Find Your Focus

Neutral textile background with the words Find Your Focus Online Course with Ruth Singer 3-31 January 2023

The world is pretty distracting at the moment isn’t it? Creative practice is pretty distracting too. Confusing as well. It’s all too common to find ourselves wading through too many ideas and not knowing which to concentrate on, or struggling to know what ideas are worth pursuing. Running a business and keeping moving forwards with creative practice is even more complicated. There are so many potential projects, ideas, collaborators, ways of marketing, types of selling, different products and oooh that new shiny thing over there that is tempting us away from the stuff we’ve already started.

Do you struggle to find the right focus for your creative energy? Keep trying different things in the hope that this is the ‘right’ one? Want to do all the things and not concentrate on just one at a time? I really do understand. My early years in creative practice were pretty messy. I wanted to do everything even though I didn’t remotely have the time. I wanted to experiment and try new things but I also wanted, desperately, to be proficient and skilled and really expert in one thing. It’s all a bit much.

What I’ve learned in the 17 years I’ve been doing this is that focus is absolutely vital in making a success of a creative practice or business. You can’t do everything. And the thing(s) you focus on have to be the things that are most important to you, not what someone else told you should do.

That’s really what Find Your Focus is all about, honing in on the things that really matter, the stuff you love and want to put all your energy into, not what distracts you and that you think you ought to be doing instead.

Work at your own pace with this online course

I’ve created Find Your Focus from my Gentle Goal Setting course, workbook and live workshops over the last couple of years. After working with lots of people and doing the gentle goal setting process myself three times, I have refined and expanded it into a wider course looking at identifying your focus points or guiding lights for the year to come.

Over five weeks of online video courses, plus two workbooks, we will look at your creative core values, review the year in a realistic and gentle way, dig into what matters to you most, why you do what you do and how to single out those areas of focus that will be taking you forwards into the new year.

You’ll work at your own pace through the video lessons and workbooks but with accountability and reminders through the weekly course emails. There are two workbooks to download and keep too which you can refer back to whenever you start to lose your way. They include printable sheets of your key focus points and help you break down each focus into achievable goals and action steps.

I honestly find this process so valuable and have loved sharing it with many of you over the last few years. I hope this version of Gentle Goal Setting – now Find Your Focus will help many more in being gentle with ourselves and our plans while also achieving the things that really matter.

Find Your Focus starts on 3rd January with a pre-recorded video lesson and four more each week until 31st January. You can join any time.

If you find you want more support there will be a discount code for subscribers of the course to book 3 or 6 sessions of 1:1 mentoring with me.

Artist Mentoring

If you are feeling a bit at sea with your creative practice, I’m here to help. I’ve created my mentoring programmes after years of working with and supporting artists and really understanding the challenges of creative life. I’m on your side to help you figure out the meanings and the reasons behind your creative practice and how to move forwards. Find out more here.

If you are looking for a creative community with ongoing support and resources to challenge your thinking and take your creative practice further, have a look at my Maker Membership. It’s a monthly rolling membership that you can join any time. I create workbooks, blog posts and videos about all kinds of things including research, creative development and reflection. There’s also a lively community who share their work and their thoughts via the members chat and we meet monthly on Zoom for a group mentoring session which is always really inspiring and encouraging. Find out more here. It’s £25 per month to join with no minimum term. Find out more here or click the button below to join.

Stitch with something to say

Before I visited Festival of Quilts earlier this year, I was thinking about another world where something other than quilts were on display in a huge, annual competition. I was inspired by Fashion Fictions which Dr Amy Twigger Holroyd introduced in Making Meaning Live where alternative versions of the world are explored where there are restrictions on clothing or fabric production as a way of creatively imagining ways to address over-production and over-consumption.

First of all I pondered a world where it wasn’t possible to buy new fabric to cut up and sew it back together into patchwork… where we had to use scraps to make patchwork for practical purposes if cloth wasn’t so over-abundant and little-valued like it is here and now.

