Developing a body of work

Maker Membership with Ruth Singer, for textile makers who want to be inspired, creative, imaginative and make work with meaning.

When I was starting out as a textile maker, I really struggled with the reality of making a consistent body of work. I made all sorts of things in all kinds of designs, textures, patterns, colours and materials. I just wanted to make what I wanted to make. I don’t have a textile degree or any formal education as an artist / maker and really hadn’t had to create a consistent style for myself. As things progressed I became more and more aware of this being a problem and that it was holding me back from making an impact with my work. Fabric manipulation became my trademark and that helped me refine my style quite a lot. I used one technique on each piece of work and mostly used the same fabric throughout which really simplified and toned down all my colourful and textural excesses. I also fixed on making pieces on frames / panels which again slowed down my need to make clothes, bags, cushions and ALL THE THINGS.

Even while making this work I had other creative outlets including designing for books and magazines, so I did get to use some of the extra ideas without confusing my actual exhibition work too much. I never really got the hang of a consistent colour palette though, using the excuse that I worked with recycled fabrics and had to use what I could get rather than buying within a colour range. It was a slow development from this kind of work to what I do now but there were two projects which really forced me (in a good way) to change the style of my work for good.

These pieces, Monumental Folly, were pivotal in changing the way I worked. I chose to work with fabric manipulation techniques but add in a few other materials and processes and work with a very subtle palette. Above all though, these pieces had a narrative and meaning for me and that was what really worked. It then took me years to show these to anyone and exhibit them as I struggled to know if they were good. I was lucky to get some amazing feedback from the brilliant Emma Daker (Craftspace) who encouraged me to show them and later awarded me a prize for this work. That really helped me press on with the idea of making narrative work with limited colour palettes and with a strong underlying thread of history, building on my previous career in museums.

Around the same time I also started on the first Criminal Quilts pieces, directly as a result of making the Monumental Folly pieces. It was a huge creative challenge to create work from a criminal justice building rather than purely textile inspiration but it was a steep learning curve that has set up my career for the last 10+ years and helped me find exactly the right niche in textile art where I belong.

This process of creative challenge, revision, limitation and experimentation has helped me find my unique creative voice and allowed me to be consistent and considered in my ongoing work. I diverge and do slightly different things, bring in new techniques and sometimes colour palettes, but I feel now that I have a recognisable style and theme which brings all my work together.

Maker Membership is my online programme which I hope will take makers (and aspiring makers) towards finding this special place themselves. Creating work which is meaningful, consistent and imaginative.

What is Maker Membership?

It’s about tapping into your own interests, researching, thinking, considering, editing, testing and rejecting lots of ideas until the right one filters out. My approach to teaching in Maker Membership is about growing your confidence in exploring and refining your ideas. It’s about seeding those ideas with research prompts and exercises in exploration and investigation and then refining your thoughts to filter out all the excess to get to the thing that’s important. 

This programme is not about learning to make what I make, it’s about learning to think like I do and applying textile skills that make sense with the meaning of your work. 

What will it be like?

Each month I will create resources (audio, video, written – it will vary) around a theme which fits into a quarterly over-arching topic. Members can then develop their own ideas, sketchbooks (if they want), samples and research in a way that works for them. There’s no testing, no right or wrong and no fixed outcome that you have to produce. Everything is digital so you can join from anywhere in the world. There will be a monthly live ‘thing’, probably on Zoom but I will tweak that as we get going and adapt to what suits the members best. You can fit it in around your commitments and make it part of your daily /regular studio practice. The membership runs through the established teaching platform Podia and you will get emails with all the content. You can find out more here.

Are you ready to learn and grow with me?

Membership is £25 per month and you can stay as long as you need.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Maker Membership with Ruth Singer, for textile makers who want to be inspired, creative, imaginative and make work with meaning.

I get asked this question all the time, as though people are looking for The Magic Answer or trying to understand how I do my research and develop original ideas for my creative work. It’s something I’ve pondered a lot and for years had an idea that I could share some of this process in a workshop or course. One of the things I always say is that ideas take a long time to filter, percolate and turn into the thing you see. This is a case in point. It’s probably 6 or 7 years since I wrote myself a note to create a course which helped others through this process. And finally in 2021, here it is. I’ve created Maker Membership, an online programme which I hope will take textile artists (and aspiring artists) towards The Magic Answer.

