Narrative Threads community projects

Part of my Narrative Threads exhibition artist residency has been to work with local communities around Sleaford and the National Centre for Craft and Design. I built this into my Arts Council funding so I could experiment with new ways of working with different audiences, continue to build my community arts CV and try and engage the local community with my work and the messages around it.

A lot of the work created in these workshops and events will be displayed as part of Narrative Threads.

Earlier in the summer I worked with a Sleaford primary school on a project exploring amulets and objects with stories. In the first session we investigated words and symbols which have significance across cultures and in different time periods. The children made tags with special messages, images and symbols. For the second session they brought in special objects and collected natural materials to use to make their own amulets. We used printing, sewing and wrapping to make the amulets and each child wrote about their amulets and why it was special.

 

Sleaford Alzheimers Society

It has been particularly rewarding to work at the Sleaford Dementia Cafe run by the Alzheimers Society. In the first session we created Memory Collages, using fabric scraps and felt to build up pictures of special places or hobbies.

For the second session I took along a reminiscence box of old clothes and textiles to spark memories and stories similar to my textile memories project. These will be embroidered onto a cloth for display in the exhibition. I had hoped it would be engaging for the participants and their carers to reminisce about textile memories from their families. Many people talked about their childhood, their mother’s embroidery skills – or lack of them – and their own sewing for their children. It was a fascinating and absorbing day, and I hope to do more of this kind of work in the future.

I have also run workshops for families during school holidays, making painted and embroidered pincushions and other drop-in craft workshops.

Ruth Singer community project

 

Yesterday I ran a workshops for Arts NK’s community wellbeing event at Waddington, Lincs making memory tags- a decorated luggage label telling a story of a happy memory or something important in your life.

 

I am currently working with A Level textiles students who are creating work inspired by mine as part of the assessed portfolio. Their finished pieces will also be in the exhibition.

Once the exhibition is open I will continue to work with groups including a GCSE group and community sessions for a local sheltered housing scheme. I have also set up Crafts for Relaxation, a free monthly workshop for people who might not be able to afford or attend normal workshops, with the idea of participants meeting new people and getting some time to themselves. This programme has taken some time to get up and running and it has been a challenge to reach the right audience but it is a useful process for me in working out how to self-run community projects in the future.

Creative Patchwork weekend 24th & 25th October

A whole weekend of creative and experimental patchwork and piecing using historic textiles as inspiration. Explore innovative and interesting techniques for patchwork and try lots of new ideas. You can come to one day or both days. All materials are included, although you are welcome to bring your own too. One day is £50, or book both days for £95. Book here

Saturday: Machine Patchwork

Enjoy a day of easy, stress-free machine sewn patchwork. Try out freestyle or ‘improv’ quilting to create colourful and quirky patchwork panels. Try log cabin, strip piecing and scrappy improv styles and simple blocks to build up into quilts. Measuring and maths will be kept to a minimum and I don’t insist on perfect matching seams so this is a great workshop if you prefer a more relaxed style.

You will need to be able to use a sewing machine confidently. Please bring your own sewing machine if possible. If travelling from a distance I can arrange a machine for you so please confirm this when you book. All other tools and materials are provided.

 

Sunday : Hand Patchwork

Enjoy a slow stitching day, hand sewing with beautiful fabrics and traditional techniques. Learn the art of English Paper Piecing using hexagons or other templates and try out subtle, delicate crazy patchwork using hand embroidery stitches to join tiny scraps of fabric. No previous experience required. All materials provided.

Book here

 

 

 

Narrative Threads Masterclass January 2016

Alongside my Narrative Threads exhibition  at the National Centre for Craft & Design, I am running a weekend masterclass on 9th & 10th January 2016 (rescheduled from December). Spend the weekend immersed in creative, slow, experimental techniques inspired by my work. The workshops include simple, experimental natural dye techniques, embroidery and using found objects. You can create a series of samples, pieces to incorporate into other work or art textile pieces to frame.

 

Day 1

Our first task of the weekend will be to manipulate and colour cloth using natural dyes, plants, food, rust and inks. We will experiment with shibori dye, hand painting colour and creating patterns from rusty metal to create original and exciting patterns and marks on cloth. We will also dye threads and other materials to use on day 2.

