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.
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.
Slow Stitch takes place on Friday evenings 6-9pm at Ruth Singer Studio
Slow Stitch has finished for 2014, more dates for 2015 will be announced soon.
Slow Stitch events are for anyone who loves hand stitching: embroidery, cross stitch, needlepoint and tapestry. These are social events; bring along your stitching and meet like-minded thread-obsessives to share ideas, inspiration and textile chat. You can also browse my huge collection of embroidery books and there will also be a sales / swaps table – bring your excess stash of threads, books, fabrics or tools to swap or sell. Please note this is not a taught workshop, so bring your own project to work on. £5 per event including tea & biscuits. Pay on the day, no need to book.
Trapunto, Italian quilting or stuffed quilting is an old and rather under-appreciated technique which I am a huge fan of. Unlike ‘normal’ quiting, where two layers of fabric have a layer of wadding between them and are stitched through all the layers, Trapunto uses two layers of fabric and the stuffing is only placed in defined areas, after all the stitching is complete. Narrow lines are filled with cord while larger areas are filled with cotton or wool traditionally and often polyester stuffing these days. The old French version of stuffed quilting called Boutis is always worked in white and all shapes are stuffed with a soft, cotton cord.
The oldest known quilt still surviving dates from the 14th century (1360-1400) and is made using stuffed quilting. This gorgeous, minimalist white linen quilt, called the Tristan Quilt, was made in Sicily, presumably for an extremely wealthy client. Textiles were as valuable, if not more valuable than gold in the middle ages, and skilled craftsmen were in demand. This, like many other luxury textiles such as tapestry and embroidery, were made in specialist professional workshops staffed by men and women, and not by noble women sitting around in castles with nothing to do. The quilt depicts scenes from the Legend of Tristan & Isolde (or Iseult), a classic bit of medieval courtly love / tragedy.
Despite this amazing survival, showing brilliant craftsmanship, the technique seems not to have been used much since – or at least it has not survived very well. We start finding examples of stuffed quilting, often the corded kind, in 19th century garments, such as these corset covers, though it isn’t until the 20th century that trapunto is used regularly – I’ve seen it on elegant coat collars from the 1930s, satin dressing gowns and nightwear, on ties, dresses, and on homemade accessories like this handkerchief pouch, made using corded quilting. There are lots more examples, modern and vintage, on my Pinterest board.
The most extraordinary example is a dress by the surrealist-influenced fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in 1938. She used bold stuffed quilting to create prominent ribs and spine on a figure-hugging black dress – quite the most remarkable use of trapunto I have ever seen.
I like to use the technique because of its subtlety and tactility. The play of light on the fabric shows up the design which can be almost invisible in flat lighting and dark colours. Outlining the motifs in contrasting thread helps to make them stand out and you can also use a sheer fabric top layer to create shadow quilting, which I’ve also seen in pre-war pieces.
The techniques of trapunto are covered in detail in my book Fabric Manipulation, 150 Creative Sewing Techniques and a few other books on quilting and manipulated textiles.
Just a brief outline of the new workshops to come in 2014, full details soon!
All workshops are 10am-4pm on Saturdays at Ruth Singer Studio, Leicester. £55 each or book 3 for £150
Shadow Embroidery. 23rd February
Cut-surface quilting. 22nd March
Family Stories. 26th April
Handmade fabrics. 31st May
Smocking, Shirring & Gathering.
28th June Rescheduled for 21st June
Found objects and amulets . 19th July
28th September Rescheduled for 20th September
Trapunto Quilting. 1st November
6th December. Rescheduled for 13th December
I’m slightly astonished at the amount of new work I am churning out at the moment. I usually work on one project at a time, but suddenly, this autumn, there are lots of exhibition deadlines which is pressured but wonderful. My latest completed work is for a Design Factory showcase in New York at the Textile Art Center.
