Making Meaning Podcast Episode 17 Maker Membership

I truly believe that connection and community are vital to creativity. It’s hard to be making work on your own without conversations, feedback and inspiration from others. I created Maker Membership, my online community, during the pandemic to bring makers together to share, talk and be inspired. This podcast episode is based around one of our Membership Live group sessions with three long-standing members Alison Foster, Cheryl Hewitt and Lucie Bea Dutton discussing their work, development and the support they receive from Maker Membership.

Maker Membership is an online community for makers who want to build more meaning, research and connection into their creative practice. It’s a wonderful creative space that I am so proud of creating during the pandemic to enable connection and creativity to flourish. We have members from across the world, involved in all kinds of different making practice. As well as monthly resources, reflections and blog posts from me, I host a monthly group mentoring session for anyone who wants to talk about and get feedback on their work in progress. I’ve re-created one of those sessions for this podcast so you can share the fascinating stories and thinking about creative practice from our members.

You can hear more from members about their creative practice in Making Meaning Live Gathering in July, an online social event to talk about craft and narratives as well as from other professional makers and creatives, all for free. This episode has been supported by Nicola Thomas through my crowdfunder. Thank you Nicola!

The Members in this podcast are

Alison Foster: I am drawn to the past and inspired by how people used to live, the unspoken, forgotten & hidden, as well as literature, science and natural history. I am fascinated by historical clothing for the intimate connections to the wearer and the memory and stories that garments may hold – what they tell us about the past and how this links to the present and future. I greatly enjoy working with old textiles and papers and I’m developing my practice to include historical stitching techniques, cameraless photography and printing. I have no professional training in textiles but I love learning and connecting with other creative people who inspire me.

Cheryl Hewitt: I am a Herefordshire based hand stitcher, storyteller and maker of curious things. I happened upon my practice after being a stay at home mum and returned to my studies at Hereford College of Arts, where I achieved a Masters degree in Contemporary Crafts. My practice involves repurposing and responding to materials that have had a previous life, making and stitching new, sometimes playful stories with them. I often make dolls and 3D objects that communicate themes of childhood memories, absence, loss and repair. I like the idea that my objects have been rediscovered after being lost or forgotten and I like them to have an ancient or old feel to them. Another part to my creative practice is that I work at About Face puppet theatre company where the actors have learning difficulties, I work with the actors and director, I maintain and I am also learning to make puppets of different sizes. I am also the co-founder of Laughing Betsy, creative workshops run by myself and another artist within our local community.

Lucie Bea Dutton: I am a handstitcher – I have focused on quilting in the past but am also producing flatter embroidered work at present as part of my large Cromwell Trillogy project. This long-term project was inspired by Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy; I worked on a 46 feet long stitched and quilted interpretation of Wolf Hall during lockdown, and am currently working on The Mirror and the Light, which is rather more fluid in format.


Play here





Making Meaning Live Gathering

Craft telling stories

Let’s get together to talk about craft and narratives. Making Meaning Live is an online event full of creativity, connection, conversation and the stories behind what and why we make. 

It’s for artists and makers, teachers, curators, and collectors, anyone with an interest in craft and storytelling. I’ll be bringing together makers to talk about and share their work in a sociable online space. 

It’s not a standard online conference where you just sit and listen. It’s much more active. There will be different kinds of sessions including discussions, films and small groups to meet and talk to others. There will be things to do and take part in or you can just listen if you prefer. You can meet like-minded people and be part of fascinating conversations to spark your creativity and learn new things. And it’s free. Find out more here.


Maker Membership

My Maker Membership is now open for all makers wanting to explore their motivations and to build meaning and research into their practice and be part of a supportive creative community. We meet once a month and I share resources, tips and research to help you develop your own work. Find out more here.

I run Maker Membership through Podia which is an online school platform. If you are thinking of creating an online workshop website or similar online community through podia, please use my affiliate link below to sign up. Thank you ! https://www.podia.com/?via=ruth-singer

Woodgate Wellbeing

Creating art projects with and for communities is a huge part of my creative business. For years I’ve worked on projects to support creativity and wellbeing for those with limited access to the arts for various reasons. Recently I’ve been creating projects myself rather than just working for other people and one of those is the Woodgate Wellbeing project I’ve developed for the users of the foodbank I helped establish in 2020. I’ve brought together a group of local artists and practitioners to create activities and events that are creative, accessible and relaxing and which also link to the local area of the city. To make the activities as accessible as possible, I’ve put together this magazine with loads of activities and an accompanying materials box to go with it. Workshop activities start later this month too. I’m so excited about this getting this project launched and hopefully supporting people to have a bit more creativity and wellbeing in their lives. 

