One of the things I have missed during the pandemic is getting together with others in the same room and sharing textile techniques, ideas, seeing samples and threads, textile treasures and books. In 2022 I’m starting to run a lot more online textile workshops but I wanted to also do something more modest and accessible alongside. I wanted a space where I could share my love of textile techniques in a smaller way. From late January I will host a Textile Study Space on Patreon, a subscription site where I will gather and share fragments of textile. There will be mini tutorials, technique ideas, historical examples, pieces from my work, sketchbooks, samples and also from my historical museum of old and usually damaged textiles collection .
I want this space to be low-key and unpressured, somewhere you can explore textiles at your own pace, pick the things that interest you and explore. There’s no fixed outcome, you don’t have to make anything, it’s just there to inspire. There will be very low minimum price per month of subscription but if you find it valuable and can afford a bit more, the amount you pay will be flexible. I hope that will be nice and democratic, allowing textile enthusiasts who love what I do to be part of my creative world without the cost and commitment of other online programmes.
To find out when Textile Study Space opens, sign up to my mailing list here and I’ll let you know. I hope you will join me, I can’t wait to share some of the textile treasures in my studio.
In my Maker Membership group, sketchbooks come up a lot. Some love them, some are terrified by them and some are just not sure. I thought I would write about my own use of sketchbooks or project books as I prefer to call them. Using books to collect ideas, information, images, notes and samples is something I’ve come to later in my practice but I am so grateful for it now. I love making books about the work I am developing and find them enjoyable and inspiring to make and endlessly useful and fascinating to revisit.
I don’t like the term sketchbooks as it implies drawing and like many textile makers, drawing is not part of my process. I sometimes do annotated simple drawings but I don’t sketch. I struggled through my A-Level art aged 18 with some additional drawing tuition and have done very little representational drawing since. It’s just not a process I enjoy. I love mark making and creating patterns with pens, pencils and crayons and created a book of patchwork-inspired designs for colouring a few years back.
My ‘sketchbooks’ are usually created for a specific project. The first one I properly worked on was for a commission called Metamorphosis . The people who commissioned the work were keen to show sketchbooks as well so it was a good exercise for me in creating something I was happy to share.
I didn’t fill the small sketchbook for this project so it became a more general studio book instead. Studio books are where I keep samples, ideas, notes, fragments and other inspiring things that are otherwise loose in my head or in my studio. I go through phases of keeping these but I never regret it.
Since that project / studio book, I have created many others. I usually have a very general studio book on the go which has measurements, calculations, lists, sums, designs and working notes for whatever I am working on at the time. I don’t have one at the moment, it has tended to be when I am doing a lot of design work and exhibition planning and that’s not what I am doing these days.
What I have kept up is the project books. For the Leicester University genetics residency in 2017, I used an A3 book which gave me space for lots of drawing, notes, images and mind maps.
For the first part of Criminal Quilts, I had notes and sketches and ideas in a lot of different notebooks and studio books and really regretting not keeping it all in one place. When I started the 2017-18 Criminal Quilts residency, I knew I needed to keep a project book which I would share as part of the project. It has been to many workshops, talks, events and open days. Although I started making it as a public resource, it is also my working sketchbook or planning book. I have notes of pieces that I have since made or since abandoned, and things that are parked for the future. It has a lot of notes, lists, scribbles, mind-maps and drawings as well as the collected materials of inspiration. It helped me to have all this in one place while I was doing the residency as so little of the project happened in my studio. I was able to carry it all around with me. Having said that, the huge heavy hardback book I chose, whilst being perfect for display, was a pain to carry around on the train / on foot! I used a wheelie suitcase a lot for that project as my sketchbook was too big for a rucksack.
For the Libraries Live commission in 2019 I made a quilted book and a series of activity kits for library visitors. Throughout the residency I kept a decorative sketchbook intended as a record of my workshops and to inspire workshop participants. I decided to include the sketchbook as part of my commission as I felt it belonged with the other elements. As this was a commission, it was very different to my own work and has quite an unique identity. These photos are professional shots taken for the project and a nice record of the work for me to look back on.
My current studio books and project books are quite experimental including collage and print work and some gathering of inspirational materials. Before I packed away my studio to move over the summer I started working on a book of things that were lying around but worked well together. Postcards, samples, fragments, old paper and cloth, images and notes. This is not about a specific project but a process for me of making use and sense of the inspirational things I have around which might otherwise be on the walls or getting in the way in my studio. I refer back to this a lot – I simply enjoy looking at it and letting my ideas flow.
I have also got one which is purely for experimental collage and print work which I have just re-found after moving.
For my textile projects I have two ongoing project books, one about quilts which I started when I did my Fragments exhibition in 2017 and another which I don’t have a name for which is about my long-term research about damage and decay.
Writing this has made me think more about sharing some of my sketchbooks in a digital form which may or may not happen, but either way it has made me excited about getting back to my project books and adding more to them. Do you use sketchbooks or research books to gather your thoughts and inspiration? I’d love to hear about them.
