Making Meaning Podcast Episode 19 with Alice Fox

Alice’s practice is deeply embedded in land and place. She makes with found and natural materials using textile processes and others drawn from basketry and bookmaking. Alice and I met some years ago through exhibiting in the same places and having a shared understanding of making a living as an artist and in particular, writing books about our work. Alice is well-known in textiles for her book Natural Processes in Textile Art and her new book Wild Textiles comes out this September. In this podcast we talk about her journey to the materials and engagement with the land which guides her work and the many complexities of being a working professional artist who wears many hats. We share having textiles as a second career too and talk about the many positive aspects of this in the work we do now. This is a great conversation full of stories and details about Alice’s life and work.

The desire to take an ethical approach has driven a shift from using conventional art and textile materials into exploring found objects, gathered materials and natural processes. The work that I makes is process led. I gather the materials that are available to me, testing, sampling and exploring them to find possibilities using my textiles-based skill set and techniques borrowed from soft basketry. I make sculptural works, often on a small scale and bringing different materials together to form tactile surfaces and structures.

Alice Fox

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Alice’s books


Further info

Alice is represented by Jaggedart


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 open for bookings now, and it’s completely free!

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. Book your place 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 18 Textiles In Lockdown

Textiles in Lockdown was a wonderful project I worked on in 2020. Gawthorpe Textiles Collection commissioned me to research textile making practice during the 2020 lockdowns and to create a digital resource for their museum collection. I chose to make a podcast and ebook for them, sharing your stories of stitching and sewing during the first few months of the pandemic. It was such a wonderful project for me and I know it meant a lot to so many to have their work and story captured in this podcast and ebook. In this episode I introduce the podcast and afterwards talk to Gawthorpe Textiles Collection Director Charlotte Steels about the project and its impact.

About Gawthorpe Textiles Collection.

Gawthorpe Textiles Collection was founded as an educational charity for the teaching of practical craft skills by the Honourable Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth MBE, inspired by the ethos of the Arts and Crafts Movement. As an accredited museum today we continue to preserve this rich craft heritage and to share it with the public through exhibitions, artist collaborations, formal and informal learning opportunities and outreach, working with diverse communities.

Further information

The survey is still open if you want to contribute your story

Textiles in Lockdown is still available to buy in paperback here

We are currently working in collaboration with the University of Central Lancashire and Super Slow Way to create an online digital resource linked to the textile heritage of Lancashire. We will be producing cross collection curations from heritage venues across the region and there are opportunities for public interaction contributing towards curation and research. The first version of the website will be launched in June 2022, to receive project updates you can subscribe here

Textiles in Lockdown was funded by Arts Council England.


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

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

Volunteering events

Take part in a community arts project in Leicestershire celebrating volunteers

Volunteering during lockdown is one of the best things I have ever done. I felt like I was doing something positive and important and I got to meet people and feel connected. I have seen just how hard volunteers worked to keep our communities together during lockdown (and continue to do so now) and I want to celebrate their work through creativity and sharing. I’m working with Voluntary Action Leicestershire to collect stories of local volunteers and to create a collaborative artwork at events co-designed by Laughing Cactus Printmaking Studio.


I’d love to hear your stories if you volunteered and bring you into our events to make commemorative rosettes which will be shown locally then shared out to volunteers to mark their amazing work. We have free events in Leicester on 5th, 7th & 9th June (weekend, weekday & evening) and I would love to see you there. Please pass on to anyone you know who has volunteered and ask them to share their story online or at an event. 

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 16 with Claire Wellesley-Smith

Wellbeing through stitch and communal creative practice runs through Claire’s practice, writing and projects. She’s just completed a PhD exploring this subject in depth and we both love talking about the importance of community making practice, about textile and local heritage and about the power of textiles to change lives in all kinds of subtle ways. This conversation ranges across all these areas of interest and we talk about how our work in communities is so important yet so often overlooked in the wider art world. I was honoured to be included in Claire’s recent book Resilient Stitch – more about this below and also grateful to her for sharing her thoughts on textiles and community making for Textiles in Lockdown podcast which I made in 2020 with Gawthorpe Textiles Collection. That’s coming out on this podcast very soon so you can catch up with it right here. Claire has just relaunched her incredibly popular online teaching sessions, again links below. Claire will also be part of Making Meaning Live Gathering in July, an online social event to talk about craft and narratives. I hope you enjoy this conversation and our delve into textiles and community.

Claire Wellesley-Smith is an artist, writer and researcher based in Bradford. Her practice includes long-term community-based projects and residencies that use textile making to explore textile heritage. Her PhD research with The Open University is multi-site ethnographic research into community resilience through engagement with textile heritage and craft and is based in post-industrial textile areas in West Yorkshire and East Lancashire. Her most recent book ‘Resilient Stitch: Wellbeing and Connection in Textile Art’ was published by Batsford in 2021. She teaches and lectures internationally.