The cover of Woodgate Wellbeing magazine is one of my Foodbank Stories embroideries. I created this project concept in early 2021 and applied for two different funds through the foodbank. The second was successful (Places Called Home fund from The National Lottery & IKEA). I have created the concept, commissioned the content and designed the magazine and kits. I’ve been supported in this project by Mandeep Dhadialla. She is also delivering one of the workshops for the project. Mandeep is also associate artist with my Community Spirit project.

I’d love to keep this project going and replicate it elsewhere. If you are interested in supporting creativity and wellbeing for underserved communities in a similar way, please get in touch.

English Smocking

It’s been fascinating recently seeing smocking pop up in my Instagram feed. It feels like there’s been a flurry of new interest in this old technique recently.

Traditional English smocking has a very fine history from farming smocks of the mid-19th century to to Aesthetic Liberty gowns of the late 19th century as well as a revival in the 1970s.

I first experimented with traditional English smocking for my book Fabric Manipulation, and of course, being me, did quite a bit of research too. With most of my textile history research, my focus is on learning the technique, seeing historical examples and then experimenting to understand it myself. I love to then break the rules, try new approaches and see where the technique takes me. A few years ago I was involved in an academic research project to explore how smocking might be revived in contemporary practice, could it be mechanised, how could it be adapted to make it easier. It was fascinating.

I used smocked fabric to create these two experimental pieces in concrete during my collaboration with Bethany Walker which remain some of my favourite works we created. We went on to use the ideas from this to create Urban Growth with a group of young people.

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A short history of smocking

Smocking, like so many textile techniques, has a rather secretive history. From what I can find out, the technique of smocking is often confused with the garment called a smock. For centuries, women’s main undergarment was a nightdress-like linen smock, which could be decorated, were she wealthy enough, but often was not, and there’s not much evidence of this garment being decorated with actual smocking. There are a number of Tudor portraits which appear to show smocking on smocks necks and cuffs but it is impossible to say for sure if they really are made by smocking – which is a decorative stitching on top of previously pleated or gathered fabric.

This Spanish child’s smock, dating somewhere between 1700-1800 has what looks like proto-smocking; gathers overstitched with black thread for decorative effect. The garment most commonly called a smock nowadays used to be called a smock frock, which sort-of helps distinguish it. This practical, although decorated, garment developed during the 18th century as a protective, enveloping apron-like shirt worn by manual and agricultural workers to keep their clothes clean. It may well have developed from the voluminous, washable, linen undergarments that men and women continued to wear to keep their outer clothes clean from body odour and sweat.

Smock-frocks as we know them now, are made from rectangular pieces of cloth (no curves so no fabric waste) with gathering to create shape. Gathering pulls in the fabric which is then released below, to create an easy-to-wear and practical smock. Smocking itself allows the fabric to stretch a little which would also increase wearing comfort. In addition, smocking creates a thick, dense fabric full of small air pockets which act as insulation – a welcome benefit in outdoor work, as well as the protection of thicker layers.

As with many other practical garments, they could be embellished and embroidered. When smocks first began to have decorative stitching is unknown, but those that survive from the early 19th century can be stunning. Of course, the finest ones that were looked after are the ones that survive, and the every day ones, worn out and threadbare, would have been recycled rather than preserved, so we tend to see only the best examples.

By the end of the 19th century, the smock was out of favour – many agricultural workers having had to move to cities and work in factories, for which a flowing garment was impractical. Just as the farmers’ smock goes out of style, the technique of decorative smocking starts to come intostyle in fashionable circles.

The women of the aesthetic movement (closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites) took to wearing loose-fitting, ‘healthy’ garments which didn’t require the wearing of a corset. The style of flowing and comfortable garments were heavily-influenced by smocks, along with other styles of dress, and it was unsurprising that smocking was also used to create shaping and decorative effects. This velvet example at FIT is stunning.

Smocks were also popular for aesthetic children’s wear, judging by this Liberty of London child’s smock, a fancy silk version of the traditional rural garment. Patterns using the techniques appear in women’s magazines too, such as this smocked bag from a 19th century magazine.

Part-worked smocking on light wool fabric, mid-Twentieth century

In the early 20th century, smocking appears in women’s magazines and sewing manuals on garments, domestic textiles and children’s wear, such as this example from the Women’s Home Companion, 1916. The 1930s and 1940s were the heyday of patterns and innovative stitch development along with some stunning uses of the simplest honeycomb stitch pattern such as this velvet dress by Maggie Rouff. As with many crafts, smocking was revived in the 1970s when such delights as the smocked plunge-neckline swimming costume was created….alongside Victorian-esque party dresses for women and girls, made popular by Laura Ashley. It is also sometimes seen on folk or traditional costume from Europe. This 19th century Russian blouse makes beautiful use of shaped smocking on the cuff.

