Making Meaning Podcast Episode 26 with Gillian Lee Smith

In this final conversation of the series, I am talking to Gillian Lee Smith, a Scottish painter based in Northumberland. Gillian and I first met as members of a designer-makers group in the English midlands but we reconnected over Zoom during the pandemic and have had some wonderful conversations about our practices, our mentoring work and our creative ideas. In this conversation we focus on mentoring and talk about how both supporting others and being supported ourselves helps our practice. We talk about the zigzag journey of creative practice and how reflection and talking things through with others really helps to clarify things, to open new doors and to inspire. 


Gillian Lee Smith is a painter living in Northumberland. Her ongoing work is inspired by maritime history – fishing communities, the stories of the ocean and the man made structures of harbours that mark the boundary and often create sheltering spaces from the storms.

Gillian is embarking on a new body of work called The Lost and The Left Behind which will explore themes of the ongoing resonance of history, loss and memory. The process of painting (creating, burying and excavating) allows an image to reveal itself over time and can connect to a particular story, memory or experience in surprising ways. Gillian is exploring ways of taking this approach into other media such as printmaking and mixed media for her new work. 

A practicing artist for over 15 years, Gillian teaches in person workshops and creates online courses such as her signature programme Building a Body of Work as well as working closely with other artists through mentoring. Exhibiting locally and nationally, Gillian recently won a highly commended award with her portrait Through dust and darkness (The Miner) at Woodhorn Mining Museum. 

Play here


Other links

Solo exhibition November 2022 to February 2023 at Newbiggin Maritime Museum


Artist Mentoring

If you are feeling a bit at sea with your creative practice, I’m here to help. I’ve created my mentoring programmes after years of working with and supporting artists and really understanding the challenges of creative life. I’m on your side to help you figure out the meanings and the reasons behind your creative practice and how to move forwards. 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.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 25 with Mandeep Dhadialla

Mandeep is a printmaker and workshop leader who works under the brand The Laughing Cactus Print Studio. She’s also local to me and we’ve been working together a lot over the last year or so on community projects and sharing thoughts on our respective creative practices. In this conversation we talk about the themes Mandeep is currently exploring around stillness and displacement, about belonging and moving between two countries. We talk about community practice and the impact it has on our work and the benefits of the collaborative work we are currently involved in. 


Mandeep Dhadialla is an artist printmaker living and working in Leicester. Her work revolves around linocut printmaking, including on textiles, and making handprinted and hand-bound books. Spending her formative years as a child in Kenya and migrating to England in her early teens influences her practice. She explores concepts of home, place, safety and comfort within her printmaking practice, experimenting with combined monoprint, linocut and collagraph print techniques – more recently on the idea of Stillness in Displacement, of how landscape provides the constant anchoring between inner emotional displacement and outer physical displacement, a parallel in narrative between migration, the pandemic and landscape.

Mandeep has sixteen years’ experience of teaching with museums and arts organisations. Her own printmaking practice continued to develop exhibiting widely in shows including Society of Women Artists. She achieved the Runner Up award at Sock Gallery and Highly Commended in their recent Summer exhibition. She received an Honourable Mention Award with Circle Foundation for the Arts, Kenya, and achieved Commended in Teesside Print Prize 20. She is a member of Leicester Society of Artists. 

Play here

Other links

Mandeep runs a print club – members receive four original prints a year through the post. 

You can sign up to her mailing list 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 24 Highlights from Making Meaning Live.


Making Meaning Live was a fantastic online event which I created and hosted in July 2022. The event brought together creative people to talk about the meaning behind what they make with a live audience. This episode includes Ruth Singer in conversation with Maker Membership participants talking about their research and reflection process. The second part is a discussion between Ruth Singer and researcher Charlotte Bilby about working with women in the criminal justice system. There’s also an extended introduction talking about two of the sessions which, although brilliant, aren’t included – one because it was so visual that it just doesn’t work on a podcast and one which wasn’t recorded on the request of the speaker. Those presenters were Sharon Adams who you can hear on Episode 14 and the other was Lucille Junkere – find her website here.

You can also watch the rest of the event recordings for free here including Sharon’s drawing activity.

Play here


Session descriptions

Maker Membership : Research and Reflection

Maker Membership is Ruth Singer’s group for creative people who want to build more research and meaning into their making. Members will join Ruth in a discussion and share their work, focussing on the research they do and the reflection work guided by Ruth that has helped them develop their own creative practices.