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Claire’s Books


Resilient Stitch

Claire asked me to suggest some pieces of my work for inclusion in the book and write about what resilience means to me. I sent her a selection of my work, mostly from my 2018 Emotional Repair exhibition. She chose this piece, Forget.


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.


This episode is sponsored by Beyond Measure, a shop of beautiful things for folk who 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.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 15 with Louise Jones-Williams

I’ve been enormously lucky over the last 10 years or so to work with Louise at Llantarnam Grange on both group and solo exhibitions. In this conversation we talk about how she creates and curates exhibitions, finds artists to work with and shares stories through craft. We also talk about the importance of the artist-curator relationship, about my work with her and the gallery and how important exhibitions are for both artist and visitor. This was recorded in person at the gallery in March 2022.

Louise has worked in the arts in South East Wales for over 25 years and became Director of Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre in 2019. She is part of a committed and talented team and leads on the strategic business and creative direction of the organisation, liaising with partners and networks to develop relationships and projects. Louise is an experienced curator whose exhibitions have focused on ideas of domestic heritage, the role of women’s work in society and storytelling. Louise has been a selector for several guilds and craft festivals including Makers Guild in Wales and the Contemporary Craft Festival.

Square image with swirl circle logo including portrait photo of Louise Jones-Williams, a white woman with white blond hair. Text says Making Meaning Podcast with Louise Jones-Williams. Hashtag Making Meaning Podcast. @llantarnam-grange (instagram link)

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Images show in-conversation and preview events with me at Llantarnam Grange. There is a recording of my Textile Traces 2019 exhibition launch conversation with me and Polly Leonard, Editor of Selvedge here.

The current exhibition at Llantarnam Grange is The Sketchbook, curated by Louise and Exhibitions Officer Savanna Dumelow continues until 11th June


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 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.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 14 with Sharon Adams

Sharon’s work really fascinates me. Her objects tell intriguing stories of the landscape she is rooted in and allow for contemplation and imagination of the viewer too. Sharon and I have had such interesting conversations about place, belonging, boundaries and landscape containers, it was a pleasure to talk to her more about her work in this podcast. Sharon also supports artists through Herding Fish, her 1:1 coaching business.

Sharon Adams is an applied artist living and working in rural Northern Ireland. She works with wood, metal and textiles to create objects which respond to the surrounding landscape.

Having left home to study in London at 18, she remained there for over 20 years, mostly working in events management. But in 2008 she headed off to a full-time art degree at Brighton and in 2012 moved back to Northern Ireland where she now lives and works from an old stone farmhouse and farmyard next to her family’s farm.  

Previous work includes interpretations of tools and of land & weather measurements. Her current work involves direct explorations of her connection to the townland where her family has farmed for five generations, and is specifically focused on the area that lies within the horizon seen from her home at Frocess Yard.

In 2020 she completed a coaching qualification with RD1st and now offers one to one support to individual artists and makers.

A correction: I say in the podcast that the Four Nations project we are working on is funded by Creative Scotland. In fact it is jointly funded byCreative Scotland, Arts Council England, Arts Council Northern Ireland and Arts Council of Wales/Wales Arts International. Just the application process was through Creative Scotland. You can find out more about our work for this project here.


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You’ll know from listening to this podcast, just how much I value conversations about creative practice. Over many years of mentoring and being mentored I know just how impactful it can be in moving in the right direction. If you would like to find out more about 1:1 mentoring with me, there’s lots of information 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, workbooks and research to help you develop your own work. Find out more here.

Community Spirit Project Launch

Calling all covid-related volunteers!

Have you volunteered to help others during the pandemic in Leicester, Leicestershire or Rutland?

You’ve done amazing work over the last two years, supporting communities throughout the pandemic. 

I am collecting stories and making an artwork to celebrate the incredible work of local people during the pandemic. The stories will become part of an artwork, also made by volunteers, to be showcased in the autumn. There will also be events during volunteers week in June.

Please share your volunteering story and join in with the artwork (if you want) by visiting ruthsinger.com/community-spirit 

tinyurl.com/communityspiritleicestershire

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.

Criminal Quilts Exhibition Launch

My exhibition opens at Llantarnam Grange on Saturday 5th Feb. Join me for a live stream preview event on Friday 4th Feb at 2pm GMT

I’m excited and sad to be showing my touring exhibition Criminal Quilts for the final time. The exhibition is open at Llantarnam Grange, Cwmbran, Wales from 5th February – 2nd April 2022. Monday – Saturday 9.30am-4pm

This final version of the show brings together brand new work with many of the pieces from the last 10 years of this project and is the last chance to see this body of work.

We are hosting a free live-stream preview on Friday 4th Feb at 2pm. Link and further details will be available shortly.

I’ll also be running an in-person creative workshop at the gallery and a short drop-in session for International Women’s day in March. Details to come

Alongside this, I’ll be running a series of online talks and workshops starting in February. To get the details of all of these events, please join my email list.