Criminal Quilts exhibition is now open at the University of Wolverhampton. I will be giving a free talk and tour of the exhibition on Weds 21st November at 5pm.
The exhibition continues until 18th January 2019. Please check opening hours and Christmas / weekend closure dates here.
I am also working on a symposium for artists, archives and academics to explore the crossing points between heritage collections and contemporary craft practice. This will take place on Friday 18th January at University of Wolverhampton and will be free to attend. We are also looking for presentations and activities to form part of the day, please get in touch if you would like to talk about this. There is more information below – bookings will open soon.
Curious Things Symposium
For artists, museums, archives, academics, creative practitioners, makers, curators and others with an interest in how curiosity and things can create amazing projects and research.
Curious Things Symposium aims to celebrate and explore the potential of cross-sector collaborations between artists, archives and academics. This event has grown from Ruth Singer’s Criminal Quilts project in which she has brought together archive research, volunteering, contemporary textile practice and academic partnerships to explore the stories of women photographed in Stafford Prison 1877-1916. A tour of the Criminal Quilts exhibition will be part of the programme for the day.
The day includes presentations from artists, academics, students, museums and archives about projects bringing two or more disciplines together, discussion panels and group sessions to stimulate potential new collaborations and hands-on activities to create conversions and creativity.
Artists are welcome to bring along display materials and work related to their projects and archives / museums to bring handling collections or other resources. Project films will also be shown and ample opportunity for networking and sharing of ideas over tea.
I’m running a professional development day for artist and makers at Llantarnam Grange Art Centre on Saturday 20th October. 10am-3pm. £20.
Join artist Ruth Singer to explore research-led craft making; about creating original work with a meaningful narrative behind it. Find out about Ruth’s research and development process; explore, develop and test your own ideas and take part in creative planning and group making activities. This workshop will also include ways of working with museums, heritage and archive collections. This session is designed for makers of all levels of practice who want to stretch their creative horizons and develop new ways of working. Ruth works predominantly in textiles but this session is suitable for all makers, whatever material or method you use.
The workshop runs alongside Suffrage exhibition which includes a newly commissioned piece made for this exhibition. The workshop is just £20 for the whole day 10am-3pm and can be booked online here. Please note: We regret that due due to the nature of our building the artists workshops will be taking place in our first floor workshops rooms which do not have disabled access.
I have drastically cut down the amount of public workshops I run since last year and now only run workshops with galleries and museums alongside my exhibitions. This has given me more time to spend on my own work and the chance to write a new book and so much more. My car is feeling neglected as I’ve stopped driving thousands of miles a year too – all good stuff!
The downside is that I feel bad that my loyal fans don’t get much chance to come to workshops with me any more, and I do miss the interaction with lovely people and seeing beautiful things being made. I will be doing a few workshops alongside my touring Criminal Quilts exhibition over the next year or so, including two in September and October at The Brewhouse Arts Centre, Burton-upon-Trent during the exhibition run. These are funded workshops so are very much cheaper than most workshops, so I expect they will book up fast! I am also giving a talk towards the end of the exhibition run.
See below for details. You will need to call the Brewhouse to book: 01283 508100
The workshops are
Embroidered Images, Saturday 29th September 11am-3pm. £15 including materials
Try out embroidering onto digital prints and screen prints of archive photos from Stafford Prison. Using fabrics printed with images from the project, you will learn some new embroidery stitches to embellish and transform a black and white photograph into something completely new. Some hand embroidery experience necessary.
Experimental Patchwork, Saturday 13th October, 11am-3pm. £10 including materials
Working with Criminal Quilts artist Ruth Singer, you will have the chance to try some exciting new ways of using paper-piecing in patchwork including working with embroidered paper, collage, digitally-printed cloth and vintage textiles. Hand sewing skills required.
Criminal Herstories Talk
Join artist and researcher Ruth Singer to find out more about the stories of women convicted of crimes and imprisoned in Stafford Gaol 1877-1916. Over the last 12 months, Ruth Singer and a team of volunteers, have been researching the stories of over 500 women photographed on release from the prison, and the social history surrounding their lives. In this talk Ruth will also pick out a couple of local stories of women from the Burton area.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Roll out the red carpet for the premiere of my new Criminal Quilts film!
