The Beauty of Stains

The Beauty of Stains is an old tablecloth which has been used in The National Centre for Craft and Design’s cafe for 9 months, gathering stains, wear and marks of use.

Each month I have taken the piece to wash and embellish, stitching the stains, preserving them like memories or tales being handed down through generations.The cloth itself was from my Grandparents’ extensive stash, a humble, everyday, worn and darned cloth full of narratives.

I have a fascination with old, domestic textiles. Within their stains, tears repairs and creases, they hold stories of lives lived. I have a huge collection of linen, mostly table cloths and napkins from my Grandparent’s airing cupboard. My step-grandmother’s family ran a small laundry in rural Berkshire and as a result, they acquired an unnecessarily-large amount of abandoned linens, including a lot of very fine quality which my modest grandparents had no real use of. The fine linens are little used in comparison to the everyday linens and have much less to say.

This work aims to challenge established ideas about art textiles exhibited in galleries. I like the idea that work changes; it isn’t static or fixed. It is different every day and will continue to develop. Audiences have a real impact on the work: it barely exists without their input. The process of making the work is as important as the piece itself.

The Beauty of Stains when first placed in the cafe, with just my interventions.



The cloth I chose to use for The Beauty of Stains is an ordinary, mid-Twentieth century cloth, much used, full of well-worn darns and some holes remaining as yet un-repaired. It doesn’t have tea stains but it does have some mystery rusty marks.

My intervention into this piece is quite minimal and the cafe’s visitors will be the main source of additional marks through coffee spills, lunch splats and sticky fingered baby touches.

The Beauty of Stains installed at @nationalcraftanddesign #narrativethreads

A post shared by Ruth Singer (@ruthsingertextiles) on

The words The Beauty of Stains are stitched across the piece using threads dyed when I make bundles. Rather than use string or other disposable cord, I wrap dye bundles in embroidery threads which I can reclaim and later use. The process of bundle dyeing leaves irregular splashes of stain-like subtle colour on the thread which seemed appropriate to this piece.

Like Many Hands, this piece has evolved over time and through daily use.

2 thoughts on “The Beauty of Stains

  1. Pingback: Daily Make (15 & 16) | Ruth Singer

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