Making Meaning Podcast Episode 15 with Louise Jones-Williams

I’ve been enormously lucky over the last 10 years or so to work with Louise at Llantarnam Grange on both group and solo exhibitions. In this conversation we talk about how she creates and curates exhibitions, finds artists to work with and shares stories through craft. We also talk about the importance of the artist-curator relationship, about my work with her and the gallery and how important exhibitions are for both artist and visitor. This was recorded in person at the gallery in March 2022.

Louise has worked in the arts in South East Wales for over 25 years and became Director of Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre in 2019. She is part of a committed and talented team and leads on the strategic business and creative direction of the organisation, liaising with partners and networks to develop relationships and projects. Louise is an experienced curator whose exhibitions have focused on ideas of domestic heritage, the role of women’s work in society and storytelling. Louise has been a selector for several guilds and craft festivals including Makers Guild in Wales and the Contemporary Craft Festival.

Square image with swirl circle logo including portrait photo of Louise Jones-Williams, a white woman with white blond hair. Text says Making Meaning Podcast with Louise Jones-Williams. Hashtag Making Meaning Podcast. @llantarnam-grange (instagram link)

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Images show in-conversation and preview events with me at Llantarnam Grange. There is a recording of my Textile Traces 2019 exhibition launch conversation with me and Polly Leonard, Editor of Selvedge here.

The current exhibition at Llantarnam Grange is The Sketchbook, curated by Louise and Exhibitions Officer Savanna Dumelow continues until 11th June


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 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.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 14 with Sharon Adams

Sharon’s work really fascinates me. Her objects tell intriguing stories of the landscape she is rooted in and allow for contemplation and imagination of the viewer too. Sharon and I have had such interesting conversations about place, belonging, boundaries and landscape containers, it was a pleasure to talk to her more about her work in this podcast. Sharon also supports artists through Herding Fish, her 1:1 coaching business.

Sharon Adams is an applied artist living and working in rural Northern Ireland. She works with wood, metal and textiles to create objects which respond to the surrounding landscape.

Having left home to study in London at 18, she remained there for over 20 years, mostly working in events management. But in 2008 she headed off to a full-time art degree at Brighton and in 2012 moved back to Northern Ireland where she now lives and works from an old stone farmhouse and farmyard next to her family’s farm.  

Previous work includes interpretations of tools and of land & weather measurements. Her current work involves direct explorations of her connection to the townland where her family has farmed for five generations, and is specifically focused on the area that lies within the horizon seen from her home at Frocess Yard.

In 2020 she completed a coaching qualification with RD1st and now offers one to one support to individual artists and makers.

A correction: I say in the podcast that the Four Nations project we are working on is funded by Creative Scotland. In fact it is jointly funded byCreative Scotland, Arts Council England, Arts Council Northern Ireland and Arts Council of Wales/Wales Arts International. Just the application process was through Creative Scotland. You can find out more about our work for this project here.


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You’ll know from listening to this podcast, just how much I value conversations about creative practice. Over many years of mentoring and being mentored I know just how impactful it can be in moving in the right direction. If you would like to find out more about 1:1 mentoring with me, there’s lots of information 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, workbooks and research to help you develop your own work. Find out more here.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 13 with Helen Hallows

It’s great to be back with a new series of Making Meaning. In this episode I’m talking to artist Helen Hallows about living a creative life with a deep connection with nature, about the challenges and joys of being a professional artists and about what it means to be embodying her philosophy of nurturing creativity within our lives.

Helen Hallows is a mixed media artist based in the UK. Her work is deeply connected to nature and the process, ebb and flow of creativity. Layering paint, papers, colour and stitch her work is intuitive and holistic. Sharing her ideas through her online courses and creating an online community allow Helen to create with purpose.


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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.

English Smocking

It’s been fascinating recently seeing smocking pop up in my Instagram feed. It feels like there’s been a flurry of new interest in this old technique recently.

Traditional English smocking has a very fine history from farming smocks of the mid-19th century to to Aesthetic Liberty gowns of the late 19th century as well as a revival in the 1970s.