I was also thinking about alternative cloth / sewn things that might have become popular to make other than quilts. Why have quilts become the thing we make for pleasure, creativity or retail? What if patchwork had never grown into the art form it is now? What other large-scale textiles might there be on display? Flags? Sails? Banners? Unique handmade garments? 

That led me down a route of thinking about protest banners and political or social banners which were so important in the 19th century and how they are such a small part of our textile world now compared to quilts. Banners were an extraordinary art form in the 19th and early 20th century and an important means for women to use their skills and creativity to further a cause or social issue or promote a sense of belonging for a community. It’s something I keep coming back to myself for my own work – and I’ve started in a miniature way with my Protest Pincushion, a tiny sort of banner! (This was not in the Festival of Quilts because it’s too small and it’s not a quilt.)

Community quilts and group textile project, sometimes with a political or social message, were such a big thing during the pandemic and this demonstrated just how powerful and meaningful collective message-making.  I found it so interesting to explore this in the Textiles in Lockdown podcast which I’ve republished as Making Meaning episode 18.

Thinking about this has made me appreciate group quilts and projects more and I’m really interested in exploring what is out there in the world of textile with a message. I visited the banners exhibition in the Textile Biennial in 2019 which was really amazing but it makes me sad and frustrated that banners aren’t as well-explored art form as quilts and there isn’t a place for banners to be shown annually, to be awarded prizes and publicity and where we can come together to make textiles that have a positive impact and use resources consciously. 

So let’s imagine a fictional world where using precious textile resources was only acceptable when the finished piece had to say something. It had to be activist, community-made or share a message. Imagine those halls of the NEC full of protest banners or social group banners proclaiming their important social message. There is a competition for the best banner in a number of categories such as activism, community groups, human rights, image-based, text-based, political… and then I thought why aren’t they the groupings that quilts are entered into now? Why isn’t there a ‘statement’ category at Festival of Quilts? I really think there should be.

So with all these thoughts in mind, I visited the Festival of Quilts with the intention of seeing just how many pieces in the open competition had an obvious political, social, personal or community message. I know there will be some I didn’t see and I’m sure there were plenty of others that had a message but it wasn’t visually immediately obvious and was maybe more apparent in the artist statements in the catalogue, but I didn’t have one and very much didn’t have time to read them all.

I was so delighted to find so many with a message ranging from very subtle commentary within quilts to pieces overtly political or with a powerful, meaningful statement. I expected to find pieces made by groups with a strong meaning or message and I was amply rewarded. Quilts have a great history of being used by groups to come together and share emotions or to make a point or a message, partly because of their ideal format for individuals to make a piece which is then assembled into a whole. It really is a great vehicle for community practice and one which I have used myself many times.

The Grenfell Memorial Quilts were by far the most impactful pieces at the show, partly due to the size of them but mainly due to the impact and meaning behind them. I can’t help feeling though that they didn’t get the space, prominence or display impact they deserved, maybe because they are wonky and imperfect and very much community-made which is always a contrast to the perfection of competition quilts. There’s a place for both of course. I would LOVE to see community arts practice given the stage it really deserves in galleries and in society but that’s probably another blog post / life’s work. 

The Sophie Hayes Foundation was a brilliant example of this kind of work done really well, and clearly with a bigger budget and structure behind it than the grassroots Grenfell Quilts. These really combined powerful messages, excellent craftsmanship and really good marketing. I don’t mean that I thought they were in any way ‘better’ than the Grenfell quilts, they are just differently produced and presented. 

I really enjoyed hunting out pieces with a political, personal or social commentary within the competition quilts. As this isn’t a category of quilts to enter, they were dotted around and I am sure I missed lots.  The group quilts category is a good place to look for statement pieces, there are still some covid-related pieces and I am sure I will have missed many of these shown last year when I didn’t attend. There are a number of them in Textiles in Lockdown and I know there are hundreds of them around. What fantastic records of life experience during 2020 they are.

Here are some of the pieces I spotted. 

