Criminal Quilts at Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford

My first series of Criminal Quilts is now on display at Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford. These pieces were inspired by photographs from the Staffordshire Archives of women criminals (below), commissioned by Shire Hall Gallery and later purchased for the museum collection and display outside the historic courtroom.

 

The six Criminal Quilts in Stafford are shown below. I am continuing to develop the series of Criminal Quilts for my solo exhibition Narrative Threads.

 

 

 

Original photographs courtesy of Staffordshire Museums and Archives.

Harefield Hospital Quilt Commission

I recently completed a really enjoyable commission for Harefield Hospital NHS Trust to celebrate their centenary. There’s a brief background on the project here. This quilt is inspired by a 1915 quilt made as a fundraiser for the first hospital on the site and the new quilt tells the story of Harefield Hospital since the First World War to the present day. Throughout June 2015, I worked with communities, staff, patients and volunteers to create this quilt full of details about the hospital. The quilt is made from traditional hexagon patchwork with over 400 individual pieces including the techniques of hand and machine embroidery, digital printing, screen printing and natural dyeing. The pieces are all hand sewn together and the quilt is hand tied.

The pieces used in the quilt were made during a series of workshops at the hospital, starting with screen printing and natural dye to create patterned fabrics to use in the patches. We used plants from the hospital grounds to colour the cloth and images from the buildings and archives as screen prints. Later workshops included digital printing, embroidery and making the 400+ hexagons used in the finished quilt.

Many of the patches are made from digitally-printed images using photographs from the hospital archives and photos I took of the grounds and buildings in Spring 2015. We have also used logos, plans, documents and photographs of recent events at the hospital.

Blue and grey fabrics used in the quilt are old and current nurses uniforms from Harefield. Written quotes include oral history testimony from staff and patients, as well as comments from the hospital’s Facebook pages. Regular contributors have hand stitched their names onto patches and some contributors gave photographs of family members or documents which refer to their relationship to Harefield Hospital and to social activities related to the hospital. Hand stitched outlines of leaves refer to the wards named after trees growing in the grounds. We have also included details of the red and white ANZAC quilt and photographs of the ANZAC cemetery at Harefield Hospital.

The quilt was entered into the Festival of Quilts open competition in August and will be on permanent display at Harefield Hospital from mid-September.

Daily Make (17)

This week I’ve started a new commission for Harefield Hospital

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and made some dye bundles at the first community workshop

 

The patchwork continues to grow (on the cat, as usual!)

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Puss & patchwork. My usual evening. #dailymake2015 #missmayacat

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I rarely get a day just stitching, so attending a workshop on Indian embroidery was a real treat this week.

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My first ever shisha mirror! #embroidery #dailymake2015

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Some preparation for my artist residency day

 

and some stitching stains during the residency day

Harefield Hospital centenary quilt commission

I’ve recently been commissioned to make a centenary quilt for Harefield Hospital. The NHS hospital began its medical life as an ANZAC hospital, during the First World War. The then owner of the 18th century house and estate was an Australian and gave over his house and grounds to create a facility for his countrymen. The hospital continued to grow and in the 30s became a TB hospital and eventually an NHS hospital specialising in lung and heart treatments.

Harefield archive photo

Harefield archive photo

In 1917 a quilt was made to fundraise for the hospital and this quilt has inspired the new commission from Royal Brompton and Harefield Arts.

Harefield Hospital Anzac Quilt

Harefield Hospital Anzac Quilt

I’m running a series of workshops for staff, patients, former patients and local communities at the hospital in June to create elements of a new quilt which I will be creating for permanent display, alongside the original quilt, in the hospital.

We had our first taster workshops at the Anzac tea party last week and talked to lots of enthusiastic people about the workshops and commission. I’ll be blogging regularly about the development of the quilt and the project in general over the summer months up to the launch in September.

Harefield Hospital commission first workshop (Ruth Singer)

Harefield Hospital commission first workshop (Ruth Singer)

 

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.

 

 

 

New Work :: New York

I’m slightly astonished at the amount of new work I am churning out at the moment. I usually work on one project at a time, but suddenly, this autumn, there are lots of exhibition deadlines which is pressured but wonderful. My latest completed work is for a Design Factory showcase in New York at the Textile Art Center.

The show opens on 10th October so please do go along if you are in the area. I won’t be there, I’ll be a the Knitting & Stitching Show in London that week. I’ll be spending the next week or so making new pieces for The Knitting & Stitching Show and for The Salon exhibition in October run by EC Arts, and then I have another exhibition at the end of the year at Llantarnam Grange.

Creative Twinning - Co.Lab Craft Conversation E-vite

 

 

The Making of Metamorphosis

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More images of the whole piece here

A few months ago I saw an opportunity advertised locally for artists to make work using the idea of metamorphosis and using an object in the collections of New Walk Museum as inspiration, as part of a conference in the School of Museum Studies at Leicester University.  I decided to visit the World Art gallery at New Walk, which is full of wonderful things (although they don’t seem to have a page about it in their website!). I took photos of lots of intriguing and beautiful objects but couldn’t find something that really worked with the metamorphosis idea. I photographed this Nigerian ‘charm gown’ because I thought the decoration was fascinating. It wasn’t until later that I realised it would work with the metamorphosis concept.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe idea of the gown is that the words, drawings and amulets added to it, make the garment protective. I was intrigued by the idea that by marking marks onto cloth, it can be changed from mere fabric to something spiritual and powerful. I found the following text on the British Museum website, about a similar object:

Curator’s comments

Register 1940: ‘Jibbeh’ W. Sudan (?)