I first experimented with traditional English smocking for my book Fabric Manipulation, and of course, being me, did quite a bit of research too. With most of my textile history research, my focus is on learning the technique, seeing historical examples and then experimenting to understand it myself. I love to then break the rules, try new approaches and see where the technique takes me. A few years ago I was involved in an academic research project to explore how smocking might be revived in contemporary practice, could it be mechanised, how could it be adapted to make it easier. It was fascinating.

I used smocked fabric to create these two experimental pieces in concrete during my collaboration with Bethany Walker which remain some of my favourite works we created. We went on to use the ideas from this to create Urban Growth with a group of young people.

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A short history of smocking

Smocking, like so many textile techniques, has a rather secretive history. From what I can find out, the technique of smocking is often confused with the garment called a smock. For centuries, women’s main undergarment was a nightdress-like linen smock, which could be decorated, were she wealthy enough, but often was not, and there’s not much evidence of this garment being decorated with actual smocking. There are a number of Tudor portraits which appear to show smocking on smocks necks and cuffs but it is impossible to say for sure if they really are made by smocking – which is a decorative stitching on top of previously pleated or gathered fabric.

This Spanish child’s smock, dating somewhere between 1700-1800 has what looks like proto-smocking; gathers overstitched with black thread for decorative effect. The garment most commonly called a smock nowadays used to be called a smock frock, which sort-of helps distinguish it. This practical, although decorated, garment developed during the 18th century as a protective, enveloping apron-like shirt worn by manual and agricultural workers to keep their clothes clean. It may well have developed from the voluminous, washable, linen undergarments that men and women continued to wear to keep their outer clothes clean from body odour and sweat.

Smock-frocks as we know them now, are made from rectangular pieces of cloth (no curves so no fabric waste) with gathering to create shape. Gathering pulls in the fabric which is then released below, to create an easy-to-wear and practical smock. Smocking itself allows the fabric to stretch a little which would also increase wearing comfort. In addition, smocking creates a thick, dense fabric full of small air pockets which act as insulation – a welcome benefit in outdoor work, as well as the protection of thicker layers.

As with many other practical garments, they could be embellished and embroidered. When smocks first began to have decorative stitching is unknown, but those that survive from the early 19th century can be stunning. Of course, the finest ones that were looked after are the ones that survive, and the every day ones, worn out and threadbare, would have been recycled rather than preserved, so we tend to see only the best examples.

By the end of the 19th century, the smock was out of favour – many agricultural workers having had to move to cities and work in factories, for which a flowing garment was impractical. Just as the farmers’ smock goes out of style, the technique of decorative smocking starts to come intostyle in fashionable circles.

The women of the aesthetic movement (closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites) took to wearing loose-fitting, ‘healthy’ garments which didn’t require the wearing of a corset. The style of flowing and comfortable garments were heavily-influenced by smocks, along with other styles of dress, and it was unsurprising that smocking was also used to create shaping and decorative effects. This velvet example at FIT is stunning.

Smocks were also popular for aesthetic children’s wear, judging by this Liberty of London child’s smock, a fancy silk version of the traditional rural garment. Patterns using the techniques appear in women’s magazines too, such as this smocked bag from a 19th century magazine.

Part-worked smocking on light wool fabric, mid-Twentieth century

In the early 20th century, smocking appears in women’s magazines and sewing manuals on garments, domestic textiles and children’s wear, such as this example from the Women’s Home Companion, 1916. The 1930s and 1940s were the heyday of patterns and innovative stitch development along with some stunning uses of the simplest honeycomb stitch pattern such as this velvet dress by Maggie Rouff. As with many crafts, smocking was revived in the 1970s when such delights as the smocked plunge-neckline swimming costume was created….alongside Victorian-esque party dresses for women and girls, made popular by Laura Ashley. It is also sometimes seen on folk or traditional costume from Europe. This 19th century Russian blouse makes beautiful use of shaped smocking on the cuff.

True smocking is hand stitched, and incredibly time-consuming to prepare. The reverse fabric is marked with regular dots (for which embroidery transfers were produced) or marked with a grid, then regular stitches are made right across the piece to create completely even rows of gathers. The decorative stitches are worked from the front side and can be as simple as honeycomb stitch (my personal favourite) or covered with complex and varied designs.