 

I would love to hear from makers of these or other quilts or textiles with a message. Where do you show and share your work? What’s the place for this kind of impactful textile?    How would you change the textile world to allow more space for stitch with something to say?

Working for free

Artists and freelancers regularly get asked to do unpaid work for organisations and institutions. In this blog post I discuss one of the common scenarios, share some thoughts on how things need to change and suggest some actions you can take.

Photo by kevser on Pexels.com

Should I say yes to unpaid work?

This is a perennial complex problem for those of us working in the arts and one I regularly want to moan about. So instead I’m giving it some thought and offering some alternatives to approaching this thorny question. Opportunities to give away your artwork, time, expertise, knowledge, potential earnings and wellbeing are bountiful. The creative world is full of ways for you to not earn any money. Finding ways to do the opposite and make an income is one of the greatest challenges of creative practice.

There are some things in the sector that pop up again and again which involve working for free and I have been thinking a lot about about how to make these decisions for yourself and how to try and make changes in the sector so this happens less.

There is no one simple answer to whether or not you choose to work for free as it all depends on:

  • where you are in your career
  • what you are being asked to do for free
  • your own financial situation
  • the financial situation of the organisation offering the thing
  • what else you might get out if it

The main thing to remember and to focus on is exposure does not pay the bills. Artists cannot live on goodwill. Those of us that have to make a living cannot keep being undercut by those who can afford to work for free. What ends up happening is those who need to earn a living say yes to unpaid things because it’s presented as ‘good for their career’ and they don’t have the confidence or leaderships skills to say no and why.

Choosing to work for free is a different thing – writing a speculative application, a proposal, responding to an open brief, donating work for a charity etc is a matter of choice. The problem really is when artists are asked to do work which really should be paid, such as running events, providing design or creative work or giving up their time & expertise to help a funded organisation do their job. It’s the latter I am focussing on here.

Over the 17 years I have been self employed, I have done plenty of unpaid work and I still chose to do some now, but only if I don’t feel exploited by the organisation and when it is otherwise beneficial for me. I choose not to work for free when it is mainly beneficial to an organisation with paid staff.

I do consultancy work for organisations on artist support and development activities as well as offering mentoring, training and business support to artists and creative businesses in partnership with organisations. Please get in touch if this is something your organisation would like to develop.

In the last few months I have been asked to be on a selection or jury panel for open exhibitions, both run by organisations with local authority funding support and salaried staff. With exquisite irony, this is exactly the thing I have been writing a report about for Artquest – for which I have been paid a professional consultancy fee. The report I’ve written is about artist Open Calls and making them more equitable and fair for artists. There’s a lot in this project about unpaid labour for artists, about paying fairly, about appreciating the value that artists and freelancers bring to an organisation, and paying them fairly for their work, including those on selection panels. So in both these cases, I have declined to do the work. In the first case I asked about fee as it was not mentioned and then declined in a vague way citing busy on the day. But more recently I’ve tackled the issue headlong and said why I can’t do the work for free, that I understand their budget restrictions etc and why it is important to value artists time.

My own work in my Narrative Threads solo exhibition 2015

In both cases I’ve felt vulnerable doing this and sad not to do the work – it’s something I would really enjoy doing, but I have to practice what I preach and not take on unpaid work in order to (hopefully) further my professional relationships with the organisations involved. That’s the issue I’m weighing in the balance every time I consider some unpaid work –

Will there be other benefits to me in doing this?

What is the non-financial value to me in this transaction?

Is there a value to me in this transaction at all or is all the value benefitting the organisation?

Why should I give up several hours of my potential income-generating time in order to benefit their open call exhibition? They are not charities. The people asking me have salaried jobs. Would they do it for free?

1292 Foodbank Visits in 18 Weeks, Ruth Singer, 2020. Hand stitch on cotton.

Its really important to remember that it’s not the fault of the person doing the asking, it’s the fault of the structures they work within who expect freelancers and artists to work for free. There is a pervasive culture of creatives working for free, an established, but unspoken rule that artists will do stuff for free because we need to further our careers and being helpful to organisations who are the gatekeepers of exhibitions and other forms of paid work is seen as necessary.

