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 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
I’m really chuffed to have articles about my Textile Traces exhibition in both Selvedge and Embroidery magazines July issues.
Selvedge (below left) is a short review article while Embroidery magazine is a 6-page feature (detail below right).
I’ve got a couple of copies of Embroidery to give away to a newsletter subscriber so join my mailing list here ( or on the top right of my website) and follow the instructions in the next newsletter to be in with a chance of winning one – UK only.
The exhibition continues at Llantarnam Grange Art Centre until 20th July. I am looking for galleries to tour the exhibition to in 2020 so please do get in touch if you know somewhere suitable for a large textile show.
I’ve got some new work for sale on Made by Hand including embroideries of my grandad’s gardening tools as well as a saw, a spoon and a couple of lovely plastering trowels. Prices start at just £41.
Other pieces from this collection can also be purchased from my solo exhibition Textile Traces in Cwmbran, South Wales (until 20th July), and in the group Thread: Contemporary Textiles in Penrith, Cumbria (until 30th June). I also make to commission using your own treasured tools or rusty heirlooms, or can source something specially for you. Find out more about the Precious Objects collection here.