True smocking is hand stitched, and incredibly time-consuming to prepare. The reverse fabric is marked with regular dots (for which embroidery transfers were produced) or marked with a grid, then regular stitches are made right across the piece to create completely even rows of gathers. The decorative stitches are worked from the front side and can be as simple as honeycomb stitch (my personal favourite) or covered with complex and varied designs.

Faux smocking using shirring elastic came in during the smocking craze in the 1970s, and it is this much-faster technique that became most commonly used for women’s and girl’s dresses, including many of the Laura Ashley classics.

American or Canadian smocking is a different technique altogether. This type of smocking is all worked from the back, with the gathering and decorative pattern-making all rolled up into one. The earliest example of this technique that I have ever seen is on an 18th century French dress, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ruth Singer smocking

Sewing manuals of the 19th and 20th century don’t seem to include reverse / American smocking, so it may be that it was fairly unknown to the amateur sewer, and only occasionally used by the professional. It became very fashionable in the 1930s and 40s and had a renaissance in the 70s.  The most popular use of this technique was on cushions square, bolster and round cushions in synthetic velvet from the 60s and 70s.  There’s no shortage of brilliant patterns for products using American smocking, some of which I have gathered on my Smocking Pinterest board, along with other historic and contemporary forms of smocking.

As English smocking is such a time-consuming technique, it doesn’t seem to be used that much in clothing, but it does sometimes still appear in couture, like this Versace piece, which is glorious at odds with agricultural smocks! If you are intrigued by these gorgeous techniques, please have a look at my book Fabric Manipulation which explains the basic technique. Do join my mailing list to hear about any workshops or online classes in this technique, and also have a look at my Textile Study Space where I share textile technique snippets.

Words about Women co-creation artwork

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.

Gentle Goal Setting

The workbook for my Gentle Goal Setting process is now available for self study download.

I believe goals should be like guiding lights, reminding you what you want to do and how you want to be during the year. Gentle Goal Setting self-study workbook is 20 pages full of supportive thinking exercises to help you set meaningful goals. We look at reviewing the year, working out your own criteria for success and creating achievable, realistic and inspiring goals and keeping going with them through the year.

You can read more about my goal setting process in my blog here and here. The workbook download is £20. If you want more support you can add on an hour 1:1 online mentoring with a £10 discount too. Find that here.

You can find all my courses, membership and development programmes on my Podia teaching site here.

Criminal Quilts talks & workshops

I’ve got a short series of Criminal Quilts talks coming up in March. These are online live talks on Wednesday lunchtimes at 1pm, but they will all be recorded so you can watch later too. Each talk is £8 or you can book the series for £20. There’s also a discount for the Embroidered Images workshop when you book any of the talks or you can get a bigger discount if you book all talks and the workshop together. Book here.

Wednesday 2nd March Introduction to prison photographs and my research for this project

Wednesday 16th March. I’ll be talking about the textiles I have made in detail including the techniques and materials of my pieces

Wednesday 30th March. This talk is about my research into the clothing worn by the women in the photographs including prison uniform

Online workshops

I’ve got two workshops coming up in March and April.

In the Shadows teaches the technique I used to create my Fine Art Textiles Prize winning piece Criminal Quilts Hanging.

In the Shadows, reverse appliqué in sheer fabrics, 19th March. £75

Take applique and layering to the next level with this exciting technique of using transparent fabrics layered and cut away. Using sheer fabrics, you will learn how to prepare and hand stitch a design by hand and create the subtle shadow effects by removing layers of fabric. This is a one-day equivalent workshop with pre-recorded videos for you to watch from 10am GMT and a live Zoom at 4pm GMT to share with others.


Embroidered Images workshop includes a digital printed image of one of the prison photographs, ready for you to stitch into.

Criminal Quilts Embroidered Images 23rd April £80

The prisoner photographs from Stafford Prison are both moving and inspiring. In this workshop you will have the opportunity to stitch your own embroidered image using a digital print which will be sent to you in advance of the workshop (additional £8 postage for outside the UK) This includes: – 6 video lessons – Live Zoom introduction – Digital printed fabric posted to you – Colour palettes & stitch suggestions.

Criminal Quilts final exhibition 2022

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.

Introducing Textile Study Space

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.

Gentle Goal Setting Course for creatives

Reviewing the year and gentle planning for creative practice in 2022

It’s hard to see the wood for the trees at the moment. It’s hard to focus on keeping your creative practice thriving when the world is chaos. The last couple of years have been really rough for small businesses and creatives. I truly believe that it’s much easier when you can by find and focus on what matters to you and create goals that are gentle, manageable and nurturing to your creative spirit, whether you run a business or not.

Last year I shared my ways of gently reviewing the past year and making plans for this year. You can read my posts about my own goal setting here and here. I’m doing this again for 2022 and invite you to give yourself the space and time to reflect and plan with gentleness too.