As a result of this culture of unpaid labour, it falls to me, as the unpaid artist, to explain to them, to pass on to their managers and budget-holders why they shouldn’t ask artists to work for free. If you value my professional expertise in this project, I deserve a professional fee.

I freely admit I didn’t know or think about this properly when I was employed by an organisation. I employed artists but I did expect them to travel across London and come to an unpaid meeting to discuss the 2 days of paid work. That’s not fair. I know that now and I point it out to organisations as often as I can, where they haven’t already addressed it (some have).

In conclusion, the most impactful thing we can all be doing about this is talking about it rather than hiding our frustrations and disappointments and letting bad practice continue unchallenged. We can sign up to campaigns like the brilliant Paying Artists. We can also make conscious choices about what we do for free, rather than just accepting it as the way things are. If you feel able to share, I would love to hear your thoughts about when you are asked to work for free and how you responded.

If you are struggling with this issue, I suggest starting with this: record all the unpaid work you do in a project or in the development stages of a project with an organisation. You may not do anything with this but it is so useful to have some data. If you feel able, you could share it with the organisation and just say “This is the amount of [additional] work I did unpaid in this project, if I was charging, this would be £££ value.” Making our unpaid work visible is a great first step in opening up the conversation.

This is the first in a series of blog posts tackling money issues around artist and freelance practice. I’ll be sharing more soon as this stuff is really important for us to talk about and for organisations to be aware of, and ideally, act upon. Please share this post or my social posts to try and get the message across. It would be great if you wanted to write your own post addressing some of the issues and how you approach working for free / getting paid for your professional expertise. I would also love to hear from organisations about what you are doing on this issue! You can get in touch with me here.


Email inboxes can be full of all kinds of tedious and boring things. Work. Bills. Adverts for things you don’t want. I’d like to brighten your inbox with a couple of emails a month full of inspiration, ideas and ways to see and share what I’m doing. 

Joining my Studio Stories email list is the best way to keep in touch with what I’m doing, more blog posts about creative business and about my work and projects. I’ll share courses and workshops too as well as behind the scenes studio stuff.

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If you would like some support in development your work, sorting out your fees and deciding what to concentrate on, I’d be happy to help. I offer 1:1 mentoring for artists exploring their practice, as well as my Find Your Focus course running in January. Find Your Focus covers core values, a realistic review of your year, looking at what matters most and then working on how to build in more of the good stuff and less of the stuff that’s not taking you forwards. The course is delivered through 5 video lessons starting on 3rd January, fresh and ready for the new year.


Artist Mentoring

If you are feeling a bit at sea with your creative practice, I’m here to help. I’ve created my mentoring programmes after years of working with and supporting artists and really understanding the challenges of creative life. I’m on your side to help you figure out the meanings and the reasons behind your creative practice and how to move forwards. Find out more here.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 26 with Gillian Lee Smith

In this final conversation of the series, I am talking to Gillian Lee Smith, a Scottish painter based in Northumberland. Gillian and I first met as members of a designer-makers group in the English midlands but we reconnected over Zoom during the pandemic and have had some wonderful conversations about our practices, our mentoring work and our creative ideas. In this conversation we focus on mentoring and talk about how both supporting others and being supported ourselves helps our practice. We talk about the zigzag journey of creative practice and how reflection and talking things through with others really helps to clarify things, to open new doors and to inspire. 


Gillian Lee Smith is a painter living in Northumberland. Her ongoing work is inspired by maritime history – fishing communities, the stories of the ocean and the man made structures of harbours that mark the boundary and often create sheltering spaces from the storms.

Gillian is embarking on a new body of work called The Lost and The Left Behind which will explore themes of the ongoing resonance of history, loss and memory. The process of painting (creating, burying and excavating) allows an image to reveal itself over time and can connect to a particular story, memory or experience in surprising ways. Gillian is exploring ways of taking this approach into other media such as printmaking and mixed media for her new work. 