What is Maker Membership?

It’s about tapping into your own interests, researching, thinking, considering, editing, testing and rejecting lots of ideas until the right one filters out. My approach to teaching in Maker Membership is about growing your confidence in exploring and refining your ideas. It’s about seeding those ideas with research prompts and exercises in exploration and investigation and then refining your thoughts to filter out all the excess to get to the thing that’s important. 

This programme is not about learning to make what I make, it’s about learning to think like I do and applying textile skills that make sense with the meaning of your work. 

But where do you get your ideas from?

Mostly I develop new ideas through research which falls into three areas: learning (by reading, listening to documentaries and talks and chatting to interesting people), visual research (which is generally visiting museums) and experimentation (thinking through making). Then comes the refining and selecting, editing and dropping ideas and selecting the one that is right for you. That’s what Maker Membership will focus on: generating ideas, refining ideas and creating work which is true to your unique artistic voice. There will be some textile technique in there too, as a way of exploring and demonstrating processes but it’s very much a thinking programme.

What will it be like?

Each month I will create resources (audio, video, written – it will vary) around a theme which fits into a quarterly over-arching topic. Members can then develop their own ideas, sketchbooks (if they want), samples and research in a way that works for them. There’s no testing, no right or wrong and no fixed outcome that you have to produce. Everything is digital so you can join from anywhere in the world. There will be a monthly live event on Zoom, repeated so those in different time zones have the chance to attend. You can fit it in around your commitments and make it part of your daily /regular studio practice. The membership runs through the established teaching platform Podia. You can find out more here.

Are you ready to learn and grow with me?

Maker Membership is £25 per month and you can join for as long as you want. Membership is open now.

Isolated Moments

I have created an embroidery project for Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, inspired by my time in lockdown (which I am still in!). The project is based around negative space embroidery and using leaf-shapes to create the design. It reflects the isolation of lockdown and the connection with local nature which so many people have experienced this year. You can find the activity here.

Criminal Quilts Case Study – Fanny and Ada Riddle

Criminal Quilts is my an exhibition, research project and book.  The textiles I have created are inspired by the stories of women who were photographed on release from Stafford Prison between 1877 and 1916.

I was fascinated when I first saw the photographs from the 1870s where the women have their hands on their chests. This was in case of missing fingers which would be used for identification. This is the first time prisons took photographs of prisoners to identify them if they offended again. They are usually photographed in their own clothes so we get to see what they really looked like. Photographs of working women are very rare so these are very special images of women who wouldn’t normally have photographs taken.

Find out more in the online exhibition of Criminal Quilts including a film and all the exhibition text. My Criminal Quilts book covers the photo albums in detail, includes many more case studies, a background to women in prison in the 19th century and is illustrated with my textile works. It is available in my online shop along with cards, books and artworks.

This is the first in a series of case studies of some of the women recorded in the prison photographs.

Fanny and Ada Riddle

Sisters Fanny and Ada Riddle were born in Rutland to a family of labourers. In 1881 they were both at school but later worked as servants in Handsworth, Birmingham where some of their family also lived. They seem to have lived in Loughborough at one point but by 1895 were living in Birmingham. Both were able to read and write which is very unusual in the records of women prisoners.

This photograph was taken on 1st January 1895 when they were both released from Stafford Prison. Fanny was 21, Ada was 20. Fanny was convicted of obtaining money by false pretences. We think Ada was convicted of the same crime at the same time. Over a few years they were often convicted together for thefts of food, clothing and other small items for which they received sentences of 21 days to 3 calendar months.

Despite their respectable clothing and jobs, life was clearly difficult for them. Our research shows that their mother died in 1888 when they were 15 and 16 years old which may have been when the went out to work. By 1901, they were both in the Wolverhampton Union Workhouse, and Ada had a one year old illegitimate baby son with her, called Victor. Both of them worked as laundresses in the workhouse. Their family are quite easy to trace and both of their older brothers worked as postmen and were married with children. Sadly it seems their family were unable to support them and keep them out of the workhouse. I can’t trace either of them after 1901 but Ada’s son Victor does appear in records as emigrating to America as an unaccompanied child and seems to have family in Canada too. Fanny and Ada’s father remarried and had another young family in Handsworth and one widowed son lived with them too, but there is no sign of Fanny or Ada returning to live with them. They may have been cut off from their family because of their criminal records.