The show opens on 10th October so please do go along if you are in the area. I won’t be there, I’ll be a the Knitting & Stitching Show in London that week. I’ll be spending the next week or so making new pieces for The Knitting & Stitching Show and for The Salon exhibition in October run by EC Arts, and then I have another exhibition at the end of the year at Llantarnam Grange.
More images of the whole piece here
A few months ago I saw an opportunity advertised locally for artists to make work using the idea of metamorphosis and using an object in the collections of New Walk Museum as inspiration, as part of a conference in the School of Museum Studies at Leicester University. I decided to visit the World Art gallery at New Walk, which is full of wonderful things (although they don’t seem to have a page about it in their website!). I took photos of lots of intriguing and beautiful objects but couldn’t find something that really worked with the metamorphosis idea. I photographed this Nigerian ‘charm gown’ because I thought the decoration was fascinating. It wasn’t until later that I realised it would work with the metamorphosis concept.
The idea of the gown is that the words, drawings and amulets added to it, make the garment protective. I was intrigued by the idea that by marking marks onto cloth, it can be changed from mere fabric to something spiritual and powerful. I found the following text on the British Museum website, about a similar object:
Register 1940: ‘Jibbeh’ W. Sudan (?)
Register 1940 later addition:
[N.Nigeria? (W.B.F.)](LaGamma and C. Giuntini, 2008)
‘Every inch of this simple cotton tunic was inscribed and invested with prayers by an itinerant Hausa artist who sought to transform it into a mantle of invulnerability. The extraordinary measures taken suggest that the garment was made for an important warrior to wear into battle. The Islamic belief in the power of the Koran’s written word is manifested here in a creation configured so its Koranic texts encase the body, affording a line of mystical defence superior to armour’
I wanted to explore how the role of the artist can transform a plain piece of cloth into something powerful. In the same way that the artist made the charm gown, I wanted to make a modern, personal charm gown, using humble textile and the hand of the artist to transform its meaning.
Since my grandad died in December 2012, I’ve been wanting to use some of the textiles from his home in my work. When we cleared the house (and extensive sheds) I gathered up all kinds of cloth from old sacking to neatly starched and pressed handkerchiefs, knowing that I would find a use for them. This project seemed like the ideal opportunity.
Initially, I intended to make a small garment, maybe a shawl or scarf, to represent the charm gown, but when I visited the School of Museum Studies, they offered me a HUGE glass case and I couldn’t resist taking it on. Despite all the perfect tablecloths and pristine white sheets from the hoard, what I kept coming back to was a large, old dust sheet. It must have been a high quality cotton sheet, once upon a time, but had been used for painting jobs for many years. My step-grandmother’s family ran a small laundry and no doubt this is where the sheet originally came from – things were not always collected, hence the huge collection my step-granny acquired. The sheet has laundry marks and even an address in Ealing marked on the edge.
Almost everything else I have used in the piece comes from Grandad’s. The pegs used for display must have been from the laundry too.
Rust dye using tools and scraps from the sheds, encouraged with tea to create a soft, brown stain.
Outline of tools in stitch and appliqué.
Floral embroidery transfer, found in my late Grandmother’s sewing basket. She was a professional seamstress and died before I was born. I had no idea that her embroidery things were still in the house, waiting for me, 40 years after her death. I’m so pleased I could use them too in this piece.
Scans of letters, local maps and war time documents printed onto textile to make amulets and appliqué.
Hapazome or flower-pounding, using flowers transplanted from Grandad’s garden to mine.
Found objects, all but one came from Grandad’s things.
Patterns, embroidered text and details taken from the original charm gown and given a twist.
Details of the original dust sheet with collar stud found in the things.
The work is now installed in the School of Museum Studies and is open to the public 10-4 Monday to Friday. Part of the appeal of this commission was the link to Museum Studies, where I did my MA 17 years ago. There is something very pleasing about now creating art works inspired by museums when my whole adult life has revolved around museums in so many ways.
This is only the start of a body of work using textiles and themes from my family history. I am working on a series related to Grandad’s tool shed for Llantarnam Grange Art Centre for later this year and there will be plenty more, I hope!