A practicing artist for over 15 years, Gillian teaches in person workshops and creates online courses such as her signature programme Building a Body of Work as well as working closely with other artists through mentoring. Exhibiting locally and nationally, Gillian recently won a highly commended award with her portrait Through dust and darkness (The Miner) at Woodhorn Mining Museum. 

Play here


Other links

Solo exhibition November 2022 to February 2023 at Newbiggin Maritime Museum


Artist Mentoring

If you are feeling a bit at sea with your creative practice, I’m here to help. I’ve created my mentoring programmes after years of working with and supporting artists and really understanding the challenges of creative life. I’m on your side to help you figure out the meanings and the reasons behind your creative practice and how to move forwards. 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.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 25 with Mandeep Dhadialla

Mandeep is a printmaker and workshop leader who works under the brand The Laughing Cactus Print Studio. She’s also local to me and we’ve been working together a lot over the last year or so on community projects and sharing thoughts on our respective creative practices. In this conversation we talk about the themes Mandeep is currently exploring around stillness and displacement, about belonging and moving between two countries. We talk about community practice and the impact it has on our work and the benefits of the collaborative work we are currently involved in. 


Mandeep Dhadialla is an artist printmaker living and working in Leicester. Her work revolves around linocut printmaking, including on textiles, and making handprinted and hand-bound books. Spending her formative years as a child in Kenya and migrating to England in her early teens influences her practice. She explores concepts of home, place, safety and comfort within her printmaking practice, experimenting with combined monoprint, linocut and collagraph print techniques – more recently on the idea of Stillness in Displacement, of how landscape provides the constant anchoring between inner emotional displacement and outer physical displacement, a parallel in narrative between migration, the pandemic and landscape.

Mandeep has sixteen years’ experience of teaching with museums and arts organisations. Her own printmaking practice continued to develop exhibiting widely in shows including Society of Women Artists. She achieved the Runner Up award at Sock Gallery and Highly Commended in their recent Summer exhibition. She received an Honourable Mention Award with Circle Foundation for the Arts, Kenya, and achieved Commended in Teesside Print Prize 20. She is a member of Leicester Society of Artists. 

Play here

Other links

Mandeep runs a print club – members receive four original prints a year through the post. 

You can sign up to her mailing list 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.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 24 Highlights from Making Meaning Live.


Making Meaning Live was a fantastic online event which I created and hosted in July 2022. The event brought together creative people to talk about the meaning behind what they make with a live audience. This episode includes Ruth Singer in conversation with Maker Membership participants talking about their research and reflection process. The second part is a discussion between Ruth Singer and researcher Charlotte Bilby about working with women in the criminal justice system. There’s also an extended introduction talking about two of the sessions which, although brilliant, aren’t included – one because it was so visual that it just doesn’t work on a podcast and one which wasn’t recorded on the request of the speaker. Those presenters were Sharon Adams who you can hear on Episode 14 and the other was Lucille Junkere – find her website here.

You can also watch the rest of the event recordings for free here including Sharon’s drawing activity.

Play here


Session descriptions

Maker Membership : Research and Reflection

Maker Membership is Ruth Singer’s group for creative people who want to build more research and meaning into their making. Members will join Ruth in a discussion and share their work, focussing on the research they do and the reflection work guided by Ruth that has helped them develop their own creative practices.

Maker Membership is Ruth Singer’s group for all creative people who want to build more research, meaning and reflection into their work. It is open to anyone who makes and we are a sociable community from around the world. You don’t have to be a professional maker (though you are welcome if you are) and you don’t have to work in textiles, there is a wide range of other practices involved in the group. Ruth produces resources, workbooks and blog posts to inspire you to think about your making practice and we meet monthly on Zoom for group mentoring and sharing our work.