I have made a couple of small commissioned pieces featuring Fanny and Ada by customers who were touched by their story. I am happy to make commissions using other photographs from Stafford Prison or your own family photos.

LSA Exhibition Prize

I have three pieces in the Leicester Society of Artists Annual Exhibition at New Walk Museum, Leicester, until 7th December 2019.
I’ve also been awarded a prize for one of these pieces, Pierced. The Artist Magazine sponsored this prize which was selected by independent judges:

Elizabeth Hawley-Lingham – Director, East Midlands Contemporary Visual Arts Network (CVAN EM)
Dayle Flude – LSA Honorary Member
Jamie Scott – Senior Lecturer in Art, De Montfort University

Portrait photo by Lisa Hill

Trapunto Quilting Research

My love of corded and stuffed quilting runs very deep. I first taught myself the technique about 15 years ago after seeing it used in 1930s couture garments at the V&A when I worked there. I later discovered the Tristan Quilt, a 14th century trapunto quilt, which is in the V&A but it wasn’t on display while I worked there. Over the last few years working as a professional artist / maker / tutor and writer of books, I have continued to explore trapunto / corded quilting as much as possible. I have covered the technique in basics in my first book Sew It Up, and then in much more detail in Fabric Manipulation. I have also taught the basics of the technique to hundreds of people, including for the last 10 years at Festival of Quilts. I’ve continued to research the technique by visiting museums and arranging store visits to see original pieces (mostly 18th century), and collected old quilting books which occasionally mention the technique. I have already created a very brief history of the technique which is online here, and have copies of the two main books on the subject, but there is much they don’t cover which I want to explore.

I’ve now received a small professional development grant from The Textile Society to take this research forward on 2020. I will be visiting museums, exploring online catalogues and reading books to create a list of corded & stuffed quilting in collections in the UK, and start working towards a book which will cover both the history and the contemporary practice of this wonderful, under-appreciated technique. If you have any examples in your personal collections or know of any in museums, please do get in touch.

The two photographs are my own pieces made for publications, inspired by historic examples. I will be teaching the techniques again at Festival of Quilts in 2020 and will be running a masterclass at some point in 2020-21 too. Please join my mailing list to be first to receive workshop and talk information.

 

Criminal Quilts is back!

After a little pause on Criminal Quilts, I am pleased to say that we are back up and running!  From January I will be working on new collaborations, community work and a symposium taking place in 2020-21. First up though, the exhibition is coming up very soon at Galleries of Justice, Nottingham from 7th December 2019 to 29th March 2020.

Image of textile quilt made from images of women criminals

I have a workshop at the museum in March 2020 which is now open for bookings

Criminal Quilts – Embroidered Images workshop
Saturday 21st March 2020 11am-4pm

Working with Criminal Quilts artist Ruth Singer, you will have the chance to try some of the techniques she uses to create her Criminal Quilts artworks. In this workshop you will learn how to embroider and embellish onto digital prints and screen prints of archive photos from Stafford Prison. 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.
Workshop for adults. £59 including all materials and drinks.

National Justice Museum
High Pavement
Nottingham
NG1 1HN

 

My Shop

Since my Textile Traces exhibition has closed, I have been doing a little studio housekeeping and sorting out a lot of work which needs to find a new home! My online shop has had a facelift and is starting to fill up with prints, textiles, collaborations, textile jewellery and other treasures appearing from the archives of my life, as well as books, cards and postcards.

 

Some of the listings are new work created in the last year or two including my stitch meditations which are framed without glass so are perfect for posting. Other pieces were made some years ago and are on sale at greatly reduced prices starting at just £45. 

Quilt Blocks are just £10 each though you may want a few to make a striking display.

My Narrative Threads booklet is reduced to £6 including UK postage and there is also the option for overseas posting. Other pieces may not have overseas posting options but please do get in touch as I am more than happy to give you a price for shipping anywhere in the world.