There’s more about creating and using project books within my Maker Membership site. Membership is open now for anyone who makes and wants to build more depth and meaning to their craft practice, connect with a like-minded community and work with me. It costs £25 a month and you can join for as long as you need to. Find out more here or use the button below to join.
Do you have a collection of tiny, precious fabric scraps just waiting to find the right project? I created this technique to use up some of the very tiniest pieces of hand-dyed or antique fabrics. It is inspired by Victorian crazy patchwork but it’s much less busy. I use this technique to create fabric from scraps and use in small projects or as backgrounds to other stitch work.
This online workshop is on Saturday 27th November – online video lessons are available from 10am GMT with the live Zoom session at 4pm GMT. It costs £75. You will have access to the workshop for 2 months.
Sample snippets from the workshop videos
The workshop is the first of a new series of (almost) monthly series of textile and technique courses and workshops which will get going properly in January 2022.
Four pre-recorded videos: Welcome. Techniques. Stitches. Examples I have made and from my antique collections.
There are also some freebies including links to museum examples, a colouring sheet / template and some audio to listen to while stitching.
The live session will be recorded and shared so anyone who missed the live can catch up later. You will need access to Zoom to take part in the live session. All the videos and other resources will be accessible via Podia, the teaching platform I use. It is very easy to use, I promise! You will create a login when you book the course and you will get an email when the course opens and you can start. I’ll be around to answer any questions. You can join the course any time including on the day. Sign ups will close at 3pm to ensure everyone can join the live at 4pm. The live session is a chance to ask me any questions, meet other stitchers and share your work in progress. It will last about an hour depending on numbers attending.
This summer I marked (but not really celebrated) 15 years of running my own creative business. I was hoping to bring out a new book this year covering what I’ve done in those years but this year has of course not gone remotely according to plan! I should have it ready next year. In the meantime, every month, I share a 10 page PDF letter / mini magazine with my Patreon supporters which covers a lot of the same behind-the-scenes studio insider stories as the book eventually will. The September issue is a focus on those 15 years of working as an artist /maker. I love writing my Patreon letters and twice-monthly blog posts as I selfishly get to focus on my own practice and share behind the scenes in my studio (and often my office) life. If you would like to delve more into my life and practice, Patreon is the place to do it. Over the last 6 months I’ve written about creative collaborations, fabric manipulation, my 2019 solo exhibition work, self-publishing, work in progress, behind the scenes at a photo shoot and much more. Every subscriber gets a discount for my online shop too and over the summer I gave away tickets to my online Criminal Quilts talk. All the previous content is free for new subscribers too, so there’s masses to explore which should keep you going until my new book is finally ready!
My artist statement says that I prefer to use old cloth in my work, enjoying the history embedded within the textile, and I have tried throughout my 15 years of practice to use sustainable textile techniques. It isn’t the whole story as I do also use digital print on new fabrics for specific projects. I wrote a book in 2007 about sustainable textiles and home sewing. It wasn’t that long ago, but things have moved on so fast that I didn’t even cover digital printing as an option for craft stitching, as it wasn’t commercially available on a small scale then. Since then I have used commercial digital print services for school projects, commissions and in Criminal Quilts. Commercial digital print is now available in small quantities on sustainable fabrics and for Criminal Quilts I used fine wool to make the shawl below and for the library commission I used organic cotton. It is a great way to use designs created by participants in workshops and projects, even if their work is on paper not textile. I also used digital print for the Harefield Hospital Centenary Quilt, working with groups to select and print their own images of the building as well as scans of archive documents and photos.
On a much smaller scale, I have also used home printed textiles for smaller pieces including in Criminal Quilts. These small pieces of fabric are printed on my ordinary inkjet printer which works just fine for small projects. I have used ready-prepared fabrics bought online for workshops but for my own work I prefer to use fabrics from my own stash including organic cotton, silk organza and vintage linen. I used to teach workshops on printing textile on a home printer which was exciting but chaotic as one printer between 12 people is not ideal! I’ve now condensed the information into a PDF which is available in my online shop for £5. This also includes a section on creating scanner collages which you can print on textile or paper which is a really fun at home activity if you have a scanner / combined printer / copier.
This is a shortened version of a longer blog post about my use of digital prints which is available to my Patreon Cotton level subscribers for $5 a month. Cotton supporters get 2 blog posts every month while Wool supporters at $10 a month get a digital monthly mini magazine and 5% discount on anything from my online shop. Silk supporters get all the treats as well as a mini print posted directly to you every month, and 10% off shop purchases.
I’ll be opening my studio on Saturday 25th April (12-4pm) as part of the local St George’s day festival.
This is the first time I’ve opened the studio since I’ve changed it from being a teaching space to being my own personal work space where I run occasional creative textiles workshops too.