Members sharing their work in this session include Alison, Marianda, Amy, Ann and Julie

Ruth Singer & Charlotte Bilby, Labelling Ourselves
Charlotte will give an illustrated talk about two creative projects; ‘Free but not free’ in a community probation setting, and her current work, ‘Keeping in touch’. This project asks women in prison and women outside the prison community to make small mixed- media objects. One of these is a label that explores aspects of their identity. She will explain the processes and reasons for working with criminalised women, show some examples of the outputs and discuss the impact of the work on participants. Charlotte and Ruth will consider the differences and similarities in the work that they have done in exploring the stories of criminalised women over a century apart. While they are chatting, you will be encouraged to think about what you would include on your own label.

Charlotte researches creativity and making in criminal justice systems. She used to work in university criminology departments, where she taught about punishment and rehabilitation and did policy evaluations for the government. She became interested in how creative activities could change prisoners’ behaviour and identities, and incorporated making activities into her research. She is now based in Northumbria University’s School of Design, where she is running a mixed-media making project with women in and outside prison. The pieces explore (changing) identities, relationships with emotionally important people and whether our environments have an impact on the things we make.


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.

Community Spirit of Leicestershire launch

My project celebrating the Stories of pandemic volunteering in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland is going on tour

I’ve been working on this project most of the year and even longer in the planning and development. It’s finally almost out in the world! Back in 2020 when volunteering to help run a local foodbank, I realised just how important volunteering was to me and other volunteers. We felt useful and engaged and were making a real difference. I wanted to capture that energy and celebrate it and make sure that volunteers got a proper thank you for their incredible work.

Eventually I turned this into a funding application and created Community Spirit of Leicestershire with support from Arts Council England and Leicester city community funds.

From 5th September the resulting work, created by volunteers, will be shown in libraries and community centres as well as the foodbank where it all started for me. And you can also see the project film here.

There’s details of the tour venues here and a press release here.

I’ve worked with Mandeep Dhadialla as associate artist while I’ve been both lead artist and project producer (plus marketing, admin, funding, workshop-leader!). It’s been a real joy to see this come together and to be able to use a creative project to say THANK YOU to all volunteers for your amazing work.


Creative Producer

Projects around making things happen and bringing together people, places and stories

I love working with people to explore places and stories. I create and deliver projects inspired by my three sources of joy: textiles, artists and heritage. I add in research, partnerships and funding to produce experiences around People, Places and Stories

The experiences I create might be for artists, for textile-lovers, around heritage and stories, by, with and for communities.

Find out more about my Creative Producer work here.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 23 Highlights from Making Meaning Live with Amy Twigger Holroyd, Claire Wellesley-Smith, Lokesh Ghai and Charlie Birtles.


Making Meaning Live was a fantastic online event which I created and hosted in July 2022. The event brought together creative people to talk about the meaning behind what they make with a live audience. The next three episodes of the podcast are highlights of the programme – the bits that work without images and video. This episode includes Amy Twigger Holroyd talking about Fashion Fictions with participants Wendy Ward, Ruhee Das Chowdhury and Kate Harper, a conversation Claire Wellesley-Smith & Lokesh Ghai and artist-maker Charlie Birtles talking about thinking practice. There’s more background and images about their sessions below. You can also watch the whole event recordings for free here.

Play here


Other links

Listen to Claire in Episode 16 of Making Meaning Podcast.

Watch the Fashion Fictions film here.


Session descriptions


Amy Twigger-Holroyd, Fashion Fictions
This session will focus on a particular Fashion Fiction: World 54. In this world, production of new textiles has been severely restricted, leading to the development of a resourceful yet opulent fashion culture in which sheets of cloth, ingenious straps and random objects are used inventively to dress the body in different ways. Amy will present a short film showing a participatory enactment of World 54 and host a panel discussion involving three Fashion Fictions participants: Wendy Ward, Ruhee Das Chowdhury and Kate Harper. Together, they will discuss the ways in which making and embodied material exploration have been intertwined with storytelling in the development of World 54, and consider how such activities can help us to bring alternative fashion systems to life.