Maker Membership is Ruth Singer’s group for all creative people who want to build more research, meaning and reflection into their work. It is open to anyone who makes and we are a sociable community from around the world. You don’t have to be a professional maker (though you are welcome if you are) and you don’t have to work in textiles, there is a wide range of other practices involved in the group. Ruth produces resources, workbooks and blog posts to inspire you to think about your making practice and we meet monthly on Zoom for group mentoring and sharing our work.

Members sharing their work in this session include Alison, Marianda, Amy, Ann and Julie

Ruth Singer & Charlotte Bilby, Labelling Ourselves
Charlotte will give an illustrated talk about two creative projects; ‘Free but not free’ in a community probation setting, and her current work, ‘Keeping in touch’. This project asks women in prison and women outside the prison community to make small mixed- media objects. One of these is a label that explores aspects of their identity. She will explain the processes and reasons for working with criminalised women, show some examples of the outputs and discuss the impact of the work on participants. Charlotte and Ruth will consider the differences and similarities in the work that they have done in exploring the stories of criminalised women over a century apart. While they are chatting, you will be encouraged to think about what you would include on your own label.

Charlotte researches creativity and making in criminal justice systems. She used to work in university criminology departments, where she taught about punishment and rehabilitation and did policy evaluations for the government. She became interested in how creative activities could change prisoners’ behaviour and identities, and incorporated making activities into her research. She is now based in Northumbria University’s School of Design, where she is running a mixed-media making project with women in and outside prison. The pieces explore (changing) identities, relationships with emotionally important people and whether our environments have an impact on the things we 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.

Community Spirit of Leicestershire launch

My project celebrating the Stories of pandemic volunteering in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland is going on tour

I’ve been working on this project most of the year and even longer in the planning and development. It’s finally almost out in the world! Back in 2020 when volunteering to help run a local foodbank, I realised just how important volunteering was to me and other volunteers. We felt useful and engaged and were making a real difference. I wanted to capture that energy and celebrate it and make sure that volunteers got a proper thank you for their incredible work.

Eventually I turned this into a funding application and created Community Spirit of Leicestershire with support from Arts Council England and Leicester city community funds.

From 5th September the resulting work, created by volunteers, will be shown in libraries and community centres as well as the foodbank where it all started for me. And you can also see the project film here.

There’s details of the tour venues here and a press release here.

I’ve worked with Mandeep Dhadialla as associate artist while I’ve been both lead artist and project producer (plus marketing, admin, funding, workshop-leader!). It’s been a real joy to see this come together and to be able to use a creative project to say THANK YOU to all volunteers for your amazing work.


Creative Producer

Projects around making things happen and bringing together people, places and stories

I love working with people to explore places and stories. I create and deliver projects inspired by my three sources of joy: textiles, artists and heritage. I add in research, partnerships and funding to produce experiences around People, Places and Stories

The experiences I create might be for artists, for textile-lovers, around heritage and stories, by, with and for communities.

Find out more about my Creative Producer work here.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 23 Highlights from Making Meaning Live with Amy Twigger Holroyd, Claire Wellesley-Smith, Lokesh Ghai and Charlie Birtles.


Making Meaning Live was a fantastic online event which I created and hosted in July 2022. The event brought together creative people to talk about the meaning behind what they make with a live audience. The next three episodes of the podcast are highlights of the programme – the bits that work without images and video. This episode includes Amy Twigger Holroyd talking about Fashion Fictions with participants Wendy Ward, Ruhee Das Chowdhury and Kate Harper, a conversation Claire Wellesley-Smith & Lokesh Ghai and artist-maker Charlie Birtles talking about thinking practice. There’s more background and images about their sessions below. You can also watch the whole event recordings for free here.

Play here


Other links

Listen to Claire in Episode 16 of Making Meaning Podcast.

Watch the Fashion Fictions film here.


Session descriptions


Amy Twigger-Holroyd, Fashion Fictions
This session will focus on a particular Fashion Fiction: World 54. In this world, production of new textiles has been severely restricted, leading to the development of a resourceful yet opulent fashion culture in which sheets of cloth, ingenious straps and random objects are used inventively to dress the body in different ways. Amy will present a short film showing a participatory enactment of World 54 and host a panel discussion involving three Fashion Fictions participants: Wendy Ward, Ruhee Das Chowdhury and Kate Harper. Together, they will discuss the ways in which making and embodied material exploration have been intertwined with storytelling in the development of World 54, and consider how such activities can help us to bring alternative fashion systems to life.

