork, incorporating beautiful vintage and upcycled fabrics, and make the finished piece into a cushion cover. This is patchwork for those that enjoy improvised designs, exciing colour combinations and hate fussy measuring and cutting.
£55 including materials
Intermediate (suitable for those who have used a sewing machine before)
My inexpert quilting efforts are very much inspired by the amazing Lucie Summers. I adore her colour combinations and designs. If you can get there, I strongly suggest you try and make a trip to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham in August. Inspiration, fabric and lovely people. What more could you ask? (oh, and I will be teaching there too!)
I’ve also just booked a teaching slot at Fat Quarterly Retreat too, so I hope I can learn a bit more while I am there!
I will be signing copies of my book Sew Eco at The Knitting & Stitching Show in London on Friday 12th October 10.30-11.30.
You will find me on the Bloomsbury Books stand M19 where I will also be demonstrating how to make these flower brooches from scrap leather.
I’ve been asked many times over the last year why there is has been such a growth in people wanting to learn to sew. I can’t tell you what everyone’s motivation is, but I know at first hand just how excited people are when they make something for the first time. The sense of satisfaction is huge.
It is like baking a difficult cake and getting to eat it EVERY DAY. You make something amazing then it lasts forever. You learn a skill that will grow with you and enable you to carry on making amazing things that you are enormously proud of and that you loved making.
You learn a skill for life that you can pass on.
You get to wear something totally unique like a skirt made from 1960s curtains.
Or an apron for your husband with skulls and roses on.
Or a gorgeous handbag. (This really was her first time sewing).
You might want to learn to sew to make your own curtains, to make fabulous cushions, to make your own clothes, to make quilts for new babies, to make lovely handbags, to make your own wedding dress. All these things, and more, are possible with a little bit of knowledge, some new-found confidence in using a sewing machine and a little bit of fabric (although I recommend a LOT of fabric).
My Learn To Sew workshops get you set up and ready to sew with confidence. The groups are small (no more than 6) so you get plenty of help and also have a nice social time with other equally-scared-but-excited new sewists while you share tea and biscuits. I use a variety of machines (old and older) and there is nothing scary about them at all – they won’t whizz away without you and unless you try very hard, you won’t break them. I will tell you all about the kind of fabrics you are best to start sewing with, so you won’t end up having any polyester-satin-related tears when you are sewing on your own. During the class you will learn how to prepare, measure and cut fabric properly so your sewing isn’t wonky and you will – I PROMISE – come out with a finished cushion cover at the end of the session. In just 2.5 hours you will learn how to sew and the world will be your oyster. Or fabric shop.
What you say:
“I recently attended an afternoon group course at the Ruth Singer Studio & came away with not only a gorgeous cushion cover, but much sought after new skills! Ruth is organised, friendly & clear and was on hand throughout the whole sewing process to ensure I fully understood what I was doing. I really enjoyed myself & would definitely attend another – today cushion covers, tomorrow the world!”
Learn to Sew workshops are suitable for anyone who has never sewn before or has used a sewing machine a little and wants more tuition. This class is also good for those who are very rusty but if you can already sew in a straight line, try one of my other classes such as dressmaking or bags. Anyone over 12 is welcome to come to my workshops. You don’t need to bring a sewing machine or anything else – you can buy fabric from me; either some cheap and cheerful upcycled curtains, or maybe organic cotton or a special vintage fabric.
Beginner workshops coming up at Ruth Singer Studio, Leicester are listed here.