Dr Amy Twigger Holroyd is a designer, maker, writer and researcher. As Associate Professor of Fashion and Sustainability at Nottingham School of Art & Design, she leads an international participatory project, Fashion Fictions. Launched in 2020, the project brings people together to generate, experience and reflect on engaging fictional visions of alternative fashion cultures and systems. Participants can get involved in writing outlines of fictional worlds, creating visual and material prototypes, and enacting practices from the imagined worlds.

Common Threads: Lokesh Ghai and Claire Wellesley-Smith in conversation

Common Threads: Lokesh Ghai and Claire Wellesley-Smith in conversation

Claire and Lokesh will discuss commonalities in their textile practices through examples of projects delivered alongside communities in the UK and India. Stories told through cloth, memory and making will be illustrated with images from their working lives.

Lokesh Ghai is a textile artist and researcher working with traditional craft practice. He is interested in cultural-making of craft and clothing. He has showcased his textile art at V&A Museum of Childhood, London. As a designer and associate curator, he presented ‘India Street’ exhibition in Scotland. Lokesh is currently a design faculty at UPES, Dehradun. Claire Wellesley-Smith is an artist, author and researcher based in Bradford. She works on long term community-based arts, health and heritage projects which often explore textile stories. Her most recent book is Resilient Stitch: Wellbeing and Connection in Textile Art (Batsford, 2021). Claire and Lokesh met in 2016 at a community textile garden in Bradford and are currently developing ideas for future work together.

Charlie Birtles

Thinking Spaces

With a view to open out a discussion, during this session Charlie will share her own personal reflections on thinking spaces, inevitably told through objects and stories, and will invite the wider group to share their own strategies around integrating space for thinking and questioning into their own lives and practices.

Charlie’s practice is about bringing people together, learning from each other and creating an environment for others to explore their own creative thinking. Whether through making artwork, facilitating spaces, or sharing skills, what is important to Charlie is the wider conversations and impact that is generated when we make way for creativity; process is just as important as a finished article. Increasingly, Charlie values the importance of reflective thinking within her own creative practice. The reflective process shows up for her in a variety of ways: reading, writing, talking, walking, making, collecting, questioning, or sometimes just sitting and embracing silence.


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.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 22 Highlights from Making Meaning Live with Michaela McMillan, Wendy Ward and Kathryn Parsons


Making Meaning Live was a fantastic online event which I created and hosted in July 2022. The event brought together creative people to talk about the meaning behind what they make with a live audience. The next three episodes of the podcast are highlights of the programme – the bits that work without images and video. This episode includes Michaela McMillan, Wendy Ward and Kathryn Parsons and all involve interaction and activities which the participants really got into. There’s more background and images about their sessions below. You can also watch the whole event recordings for free here.

Play here


Other podcast episodes

Listen to Michaela in Episode 21 of Making Meaning Podcast.

Listen to Kathryn in Episode 5 of Making Meaning Podcast


Session descriptions


Michaela McMillan, The Naming Ceremony
My entire making process starts with notes and stories. These have been shared with me at shows, found in books I’ve read, are from issues happening in the world around me and from events that have shaped my life. This session will be an introduction to the beginning stage of putting a collection together. Tying materials to names and stories, thinking about how to tell a visual story through collected recycled objects – naming pieces and giving them a brief history. Everyone attending will be invited to offer their own associations with materials I present, or show their own piece of treasure and share their own connections and names with it.

Michaela creates individual handmade sculptures that are thoughtful and vibrant objects for interiors. Her work is playfully serious, and made from recycled and found objects with decoupage, assemblage and stitch. The pieces are visions of her imagination mixed with historical and contemporary realities, depicting scenarios of animals, people and nature.


Wendy Ward, People’s Wardrobe
The People’s Wardrobe invites you to wear (or have to hand) a well-used, well-loved garment for this participatory event. As a group we will share the stories of our garments by writing love letters to them and describing them in just three words. This is an activity I am running with lots of different groups of people and from these collected responses I want to start building a library of the public’s best-loved garments which might help to answer these questions: Why do we keep and use some garments for much longer than others? What can we learn from these garments to help us better appreciate the rest of our clothes and keep them for longer? ‘Big Fashion’ has made us believe that we are simply consumers of clothes, but more importantly we are users and wearers and we all need to find new creative ways to build more enduring relationships with the clothes we already own.