This will also be shown at Festival of Quilts and most other exhibitions, technology-permitting.
Made by the lovely R & A Collaborations, filmed at Staffordshire Record Office and University of Wolverhampton, with thanks to Jan, Jan, Jan and Ann. Yes, I got all three Jans on one film!
One of my Garment Ghost pieces will be shown in an exciting exhibition during FAB – Fringe Arts Bath 26th May – 10th June.
Biography In Cloth is curated by Carole Waller and Joanna Wright. Exhibition open 10am to 6pm daily – 26 May to 10 June. FaB @ Milsom Place, Unit 26 upper level Milsom Place, Milsom St & Broad St, Bath, BA1 1BZ
Garment Ghosts are created from badly damaged and irreparable antique clothing, to which I give new life by remaking. My first career was in museums and I am intrigued by our reverence for objects and the power of objects both to fascinate us and to embody stories. I am also interested in exploring how we feel about textiles and how we create stories around them.
Tying in with my interest in history and museum practice, I am also interested in exploring and challenging established ideas about preserving and displaying art textiles. I find stained, torn, worn and weary old fabrics full of stories. I am continually drawn back to old cloth and how it is loved and preserved or discarded and how my own artistic practice acts as a counterpoint to museum practice. My work with old cloth is a thoughtful and considered interpretation of conservation and preservation.
With Garment Ghosts, I unpick clothing and textiles beyond repair and the fragmentary cloth is brought back to life through trapping the disintegrating garment between transparent layers, keeping the outline of the piece but also opening up seam allowances and pleats to take the fabric back to its original form. Garment Ghosts aim to make you think about how we preserve and present textiles and who inhabited the garment in its previous life. This piece is made from parts of a late Victorian beaded bodice – the silk lining and the deep lace cuffs and flounce. The remaining, still intact parts of the garment remain in my studio, awaiting another life.
I’ve got several Meet the Maker days coming up this month alongside two different exhibitions. Next week 9-12th May is London Craft Week and I will be showing my Precious Objects collections with Design Nation in a studio in south London. I will be around all day Saturday 12th May 11am – 6pm to talk to visitors. This event is completely free so please do pop in. Full details here.
Later this month I will be in residence in my Emotional Repair solo exhibition in National Trust Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire. You can find me 12.30-4.30pm in the exhibition space on Saturdays 19th and 26th May. I will be working on adding more names to my Forget-me-not memorial sampler, to which so many have kindly contributed.
My Makers In Museums symposium is only a month away now, on 6th June. This takes place at Gawthorpe Hall alongside my exhibition and includes makers and curators talking about working with museums collections. Find out more here.
The exhibition masterclass is now sold out, and my Festival of Quilts masterclass has just one space left but there are still a few places left on my one-hour quick and easy workshops. I will soon be announcing a couple more workshops in the autumn in the Midlands and in south Wales. And there’s still space in my West Dean weekend workshop at the end of August.
My Precious Objects collection will be part of Design Nation’s showcase Head, Hand and Heart during London Craft Week 9-12 May 2018.
I will be in the exhibition on Saturday 12th May to talk to visitors.
Ruth Singer : Precious Objects
Helen Yardley Studio
3-5 Hardwidge Street, London, SE1 3SY
11am-6pm each day, and until 8pm on Thursday
I am currently working on a new exhibition at Gawthorpe Hall Textile Collection which is in an amazing National Trust building in Lancashire. The textiles there are a private collection assembled by Rachel Kay Shuttleworth (1886- 1967) who lived in the house and opened it up to share her collections and her knowledge.
I first visited the Gawthorpe in 2015 to look at their pincushion collection as inspiration for Memorial Pincushions, which celebrate the life of my beloved aunt. The first half of collection were included in my Narrative Threads exhibition in 2015 and some in Salisbury Textiles Open in 2016. Emotional Repair will be the first time all 46 (each one representing a year of her life) will be displayed together and alongside the original inspiration pieces from Miss Rachel’s own collection.