Faux smocking using shirring elastic came in during the smocking craze in the 1970s, and it is this much-faster technique that became most commonly used for women’s and girl’s dresses, including many of the Laura Ashley classics.

American or Canadian smocking is a different technique altogether. This type of smocking is all worked from the back, with the gathering and decorative pattern-making all rolled up into one. The earliest example of this technique that I have ever seen is on an 18th century French dress, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ruth Singer smocking

Sewing manuals of the 19th and 20th century don’t seem to include reverse / American smocking, so it may be that it was fairly unknown to the amateur sewer, and only occasionally used by the professional. It became very fashionable in the 1930s and 40s and had a renaissance in the 70s.  The most popular use of this technique was on cushions square, bolster and round cushions in synthetic velvet from the 60s and 70s.  There’s no shortage of brilliant patterns for products using American smocking, some of which I have gathered on my Smocking Pinterest board, along with other historic and contemporary forms of smocking.

As English smocking is such a time-consuming technique, it doesn’t seem to be used that much in clothing, but it does sometimes still appear in couture, like this Versace piece, which is glorious at odds with agricultural smocks! If you are intrigued by these gorgeous techniques, please have a look at my book Fabric Manipulation which explains the basic technique. Do join my mailing list to hear about any workshops or online classes in this technique, and also have a look at my Textile Study Space where I share textile technique snippets.

Criminal Quilts talks & workshops

I’ve got a short series of Criminal Quilts talks coming up in March. These are online live talks on Wednesday lunchtimes at 1pm, but they will all be recorded so you can watch later too. Each talk is £8 or you can book the series for £20. There’s also a discount for the Embroidered Images workshop when you book any of the talks or you can get a bigger discount if you book all talks and the workshop together. Book here.

Wednesday 2nd March Introduction to prison photographs and my research for this project

Wednesday 16th March. I’ll be talking about the textiles I have made in detail including the techniques and materials of my pieces

Wednesday 30th March. This talk is about my research into the clothing worn by the women in the photographs including prison uniform

Online workshops

I’ve got two workshops coming up in March and April.

In the Shadows teaches the technique I used to create my Fine Art Textiles Prize winning piece Criminal Quilts Hanging.

In the Shadows, reverse appliqué in sheer fabrics, 19th March. £75

Take applique and layering to the next level with this exciting technique of using transparent fabrics layered and cut away. Using sheer fabrics, you will learn how to prepare and hand stitch a design by hand and create the subtle shadow effects by removing layers of fabric. This is a one-day equivalent workshop with pre-recorded videos for you to watch from 10am GMT and a live Zoom at 4pm GMT to share with others.


Embroidered Images workshop includes a digital printed image of one of the prison photographs, ready for you to stitch into.

Criminal Quilts Embroidered Images 23rd April £80

The prisoner photographs from Stafford Prison are both moving and inspiring. In this workshop you will have the opportunity to stitch your own embroidered image using a digital print which will be sent to you in advance of the workshop (additional £8 postage for outside the UK) This includes: – 6 video lessons – Live Zoom introduction – Digital printed fabric posted to you – Colour palettes & stitch suggestions.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode Eleven – Reflections with Ruth Singer

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.

I’m an artist & maker exploring personal and collective narratives through textiles. I create for exhibitions, commissions and projects. I also write books, support other creatives through mentoring and consultancy / research work and I love generating my own projects, artist residencies and making things happen. 

All of my work, across all of these different aspects is centred around making with meaning. I am fascinated by the hidden stories in all our lives and in historic objects and places. My work grows from research and contemplation and from collaborating with others.

This end of series episode of Making Meaning is just me. I wanted to reflect on the series, to share my thoughts and feelings about the amazing conversations I’ve had. I also wanted to add a bit more context about my own work and share more about myself and some of the projects I have worked on in the past, present and future. The themes that come up again and again in this series are about connection and collaboration, about the creative impulse and the value of our ideas, about research, about materials and making and about change, movement and belonging. I also introduce some ideas for the new series of Making Meaning, including a live event and longer, even more in-depth conversations.

And of course, there’s more of me asking for you to support the podcast with a contribution towards my crowdfunder to cover the costs of the new series and make it even better.