Dr Amy Twigger Holroyd is a designer, maker, writer and researcher. As Associate Professor of Fashion and Sustainability at Nottingham School of Art & Design, she leads an international participatory project, Fashion Fictions. Launched in 2020, the project brings people together to generate, experience and reflect on engaging fictional visions of alternative fashion cultures and systems. Participants can get involved in writing outlines of fictional worlds, creating visual and material prototypes, and enacting practices from the imagined worlds.

Common Threads: Lokesh Ghai and Claire Wellesley-Smith in conversation

Common Threads: Lokesh Ghai and Claire Wellesley-Smith in conversation

Claire and Lokesh will discuss commonalities in their textile practices through examples of projects delivered alongside communities in the UK and India. Stories told through cloth, memory and making will be illustrated with images from their working lives.

Lokesh Ghai is a textile artist and researcher working with traditional craft practice. He is interested in cultural-making of craft and clothing. He has showcased his textile art at V&A Museum of Childhood, London. As a designer and associate curator, he presented ‘India Street’ exhibition in Scotland. Lokesh is currently a design faculty at UPES, Dehradun. Claire Wellesley-Smith is an artist, author and researcher based in Bradford. She works on long term community-based arts, health and heritage projects which often explore textile stories. Her most recent book is Resilient Stitch: Wellbeing and Connection in Textile Art (Batsford, 2021). Claire and Lokesh met in 2016 at a community textile garden in Bradford and are currently developing ideas for future work together.

Charlie Birtles

Thinking Spaces

With a view to open out a discussion, during this session Charlie will share her own personal reflections on thinking spaces, inevitably told through objects and stories, and will invite the wider group to share their own strategies around integrating space for thinking and questioning into their own lives and practices.

Charlie’s practice is about bringing people together, learning from each other and creating an environment for others to explore their own creative thinking. Whether through making artwork, facilitating spaces, or sharing skills, what is important to Charlie is the wider conversations and impact that is generated when we make way for creativity; process is just as important as a finished article. Increasingly, Charlie values the importance of reflective thinking within her own creative practice. The reflective process shows up for her in a variety of ways: reading, writing, talking, walking, making, collecting, questioning, or sometimes just sitting and embracing silence.


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 22 Highlights from Making Meaning Live with Michaela McMillan, Wendy Ward and Kathryn Parsons


Making Meaning Live was a fantastic online event which I created and hosted in July 2022. The event brought together creative people to talk about the meaning behind what they make with a live audience. The next three episodes of the podcast are highlights of the programme – the bits that work without images and video. This episode includes Michaela McMillan, Wendy Ward and Kathryn Parsons and all involve interaction and activities which the participants really got into. There’s more background and images about their sessions below. You can also watch the whole event recordings for free here.

Play here


Other podcast episodes

Listen to Michaela in Episode 21 of Making Meaning Podcast.

Listen to Kathryn in Episode 5 of Making Meaning Podcast


Session descriptions


Michaela McMillan, The Naming Ceremony
My entire making process starts with notes and stories. These have been shared with me at shows, found in books I’ve read, are from issues happening in the world around me and from events that have shaped my life. This session will be an introduction to the beginning stage of putting a collection together. Tying materials to names and stories, thinking about how to tell a visual story through collected recycled objects – naming pieces and giving them a brief history. Everyone attending will be invited to offer their own associations with materials I present, or show their own piece of treasure and share their own connections and names with it.

Michaela creates individual handmade sculptures that are thoughtful and vibrant objects for interiors. Her work is playfully serious, and made from recycled and found objects with decoupage, assemblage and stitch. The pieces are visions of her imagination mixed with historical and contemporary realities, depicting scenarios of animals, people and nature.


Wendy Ward, People’s Wardrobe
The People’s Wardrobe invites you to wear (or have to hand) a well-used, well-loved garment for this participatory event. As a group we will share the stories of our garments by writing love letters to them and describing them in just three words. This is an activity I am running with lots of different groups of people and from these collected responses I want to start building a library of the public’s best-loved garments which might help to answer these questions: Why do we keep and use some garments for much longer than others? What can we learn from these garments to help us better appreciate the rest of our clothes and keep them for longer? ‘Big Fashion’ has made us believe that we are simply consumers of clothes, but more importantly we are users and wearers and we all need to find new creative ways to build more enduring relationships with the clothes we already own.