My approach is built around self-compassion and taking your energy into account, not just focussing on finances and big leaps. Tiny steps are enough.

This winter’s Gentle Goal Setting comprises a self-study workbook full of supportive thinking exercises about celebrating your achievements (however small they may seem), looking at your values and what is most important to you. Through working through my exercises, you will be able to create create realistic and meaningful goals for the new year. It’s suitable for for artists / makers / writers / creative businesses / freelancers (and anyone aspiring to be one of those in 2022) who want to take a reflective look back over what you have learned and how you can grow and develop in a gentle and mindful way.

This is Kate’s feedback from last year’s Gentle Goal Setting

I have worked for myself for over twenty years and have been stuck in the trap of setting myself ridiculous goals, having unrealistic expectations of what I can achieve  “when I set my mind to it” and being hard on myself when I don’t tick everything off my list or have unproductive days. Working with Ruth on the Gentle Goals Setting course has really helped me to look at what I’m doing from the point of view of an observer, accept and celebrate how much I actually achieve and realise that setting more realistic goals and factoring in time for longer breaks, more time off and room for days when I just don’t feel like working has actually made me more productive and happier. I now have the workbook and tools to help me re-assess in the future when I am feeling unbalanced and make changes that will nurture me as a creative person and feel happier and healthier with space for things other than work. I can highly recommend it.

Kate Unwin, The Moon and The Furrow, 2021 Gentle Goals Participant

I’m revising Gentle Goal Setting for this year, with new exercises and adaptations following feedback from last years participants. Firstly I am running this in January instead of December so you can get this year out of the way first! The workbook is now suitable for anyone who wants to set goals for their creative practice / business and / or life, not just those running a business. There’s a live session at 5pm GMT Monday 10th January for two hours and a repeat on Monday 17th January at 12pm. These sessions will be recorded so you can catch up afterwards. There will also be a community chat space for you to share with other participants about your own gentle goals work.

The course is open for the whole of January too if you prefer self-study without taking part in the live session. If there’s interest from participants, we will also book in a follow up later in the year to see how we are all getting on with our own goals.

I’m also adding in ongoing 1:1 email support from me during set hours throughout January.

I will guide you through my review process in a live online workshop, then give you a workbook for quiet, slow reflection on your own creative journey. This will take you from reviewing the year to working out some goals about how you want to feel about your business / practice. 

Making Meaning Podcast Episode Eleven – Reflections with Ruth Singer

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.

I’m an artist & maker exploring personal and collective narratives through textiles. I create for exhibitions, commissions and projects. I also write books, support other creatives through mentoring and consultancy / research work and I love generating my own projects, artist residencies and making things happen. 

All of my work, across all of these different aspects is centred around making with meaning. I am fascinated by the hidden stories in all our lives and in historic objects and places. My work grows from research and contemplation and from collaborating with others.

This end of series episode of Making Meaning is just me. I wanted to reflect on the series, to share my thoughts and feelings about the amazing conversations I’ve had. I also wanted to add a bit more context about my own work and share more about myself and some of the projects I have worked on in the past, present and future. The themes that come up again and again in this series are about connection and collaboration, about the creative impulse and the value of our ideas, about research, about materials and making and about change, movement and belonging. I also introduce some ideas for the new series of Making Meaning, including a live event and longer, even more in-depth conversations.

And of course, there’s more of me asking for you to support the podcast with a contribution towards my crowdfunder to cover the costs of the new series and make it even better.


Play here


Recent work


Support the podcast

My Making Meaning podcast of conversations with creatives is coming to the end of 2021 series. I want to make the new 2022 series of Making Meaning even better. If you have enjoyed these episodes, please consider making a donation to my crowdfunder campaign before it closes on Monday 13th December at midday GMT.

So many of you have loved listening to Making Meaning over the last 6 months. It’s been a wonderful project for me too. I planned and recorded most of it while we were still in lockdown as a way of connecting with others and now being able to share these rich and inspiring conversations is a joy.

The podcast has really resonated with you, enabling you to learn more about your own making or creative work and to understand how artists think and work. It’s made connections across creative work and within and outside of my own textiles discipline. I’ve been able to share stories from museum work and other kinds of creative practice as well as craft and they are all so relevant and inspiring to hear. 

I’ve been doing this out of my own pocket for the last year but really need to make it financially viable for 2022. I have to pay hosting fees, editing and marketing costs and then there’s my own time.. and I would love to be able to pay my guests something too as they have so generously given their time. There are a range of rewards including episode and whole series sponsorship.

Maker Membership

My Maker Membership is now open for all makers wanting to explore their motivations and to build meaning and research into their practice and be part of a supportive creative community. We meet once a month and I share resources, tips and research to help you develop your own work. Find out more here.