I’ll be in the studio working on pieces for my exhibition and other projects, and you will be able to see work in progress, textile artworks for sale and find out more about forthcoming exhibitions, workshops and much more. You can also contribute your textile memories for my exhibition.
I share the studio with fine artist Gillian Adair McFarland and you will also be able to meet her and find out more about her amazing work (recently nominated for the Richard Attenborough Prize at Leicester Open exhibition!).
Our studio is open on 15th & 16th November. We’ll have lots of books, haberdashery, kits, gifts and craft goodies for sale. There will also be mince pies, mulled wine and the chance to nosey around lots of other studios in the building.
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 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.
I’d like to introduce the Ruth Singer Studio teaching team (and their cats) to you all. Heather French and Erica Pickles teach classes and 1:1 tuition at the studio alongside me and help me keep inspired and excited about what we offer to students.
Dressmaking and pattern cutting tutor, Erica Pickles, is a professional costume maker, working freelance for a wide range of clients under the name Sewed Souls. She specialises in historical costume, performance wear and cosplay, and has made everything from Victorian gowns to super hero costumes! She also undertakes the dressmaking jobs that come in to the studio, currently including an alien gown and Polish folk dress for a wedding. Erica and I worked out that we have 44 years of dressmaking experience between us!
She also runs activities for schools at Beaumanor Hall, and somehow also manages to work in a pub as well, so she’s used to dealing with all ages and all kinds of chaos! She loves teaching the dressmaking classes for the studio and finally has some teacher’s gold stars to award to students when they remember to pin properly and set in a sleeve perfectly.
Erica is from Yorkshire and came to Leicester to study Design Crafts at De Montfort University. I first met her as a graduate, volunteering on a schools arts project I ran in North West Leicestershire, and I soon took her on as assistant tutor as she’s so good working with kids (and adults!).
Somehow Erica manages to find time to travel to Finland regularly and is learning the language. She’s also keen on video games, real ale, cheese and grows superb chillies on her windowsill.
Heather French shares my workshop space and helps the studio run smoothly. She teaches the complete beginners classes, purse and bag workshops and new print and sew courses. Heather originally trained in graphic design and she is responsible for the gorgeous studio leaflets (using the original brand design by Sophie Hardwicke). She also helps out with marketing and promoting the studio at events and fairs.
Heather runs her own business Heatherjean, specialising in hand printed textiles. Her colourful, geometric prints can be seen in the studio, and on purses, bags and cushions for sale in her online shop. Heather has only been printing a few months but already has local stockists and has been selected for membership of Design Factory. She will be attending her first design fairs this year with the screen printed designs. I’ve been mentoring Heather for the last year or so and it is a delight to see her business taking off.
Heather is taking Erica’s pattern cutting course and learning how to create her own garments from scratch, made up in her favourite vintage floral fabrics. She’s also working on decorating her house, mostly with vintage florals – or at least she would if her boyfriend let her! She’s also taken up gardening and is growing her first crop of vegetables this summer. In common with all of us, Heather is a cat-lover and is the owner of the gorgeous, giant, white 3-legged Hank.
Ruth Singer. I grew up wanting to be a fashion designer. My obsession with clothing was a bit of a surprise to my parents but they encouraged me to make and create all kinds of things, and fed my passion with trips to the late-lamented costume museums in Leicester and Nottingham, where I would spend hours with my nose pressed to the glass staring at 18th century gowns. I haven’t changed much. Rather than study fashion or textiles, I actually went to Manchester University and studied Medieval History and then to Leicester University for a MA in Museum Studies. I worked in museums for a good while but had little to do with textiles; I worked at London Transport Museum for 3 years and became very knowledgeable about trams! My last salaried job was at the V&A, which was, and still is, my spiritual home. I was responsible for adult learning, running courses, artist residences, workshops and craft demonstrations, as well as a lot of textile history lecturing. Working there inspired me to get out from behind the desk and make things for a living, which I have now been doing for 9 years.
I write books about sewing, teach textile history, mentor makers, teach freelance for arts organisations, occasionally manage museums projects and lots more, alongside the studio. I am also an active textile artist, exhibiting in galleries and undertaking commissions and have won awards for my work. I’ve recently been promoted to Fellow of Design Factory too.
My home life is run by Maya, a gorgeous tabby cat who is nearly as fat as Heather’s Hank. I have a somewhat run-down Victorian house and am slowly renovating it into a glorious little museum of my own, full of fabric and my endless collections of interesting old things.
Slow Stitch has finished for 2014, more dates for 2015 will be announced soon.
Slow Stitch events are for anyone who loves hand stitching: embroidery, cross stitch, needlepoint and tapestry. These are social events; bring along your stitching and meet like-minded thread-obsessives to share ideas, inspiration and textile chat. You can also browse my huge collection of embroidery books and there will also be a sales / swaps table – bring your excess stash of threads, books, fabrics or tools to swap or sell. Please note this is not a taught workshop, so bring your own project to work on. £5 per event including tea & biscuits. Pay on the day, no need to book.