Play here


Recent work


Support the podcast

My Making Meaning podcast of conversations with creatives is coming to the end of 2021 series. I want to make the new 2022 series of Making Meaning even better. If you have enjoyed these episodes, please consider making a donation to my crowdfunder campaign before it closes on Monday 13th December at midday GMT.

So many of you have loved listening to Making Meaning over the last 6 months. It’s been a wonderful project for me too. I planned and recorded most of it while we were still in lockdown as a way of connecting with others and now being able to share these rich and inspiring conversations is a joy.

The podcast has really resonated with you, enabling you to learn more about your own making or creative work and to understand how artists think and work. It’s made connections across creative work and within and outside of my own textiles discipline. I’ve been able to share stories from museum work and other kinds of creative practice as well as craft and they are all so relevant and inspiring to hear. 

I’ve been doing this out of my own pocket for the last year but really need to make it financially viable for 2022. I have to pay hosting fees, editing and marketing costs and then there’s my own time.. and I would love to be able to pay my guests something too as they have so generously given their time. There are a range of rewards including episode and whole series sponsorship.

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 Ten – Emma King

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.

I first started working as a museum consultant in 2004. Over the next decade I built up a reputation for delivering high quality work, delivering projects for clients across the UK. I then took a break from consultancy to work as the founding Director of the Holocaust Exhibition & Learning Centre in Huddersfield from 2017-2020. I led a small team to create a completely new heritage business, including writing and curating the north of England’s only exhibition about the Holocaust. I learnt a lot – about leadership, project management, storytelling, entrepreneurship, and above all, about myself. Now I’m bringing that learning back to my consultancy work.

This week’s podcast is with museum consultant Emma King, also one of my most-longstanding friends. We met at Leicester University back in the last millennium both studying for a Museum Studies Masters Degree and she has gone on to have a great career in museums both as a freelancer and employed, always seeking innovative projects where she can delve into research and storytelling with collections and people. Because I also worked in the museum sector for a few years and still work closely with them as often as possible, we have a lot in common in our working practices and our interests. We could (and do) talk for hours but I have edited out (most of) our rambling and focussed on exploring making meaning in a museum context, communication and interpretation, the value of ideas and of co-creation with communities and artists.

There’s more about Emma and her work in the links below.


Play here


Emma King

Emma’s projects


Support the podcast

My Making Meaning podcast of conversations with creatives is coming to the end of 2021 series. I want to make the new 2022 series of Making Meaning even better. If you have enjoyed these episodes, please consider making a donation to my crowdfunder campaign before it closes on Monday 13th December at midday GMT.

So many of you have loved listening to Making Meaning over the last 6 months. It’s been a wonderful project for me too. I planned and recorded most of it while we were still in lockdown as a way of connecting with others and now being able to share these rich and inspiring conversations is a joy.

The podcast has really resonated with you, enabling you to learn more about your own making or creative work and to understand how artists think and work. It’s made connections across creative work and within and outside of my own textiles discipline. I’ve been able to share stories from museum work and other kinds of creative practice as well as craft and they are all so relevant and inspiring to hear. 

I’ve been doing this out of my own pocket for the last year but really need to make it financially viable for 2022. I have to pay hosting fees, editing and marketing costs and then there’s my own time.. and I would love to be able to pay my guests something too as they have so generously given their time. There are a range of rewards including episode and whole series sponsorship.

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.

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. 

 

 

Memorial Pincushions

My memorial pincushions are part of my new solo exhibition, Textile Traces, opening at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre 25th May -7th July 2019. I am running a workshop alongside the exhibition to make your own precious pincushion using antique fabrics, hand stitch and decorated with pins. The workshop is £45 including lunch.

image of 46 decorative pincushions arranged for exhibition

These pincushions are made in remembrance of my aunt, Ann Goodstein, who died in 1992. 46 pincushions represent the 46 years of her short life and celebrate the joy she brought to so many. They celebrate her vibrancy, her love of history. Some include antique textiles, pieces of her own cloth and details which I think she would have appreciated like medieval pins from the River Thames. Her son, Ben, also made one of the pincushions. Pincushions are personal and every day items and were once given as gifts or in remembrance. Many are inspired by pincushions in Gawthorpe Textile Collection. 2015-2018.