Day 2

Using the cloth we have created in day one (or purchased on the day if you have not attended day 1) we will look at using simple embroidery stitches to create marks and patterns on the dyed cloth. We will experiment with layering and cutting away the fabrics to create new textures. We will also explore ways of incorporating found objects into our work to add depth and narrative to the pieces.

£50 per day or £95 for the weekend, including basic materials, with additional materials available to purchase at the workshop. Book with NCCD on 01529 308710 info@nationalcraftanddesign.org.uk.

 

 

Open Studio at Makers’ Yard 25th April

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!).

 

 

 

Darning and Mending

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.

Themed school workshops

I love collaboration; I find it exciting and engaging both creatively and practically. Sharing skills, knowledge and expertise is vital to creating a good outcome and I always find it pushes my own creative boundaries and helps me work better and learn all the time. Whether it is working with schools, community groups or other makers, I always find it invigorating coming up with new ideas to show them as well as seeing how they take my ideas and techniques into new an exciting directions.

The school workshop shown below covered 3D fabric manipulation and appliqué techniques, following the students’ own inspiration and research, including projects as varied as fungus & lichen, decayed building, peacock feathers and jellyfish.

The images below show a session I ran for GCSE students to create weather-inspired samples using shadow trapunto techniques.

I loved this school’s textile classroom with inspiration walls and a great display of dried fruit and vegetable skins.

 

Find out more about workshops for school groups here.

The Art of Textiles Retreat in Italy

I’m very excited that I’ll be teaching a week-long textiles retreat in Tuscany, Italy this September with Made on Holiday.

The week includes exploring antiques markets and museums for inspiration and four days of tuition, covering design development, embroidery, natural dye and fabric manipulation techniques. All of this will take place in a beautiful setting with lovely food, wine and sunshine!

The Art of Textiles is an exciting and experimental week designed to give you lots of creative ideas to use in the future. During the week you will work in the same way Ruth does in her own studio. Dyeing fabric, exploring themes, stories and narratives to inspire your work, then using hand embroidery and fine embellishment techniques to create textile pieces with a story and a sense of history. We will take Italian history as our theme, explore the local landscape and visit flea markets and museums to generate ideas to create art textile pieces, embroideries and embellished garments.

 

Cyanotype workshop with Hannah Lamb

I’m never quite sure if a day spent at a creative workshop counts as a day off or as work, when it is both enjoyable and professional development. Either way, I don’t do it enough and always resolve to do it more. A couple of weeks ago I spent a day experimenting with cyanotype under the guidance of textile artist Hannah Lamb at my favourite independent gallery, Unit Twelve.

 

My test pieces on paper worked well but the pieces on fabric weren’t the most successful. They got exposed to light before I had them ready and then they got rained on! I have ended up with a couple of pieces that I will use in my own work at some point, even though I don’t often work with blue. The hands pieces in the top left image will become part of a new series of Criminal Quilts and I have ideas to play with from the other pieces. It is a wonderful thing to spend a day experimenting with no particularly end, to simply to find out how things work and to stretch yourself to come up with new ideas, outside of the usual comfort zone.

Pleated dress and hat decorations

In my research into manipulated fabrics, I have often come across trimmings created using pleated or gathered ribbon, most often on hats, although sometimes on garments too. 18th century dress trimmings are usually made from self-fabric (strips of the same fabric the garment is made from) rather than ribbons.  Box pleating is common, as are bias-cut ruffles.

18th century Caracao (jacket) from Manchester Museums collection

Caracao (jacket) from Manchester Museums collection with pleated self-fabric trim

18th century box pleats started a journey of discovery for me when I started working in textile, investigating and experimenting with techniques to create contemporary work inspired by these old folds.

 

Antique ribbons can be pretty special items in themselves, but when they are used to create interesting decorations and trimmings, ribbons become something even more amazing. Ribbons have been used for hundreds of years to decorate hats, dresses and accessories.

Corsage by Ruth Singer using vintage ribbon and 1920s techniques.

Corsage by Ruth Singer using vintage ribbon and 1920s techniques.

Beautiful ribbons were woven in Coventry (as well as other places) from the 1700s which were pleated, gathered and arranged to make stunning hat decorations, taking a bonnet from basic to beautiful.

Ribbon woven in Coventry. (c) V&A

Ribbon woven in Coventry. (c) V&A

 

Extra-wide ribbons were made specifically for trimming dresses and millinery and their designs could easily be enhanced by the methods of folding and stitching used, as shown in this example where the stripes are manipulated to create decorative effects.

