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.
Lustre is a fantastic selling show taking place at Nottingham University over the weekend of 4th-5th November. I will be there with a shed full of tools and remade treasures from my Precious Objects collection. Lustre is open 10am-5pm.
Ruth Singer : Precious Objects