There is a lot more to come over the next few months and major updates will be added in September. To find out when new stock is available, please join my mailing list where the first notifications will be announced. I will also be doing some flash sales on Instagram and Facebook so please make sure you are following me to find out when they happen.

 

 

Museum Purchase

Two of my recent artworks have been purchased by museums this year. I started my professional career working in museums, after doing a Masters Degree in Museum Studies. Museums are still my favourite places to spend time, particularly in textile and social history collections. I left my museum career aged 30 in 2005 to pursue my ambition to make a living out of textiles. Over the subsequent 14 years, I have worked in partnership with museums and heritage collections many times and still get a thrill of excitement when I discover new objects, collections, personal and community stories and buildings. I have created commissions using archive materials for Harefield Hospital Centenary Quilt, made textile collections inspired by my own family history and used antique textiles to tell the stories of how we do and don’t treasure historic clothing in my Garment Ghosts series. Museums and heritage suffuse my work, they are inseparable to who I am as a person and as an artist. Having work in museum collections, to be preserved forever and accessible to researchers and historians and textile enthusiasts is a real honour.

Memorial Sampler: Gawthorpe Textiles Collection

I am particularly delighted that Memorial Sampler has been purchased for the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection. I have spent time at Gawthorpe doing research in their collections several times and exhibiting there in 2018 was a highlight of my professional artist career. The Memorial Sampler is a deeply emotional piece of work, gathering the names of loved ones who have died. I started with a couple of my own and then asked on social media for contributions. I added these to the piece during the exhibition when I worked in the gallery on Meet The Artist days. I also asked for contributions from visitors to the exhibition over the 3 months it was on show, and after the exhibition I slowly stitched in all of those names too, adding up to over 100 personal memories. It has been an honour to be trusted with these precious memories and to be able to bring together all those lost loved ones. It seems fitting that this piece will be preserved in the collections which inspired it.

 

Criminal Quilts, Repeat Offender; The Brampton Museum

Criminal Quilts is a textile and heritage project created by me in partnership with Staffordshire Record Office. The project is centred around the stories of women photographed in Stafford Prison 1877-1916. Our research project gathered together over 500 mugshot photographs of women and I created a series of textiles inspired by the stories. This project grew out of an earlier commission for Shire Hall Gallery which has also been purchased by Staffordshire County Council museum collection.

 

Repeat Offender is a screen-printed textile piece, printed on vintage cloth, created with the support of University of Wolverhampton Textiles and Fashion team. Purchased by Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council for the collections of The Brampton Museum, Staffordshire. This piece is part of Criminal Quilts and was purchased for this collection because the woman featured, Agnes Herrity was from Newcastle-under-Lyme. Agnes quickly became one of the stars of the Criminal Quilts project, as she features several times in the prison mugshots.

This quilt is made from screen printed cloth using an image created from this 1897 photograph of Agnes Herrity. She was photographed (on release from prison) five times between 1897 and 1910. She lived in Newcastle-Under-Lyme. Agnes clearly had a hard life, living in slum housing and making a meagre living. She was convicted regularly of drunkenness, theft and assault. I have used screen printing because it uses photographic process which reflects the historic photographs. The use of repeating images refers to Agnes’ repeated prison sentences. Screen printed by hand on modern linen, antique printed cotton, vintage cotton and new cotton hand printed with marbling design taken from the endpapers of one of the prison albums. It is backed with an old shawl, reminiscent of those seen in many of the photographs. 

 

 

Commissions

In recent months I have completed a couple of commissions.

 

The large panel is worked onto blue linen with scraps of antique fabrics including 18th century tapestry, 19th century embroidery and 17th century brocade. I’ve added lots of hand embroidery details and several found objects embellished with hand stitch and silk threads. The objects include medieval metal detector finds including belt ends and buckles. I love these little details and the historical stories in the textiles, all of which are meaningful to the customers.

 

Another commission made last year.

This piece is more focussed around textiles and sewing, with thread winders, tape measure, thimble and some of the customers’ own handmade buttons and reflects their love of colour! This one is mounted on cream wool felt.

 

Commissions like these cost £350-£500 depending on size, complexity and materials (plus framing, I use bespoke, solid wood frames without glass). Smaller pieces are also an option with just one or two elements.

If you would like to discuss a commission please get in touch for a free discussion.