*note – Wendy would be delighted to hear from you with your Love Letter to your garment.

Wendy Ward is a PhD researcher at Sheffield Hallam University investigating product attachment, craft and broken-ness in fashion. Prior to her PhD she taught sewing to adults and wrote five best-selling sewing books. Wendy has long had an interest in sustainability within fashion, she worked at both extremes of the fashion industry: as a designer in fast fashion and for a small sustainable brand, then went on to explore novel ways to recycle textiles for her MA. Wendy got her love of making from her dad and a pair of his leather gloves helped to inspire her research.

Kathryn Parsons, The Naming of Moths
Moths are utterly fascinating creatures, and last year I started learning fly-tying so I could create miniature moth sculptures. In this session I’ll talk about my work and show you some fly-tying. There will also be an opportunity to join in a mini creative workshop, and make an ephemeral moth collage from natural treasures. It’ll be a gentle amble through stories of materials, techniques, local history and wildlife conservation, while we sit and make together.

I create artworks that weave together tales of place and people, history and nature. My work is research-based and multi-facetted. The materials I use depend on the story to be told – from miniature moths made of feathers found on nature reserves, to tiny porcelain lichens planted in a poet’s garden! I have created site-specific artworks for Derby Museum, Langdyke Countryside Trust and the University of Leicester, and exhibitions for the National Centre for Craft & Design. I also love to run creative workshops, nurturing people and their creativity while inspiring deeper connections with the natural world.


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 21 with Michaela McMillan

Michaela McMillan’s wonderful work often defies categorisation. It is craft or is it assemblage? Is it sculpture or is it textiles? It is meant to be serious or is it meant to be fun? Michaela’s work is full of elements of her personality and her passions. She describes it perfectly as playfully serious. In this podcast we reflect on how much of ourselves we reveal through our making practice, what rules and boundaries we use or choose to break to make our respective takes on non-functional craft objects! We also talk about writing as part of a creative practice and about using titles and words to add to the narrative of what we make.

I am a mixed media artist working with recycled materials and story telling. I create non-functional objects for interiors with their own stories which are part truth part fiction, and often autobiographical. The new collection I’m working on is The Legion of the Lost and Found and will be available after the summer. I also work with community groups and deliver workshops.


Play here



See / buy Michaela’s work

The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair in Manchester, 13-16 October

Lustre 4-6 November, at Lakeside Arts, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD

Cheltenham Craft Festival 26-27 November

Current work is available through her website and at Court Barn, Museum of Craft and Design, Chipping Camden, GL55 6JE



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 20 with Ruth Singer on Research

Research and stories are fundamental to my work. Everything I make has some kind of message or meaning which I want to express through making artwork. I talk about research a lot, both in the podcast and in my Maker Membership but I know that it isn’t always clear what I mean by research and narrative textiles. The podcast episode focusses on what I understand by research, what I do and what it means to me. Building more research (of whatever kind) into your making is one of the cornerstones of my Maker Membership and it’s something I love to explore with other creative people. There’s a lot more about research in creative practice to come in my Making Meaning Live Gathering – coming up next week if you are reading this when it comes out – or in later episodes of the podcast if you are catching up later!

Ruth Singer is a professional artist, mentor and creative producer of arts and heritage projects. Ruth’s textile practice draws heavily on her first career in museums, she is fascinated by material culture, history and the power of objects in human lives. She aims to explore and illuminate human experience, our understanding of material heritage and the traces and stories we leave behind. Ruth often works in collaboration with other artists, with heritage collections and spaces and with communities to create exhibitions, commissions projects and publications. She works mainly in old cloth, full of complex histories and stories, along with slow stitch techniques to create one-off textile works which have a sense of history with subtle but powerful stories to tell.


Play here



More about my work

Some of the projects I talk about in this episode

Ruth Singer. Figures of Africa
Monumental Folly
Stitched artwork with a hundred names embroidered by hand in various colours.
Ruth Singer Memorial Sampler
Criminal Quilts

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 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

Play here



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