The Dreaming House : Art Textiles in Historic Houses

The Dreaming House, an exhibition of art textiles from the collections of Nottingham Museums is currently on display in Newstead Abbey, ancestral home of Lord Byron. The exhibition is only open at weekends (12-4pm) and for a few weeks only, and seems to have almost slipped under the textile press radar. I’ve seen little about it online or in print which seems a terrible shame when art textiles get so little attention as it is. All this aside, it is worth venturing to see if you are able over the next two weekends before the end of September.

I visited during the free entry Heritage Open Weekend, which meant it was phenomenally busy, full of families and casual visitors who had little, if any, interest in the work displayed, making it hard to find and view some of the pieces. Exhibition catalogues had run out and one of the rooms containing two major pieces was closed ‘because it is too busy’. Despite all this, I found the exhibition exciting as it introduced me to new artists and works I had only seen in photographs. It is more common for art works displayed in a historic houses to be newly commissioned, inspired by the building and its stories rather than existing works, already in museum collections, being re-displayed in a new (old) environment. Without the context of an overall commission, the works are quite disparate though. The labels in the rooms are limited and tell the casual viewer nothing whatsoever about the meaning or making of the work, so the catalogue is essential – although it offers no map of finding the work in the large, rambling house and is not presented in the order that you find them on the fixed route around the house.

Taking work like this out of a white-wall gallery context is definitely enlightening. The work has been effectively displayed and the spaces and rooms are well-matched to the works. I was particularly enthralled by Naoko Yoshimoto’s work (above) where second hand textiles are unravelled and new narratives created.

Work by Heather Belcher and Caroline Broadhead are shown in a more traditional white-walled gallery space which seemed a bit flat after the other work in historic rooms. Interestingly, these pieces were not framed or protected unlike most of the other pieces and were being touched, as there was no staff presence in the room.  The lack of frames or barriers does make the work so much more accessible though, something I am working on for my own exhibition, which will be largely frame-free.

It was a joy to see large scale works presented in the historic rooms, placed to make an impact. The catalogue gives some curatorial explanation of why certain pieces were in certain rooms but I would have preferred more discussion of this. Most of the pieces certainly looked like they belonged and had been intended for these spaces, which shows considerable curatorial forethought. It was a shame though that the Shelly Goldsmith piece was on some kind of metal tray, which was not explained.



The positioning of Shelly Goldsmith’s Cincinnati Children’s Home Dresses in a cabinet surrounded by Byron memorabilia is an intriguing and thoughtful choice, full of resonance and meaning. In contrast, Grayson Perry’s Claire’s Coming Out Dress is dramatic and bold displayed in a large, social space.


I was unable to see Lucy Brown’s work or Judy Liebert’s new piece made for this exhibition which was a shame. I also failed to make a connection to the Japanese prints included in the exhibition. Even the catalogue doesn’t really explain the connection. I am sad to have missed out on the Grand Tour walks by artist Alison Lloyd but pleased to read about Lacy Days, a reminiscence project linked to Nottingham’s lace industry. Overall, this is an excellent exhibition of fascinating and thoughtful work but sadly destined to be seen by very few people.



Criminal Quilts at Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford

My first series of Criminal Quilts is now on display at Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford. These pieces were inspired by photographs from the Staffordshire Archives of women criminals (below), commissioned by Shire Hall Gallery and later purchased for the museum collection and display outside the historic courtroom.


The six Criminal Quilts in Stafford are shown below. I am continuing to develop the series of Criminal Quilts for my solo exhibition Narrative Threads.




Original photographs courtesy of Staffordshire Museums and Archives.

Narrative Threads Artist in Residence at NCCD

During my residency day at NCCD in April I tried some further experiments with recording dye processes using video, this time using my iPad set up on a plate stand, which seems to work quite well. There’s more to be done on this but it looks promising and I hope a film can be included in the exhibition. I have more sampling and testing to do but it is exciting to be making progress with a conceptual idea captured on film.

The Beauty of Stains continues to develop wonderful stain patterns and shapes, which I have decided to stitch into the cloth to make them permanent.



My major making work continues to be the Criminal Quilts patchwork which will keep growing throughout the year including during the exhibition itself. I’ll soon start working into the areas of completed patchwork, adding more depth and narrative to the patchwork base.


Away from the studio I have been on some incredibly exciting research visits to Oxford, London and Gawthorpe Hall. The museums were all I was expecting and more, giving me masses of inspiration for my work on amulets and memorials. I haven’t yet processed everything that I took in, and am looking forward to spending more time in the studio working through some of the ideas that have been generated.



This week (Friday 29th May) my residency day includes a workshop activity for all ages, contributing to a hand-sewn textile panel. Please drop in 1-3pm to take part. I will also have open studio 11am-1pm and 3-4pm where you can see work in progress and some completely new things I am working on for the exhibition.