Register 1940 later addition:
[N.Nigeria? (W.B.F.)](LaGamma and C. Giuntini, 2008)
‘Every inch of this simple cotton tunic was inscribed and invested with prayers by an itinerant Hausa artist who sought to transform it into a mantle of invulnerability. The extraordinary measures taken suggest that the garment was made for an important warrior to wear into battle. The Islamic belief in the power of the Koran’s written word is manifested here in a creation configured so its Koranic texts encase the body, affording a line of mystical defence superior to armour’ 

I wanted to explore how the role of the artist can transform a plain piece of cloth into something powerful. In the same way that the artist made the charm gown, I wanted to make a modern, personal charm gown, using humble textile and the hand of the artist to transform its meaning.

Since my grandad died in December 2012, I’ve been wanting to use some of the textiles from his home in my work. When we cleared the house (and extensive sheds) I gathered up all kinds of cloth from old sacking to neatly starched and pressed handkerchiefs, knowing that I would find a use for them. This project seemed like the ideal opportunity.

Initially, I intended to make a small garment, maybe a shawl or scarf, to represent the charm gown, but when I visited the School of Museum Studies, they offered me a HUGE glass case and I couldn’t resist taking it on.  Despite all the perfect tablecloths and pristine white sheets from the hoard, what I kept coming back to was a large, old dust sheet. It must have been a high quality cotton sheet, once upon a time, but had been used for painting jobs for many years. My step-grandmother’s family ran a small laundry and no doubt this is where the sheet originally came from – things were not always collected, hence the huge collection my step-granny acquired. The sheet has laundry marks and even an address in Ealing marked on the edge.

Whiting Laundry

Almost everything else I have used in the piece comes from Grandad’s. The pegs used for display must have been from the laundry too.

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Rust dye using tools and scraps from the sheds, encouraged with tea to create a soft, brown stain.

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Outline of tools in stitch and appliqué.

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Floral embroidery transfer, found in my late Grandmother’s sewing basket. She was a professional seamstress and died before I was born. I had no idea that her embroidery things were still in the house, waiting for me,  40 years after her death. I’m so pleased I could use them too in this piece.

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Scans of letters, local maps and war time documents printed onto textile to make amulets and appliqué.

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Hapazome or flower-pounding, using flowers transplanted from Grandad’s garden to mine.

flower pounding

Found objects, all but one came from Grandad’s things.

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Patterns, embroidered text and details taken from the original charm gown and given a twist.

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Details of the original dust sheet with collar stud found in the things.

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The work is now installed in the School of Museum Studies and is open to the public 10-4 Monday to Friday. Part of the appeal of this commission was the link to Museum Studies, where I did my MA 17 years ago. There is something very pleasing about now creating art works inspired by museums when my whole adult life has revolved around museums in so many ways.

This is only the start of a body of work using textiles and themes from my family history. I am working on a series related to Grandad’s tool shed for Llantarnam Grange Art Centre for later this year and there will be plenty more, I hope!

Embroidery commission for Jan Garside

I recently completed a small embroidery commission for my friend, the weaver Jan Garside, who I’ve collaborated with before. She asked me to make some pieces based on Elizabethan embroideries at Hardwick Hall for a commission she was working on.

Jan & her finished pieces. Find out more about Jan & her work here.

This was an interesting project. I’m not a traditional embroiderer and although I started my textile career making historical reproductions, it isn’t the way I work now. These embroideries are inspired by Elizabethan stitches, rather than being replicas. I know plenty about Elizabethan embroidery and already knew the Hardwick textiles so had a good idea what Jan wanted when she first asked me about the commission, but I also knew I couldn’t make a reproduction. Working on a commission like this is a challenge, trying to make my own interpretation of the source material but also work within the brief given me by Jan, as the embroideries formed part of her work, with her name on caption. Luckily Jan and I have similar ideas, although different ways of working, and it helped that we had collaborated before. I enjoyed making these pieces enormously and intend to develop the ideas further in my own work, from the stitches used to the idea of working with lettering.

Note added: Some of the linen fabric I used was kindly donated by Scrapiana and came from her handmade wedding outfit!

Museum purchase

I’m delighted to announce that Shire Hall Gallery, part of Staffordshire Museums Service, are buying my whole collection of Criminal Quilts. The six textile pieces will become part of the museum service collection and will be displayed in the historic court room at Shire Hall.

Amelia May's Quilt

As an ex-museum person, having my work preserved forever in a museum collection makes me ridiculously happy!

Julia Bate

The pieces are on show now until 10th March and then they will re-appear sometime later in the year after being framed, in the court room.

Fading From History-2

Photographs used in the work are courtesy of Staffordshire Record Office.