Late in 2016 I began talking to Jenny Waterson, curator of contemporary exhibitions and learning at Gawthorpe Textile Collection about showing this piece and others in a solo exhibition which is now confirmed for 28 March – 24 June 2018. Over the last year I have been developing new pieces of work and groups which will form this exhibition. I also returned to Gawthorpe in the autumn to look at more textiles, this time selecting pieces about mourning and remembrance, as well as unfinished pieces which I consider very poignant and full of potential stories of loss.
Emotional Repair covers a wide range of personal and emotive subjects focused around loss and remembering and includes work made over the last two years as well as brand new pieces currently in development. Much of this work is deeply personal and touches on subjects which are hard to talk about so it may seem strange that I want to share them in this very public way, but we all know just how healing and cathartic it can be to make things when having a tough time. Textiles have such strong associations with domesticity, personal lives and family memory that they are the perfect means to express emotional stories. For me this works so well with the Gawthorpe Textile Collection, although Miss Rachel didn’t collect with this emotional response in mind, it is still one woman’s personal selection and it is displayed and preserved in her family home which brings an intimacy and personality beyond most museum collections.
The exhibition opens 28th March and continues until 24th June 2018.
The photographs which have formed the source material for Criminal Quilts are held in bound albums in Staffordshire Record Office. The albums are part of a large collection of archives from Stafford Prison and I’ve been working my way through each one in the last couple of weeks. The images I am working with date from 1878-1915.
As well as the intriguing photographs of women, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the albums themselves. They are large bound books with hundreds of pages. Some have damaged spines showing the binding. Some covers are badly damaged too, showing layers of leather and board.
The albums have marbled endpapers and indexed pages, buckled pages and damaged corners. The materiality and weight of these albums adds another dimension to the stories of the women whose images are contained within.
I am hoping to bring in the physicality of the albums into the new work in make as the project develops, in the form of artist-made books with hand printed and stitched pages.
The research and development phase of Criminal Quilts is now well underway. I have been spending time in residence at Staffordshire Record Office exploring archives and finding out what resources I have to explore during this project and planning what the workshops for volunteers and participants will involve.
Stafford Prison photograph albums from the late 19th and early 20th century form the basis of the entire project. For several years I have been creating work around a handful of photographs of women with no additional information about them at all. One of the aims of this new funded research project is to explore the full collection of photograph albums and trace stories through the records.
There are 10 different albums dating from 1877 to 1915 which gives me a broad window of exploration beyond the Victorian and well into the 21st century. I have begun by cataloguing the women who appear in the photographs. The albums just contain photos, and in a couple of cases, indexed pages of named but very little detail. Each image is marked with the prisoner’s name, a date (of photograph, I assume) and a number. In this first phase I am making lists of all the women (about 10-15% of the total in each album I estimate) and noting name, date, number, approximate age and a detailed description of the photograph. I’ll then be able to cross reference between the albums to see who features more than once and then find out more about them via the written documents which I have yet to explore.
Already I can see women who appear several times over the years. I have identified prison uniforms and what I suspect is prison-issue clothing. There’s also a very clear timeline of fashion, particularly in hats which almost all of the women are wearing. These photographs are known to be a rare record of working class women’s clothing but I am already realising it is going to be difficult to be sure what is prison issue and what is personal property, particularly in the later images. There are also some really lovely shawls appearing which may well inspired new work.
I have a lot of additional research to do about the background to prison identification photography, about prison uniforms and a lot of cross referencing to fashion history in general before I can draw any conclusions about what their clothing says.
The albums themselves are impressive and inspiring objects with marbled endpapers, damaged spines and hand written text. I’ll be exploring the albums in more detail in the next post.
There are still spaces for volunteers to work with me on this project during 2018. Find out more here.
Criminal Quilts exhibition is available for touring in 2019 onwards.
Images of archive material courtesy of Staffordshire Record Office. Project funded by Arts Council England with Staffordshire County Council.