Hat ribbon trim (c) National Trust

Hat ribbon trim (c) National Trust

 

I recently came across illustrations via Pinterest from a German women’s magazine called Der Bazar dated 1871 on Google books which shows several fantastic pleated ribbon trims which I am keen to try out myself, and you can often spot folded and manipulated ribbon trims on original garments and in fashion plate illustrations in the later 19th century.

Der Bazar pleated fold illustration

Der Bazar pleated fold illustration

In the 1920s, pleated and manipulated ribbons had another moment under the spotlight of fashion as ribbon pleated and folded into sunbursts and stars shone out from the sides of cloche hats. Cockades or trimmings were made at home, as well as by professional milliners. A hat could be updated and transformed with a bit of ingenuity and ribbon.

Hat (c) Metropolitan Museum

Hat (c) Metropolitan Museum

I bought the vintage hat below a few years ago and was intrigued by the folded trim. It took a few goes to figure it out and quite a few more goes for the technique to stick in my head – it is not at all simple, but I figured it out using weave lines in in the grosgrain ribbon as my guide.

Pleated hat trim

Pleated hat trim

My version of the technique is in my book Fabric Manipulation, called Arrowhead folds. I used this technique to create the necklace below.

Arrowhead necklace

Arrowhead necklace

 

My book has lots of other ribbon folding techniques, many of them inspired by Indian ribbon work using real metal ribbon, known as Gota.

Detail of blouse with gota trimming (c) V&A

Detail of blouse with gota trimming (c) V&A

 

Gota work was traditionally used to decorate luxurious costumes and clothing in the 19th century alongside fine silks and metal thread embroidery. The pure metal wefts of the ribbon allow it to be folded precisely to create intricate 3D folds and twists, and the ribbon could also be embossed for added effects. Nowadays, most gota work is done in inferior plastic ribbon which has neither the sheen, weight or crispness of the metal ribbon, but still looks pretty gorgeous. I’ve seen real vintage Gota ribbon for sale at Cloth House, my favourite fabric shop in London.

I found a nice piece in a ribbon stash at the school I worked in yesterday; the widely-spaced folded-back zigzag ribbon fold detail was new to me – I am working on samples using different types of ribbon for different effects. The pointed Vs along top and bottom are one of the gota techniques I figured out a while back and it is included in my book.

Gota trimming

I taught my favourite box-pleating technique to the students at Chateau Dumas earlier this month, using French vintage striped ribbon. The day after the workshop, the students visited the local hat-making museum and decorated their hats with pleated French ribbon. What could be more more perfect?

You can find more ribbon work and related ideas in my Pinterest boards on Fabric Manipulation, particularly the pleating board and the appliqué board. One day I’ll have time to try them all out – in the mean time, please post links to any other interesting ribbon resources and if you have tried any of the techniques, please share them.

A shorter version of this post originally appeared on Mr X Stitch as one of my monthly textile history Pinning the Past columns. Explore the other columns here.

 

Community sustainable textiles project

I recently completed a short project for Sustainable Harborough using natural dyes and local plants to create a textile wall hanging for the local library. They asked me to propose a workshop for a town centre activity day which local people could join in with and result in something attractive and informative for display at the end.

 

I devised a simple natural dye workshop using easy, non-toxic natural dyes and local plants to create eco-prints on reclaimed silk from an old wedding dress. Each person taking part chose their own flowers and leaves to create bundles with and then added their tied bundle to either turmeric or beetroot / tea dye pot. Participants came back an hour or more later to unwrap and reveal their bundles. We got some really stunning patterns and details in the prints, which amazed and fascinated everyone who took part – including my assistant Erica!

 

Above all, this simple project showed how easy it can be to engage all ages in sustainability issues through simple, creative activities. All ages took part in the workshop and all were equally fascinated to discover that you can create such wonderful colours using (mainly) what grows in your garden. A drop-in activity like this is an easy way to talk to people about the environmental issues around textiles and dyes and to encourage a closer appreciation and exploration of what is growing in our local parks, wastelands or gardens.

sustainble harborough sign

 

Find out more about commissioning a project or activity here. I love the challenge of creating events and activities tailored to specific venues, themes or projects.