*note – Wendy would be delighted to hear from you with your Love Letter to your garment.

Wendy Ward is a PhD researcher at Sheffield Hallam University investigating product attachment, craft and broken-ness in fashion. Prior to her PhD she taught sewing to adults and wrote five best-selling sewing books. Wendy has long had an interest in sustainability within fashion, she worked at both extremes of the fashion industry: as a designer in fast fashion and for a small sustainable brand, then went on to explore novel ways to recycle textiles for her MA. Wendy got her love of making from her dad and a pair of his leather gloves helped to inspire her research.

Kathryn Parsons, The Naming of Moths
Moths are utterly fascinating creatures, and last year I started learning fly-tying so I could create miniature moth sculptures. In this session I’ll talk about my work and show you some fly-tying. There will also be an opportunity to join in a mini creative workshop, and make an ephemeral moth collage from natural treasures. It’ll be a gentle amble through stories of materials, techniques, local history and wildlife conservation, while we sit and make together.

I create artworks that weave together tales of place and people, history and nature. My work is research-based and multi-facetted. The materials I use depend on the story to be told – from miniature moths made of feathers found on nature reserves, to tiny porcelain lichens planted in a poet’s garden! I have created site-specific artworks for Derby Museum, Langdyke Countryside Trust and the University of Leicester, and exhibitions for the National Centre for Craft & Design. I also love to run creative workshops, nurturing people and their creativity while inspiring deeper connections with the natural world.


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.

Stories in Cloth

Commissioned artworks in response to a family textile collection

This project has been one of my slowest ever, but it’s finally coming together. Months ago I was commissioned to make a new piece of work inspired by a family collection of textiles and clothing. It’s been tricky all along because the client wanted the textiles back intact so I couldn’t cut and stitch the cloth into something new so that limited my options. Intriguingly, the client also doesn’t want an artwork back so I suggested creating works which could be scanned / photographed so she can have a digital version. In many ways an open brief is harder to work with than a very tight brief. Too many options can be quite overwhelming so I struggled for a while to work out what to make. But it’s up and running now and nearing completion and I’m very happy with what I’ve done.

I decided to make a series of small pieces presented like museum prints or drawings in an acid-free box. The client has worked in archives for many years so the connection made immediate sense. I’ve used print, drawing and photography techniques to create an archive of the collection without using any of the textiles in an irreversible way. As time has passed, the client is actually happy for me to use the textiles as I wish but I’ve gone down the route of preserving them so although I’ve done a little stitch work with some smaller textile pieces, no scissors have been involved and everything I have done is reversible, like in textile conservation – a regular source of inspiration to me.

Until I decided to stitch a few of the textiles, this project was more like a museum project – creating work inspired by but not using this collection and that’s been enjoyable and challenging for me. I’ve never done anything like this before, using a personal / family collection of treasures and stories which have huge importance as a group. I think find it particularly fascinating as I don’t actually have a family textile collection of my own. The museum / archive / stories aspect of this project has given me a lot to think about and a lot of reflection on my own future work in collaboration with museums, and maybe with other family collections.

This project forms part of my research and development for my new long-term creative work around evidence and absence, looking at histories and objects, movement and loss. I’m hoping to show the finished work in an exhibition next year. All along, I’ve been sharing the development of this work with my Maker Membership group over the last year or so, as an example of how I go from idea to finished work. This project has been particularly relevant to our earlier theme of Objects where I shared my experience of working in museums early in my career and now working with museums (and old things) as my inspiration. These resources are still accessible for all members of the group too. Find out more about membership here.

What family archives / textiles collections do you have? Do they inspire your creative work? Or don’t know where to start? I’m open to similar commissions with other family collections of textiles and clothing, it’s been so much fun to explore new ideas.