Daily Make 2015 (1)

As I made myself a new necklace from old beads on New Year’s Eve, I reflected how I rarely actually make something every day. Work gets in the way. I teach. I administrate. I clean the house. I walk in the countryside. Sometimes there just isn’t the time. I resolved to make time, each day, for even just a tiny bit of making. This year will, fortunately, full of making – unlike last year which was full of funding applications! I have two big exhibitions to make new work for, one at the end of the year and one in a couple of months.

I will be sharing my daily makes for 2015 on Instagram, hopefully every day for the rest of the year. Here is my first week.

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From the back. #dailymake2015 #embroidery

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More playing with beads this morning. #craft2015

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Old Textiles at October’s Sew Sociable

This month’s Sew Sociable will be all about old textiles. I’ll be giving a talk about my love of antique textiles, about museum collections, about my own collection of textiles and how I take inspiration from them to create my own textile art. Anyone coming to the event is enthusiastically encouraged to bring along their own historic textile treasures to show to the others. I hope I’ll be able to to identify things, or at least tell the owners something about them, and offer advice on looking after them. I’ll also be bringing along books about antique textiles for you to browse.

What to bring?

Quilts, handkies, embroideries, tablecloths, vintage clothes, handbags, trimmings, haberdashery, old sewing books… anything textile related is welcome!


Sew Sociable October with Ruth Singer

Sew Sociable October with Ruth Singer

Sew Sociable is a free monthly event for all stitchers. There are talks, events, activities, competitions and lovely food and drink in St Martins Tea & Coffee House, St Martin’s Square, Leicester city centre. Antique textile Sew Sociable takes place on Friday 17th October 7.30-10pm. The venue is easily accessible by train and bus for those coming from out of town, and there is parking nearby too. All welcome, even if you haven’t been before.

A Museum of Me

My collections and selections will be on display in the window collection at National Centre for Craft & Design, Sleaford,  from 3rd May to 13th July 2014

When faced with the task of selecting some objects which define my inspiration, I was almost overwhelmed. For years the main source of my ideas has been museum collections, buildings and the emotions surrounding objects and places. I can’t put any of those into a cabinet…

What I have gathered together for this exhibition is a selection of objects of significance in my journey towards being the textile artist that I am today, from early childhood through to my first career working in museums. Some are directly inspirational, such as the historical textiles, while some represent aspects of my character which come out in my work as an artist and maker. Others are by makers I admire while some are just interesting and curious things that represent how magpie-mind works, drawing inspiration from all kinds of sources.

My current work is around textiles and emotion. I am interested in how cloth is so emotionally powerful and how stories are deeply embodied in the fabrics we touch every day. This really stems from my training and first career in museums, where I was very focussed on the study of objects; their makers, their owners; their stories.

The exhibition also includes some of my recent work as well as some early pieces, showing quite a radical change in my style. Creating non-functional exhibition work and installations rather than products has been hugely liberating for me, and finally it all makes sense with my collecting habits too, as I am now using the old, worn fabrics I love and incorporating curious found objects.

Private view, Friday 2nd May 6pm


Exhibiting new work

The last couple of years have been quiet for me, in terms of producing new exhibition work. I have more than fully occupied teaching, writing, making small products, teaching more, setting up Ruth Singer Studio and who knows what else. What I haven’t done much of is make new work. It hasn’t been a priority for quite a while, and I have mostly only made work for specific exhibitions. When I say ‘work’ I mean exhibition pieces, not products that I make for publications or as teaching samples, or small bits for sale like brooches and purses. My WORK is the stuff that comes from my heart and usually takes months of thinking and then weeks of making, and is intensely personal.


Monumental Folly Group close

Although I have not been massively productive in the last couple of years, I have gone through a major creative reevaluation and have been working in a new way, far removed from the designer-maker-churn-out-products style that I started out in. This has taken years to work out but I finally feel I have got to where I ought to be. I suppose in most peoples’ terminology, I am more a textile artist than a designer-maker. Although I find labels unhelpful personally, it does help explain what I do. What is more difficult to work out is how to get my new work out there. I know how the designer-maker world works; trade shows, retail shows, galleries, shops… but textile art is different and I have a lot of challenges to overcome to make a living out of this type of not-so-commercial work.

Ruth Singer

I almost feel like I am starting afresh, looking at new routes to exhibit my work, new galleries, new projects and new places, which is incredibly exciting. It has taken a few years to gather a body of work which really shows my new style of work and explains what it is that I want to do.

sewn up

I have finally taken on board the idea that work I make in collaboration with schools or with other groups also counts as My Work and that I should take (partial) credit for it and add it to my gallery of work, even though it is not ‘mine’ to exhibit nor was made by me.

School project installation

Polonaise quilt 2011

It looks like collaborative work may well become an even more major part of my creative output; I love doing it and I love the outcomes of it.


I’m very excited at the moment that I am involved in two collaborations with two extraordinary makers for exhibitions next year. And I have a commission to make for a gallery to be exhibited early next year. More on all of these soon.