Making Meaning Podcast Episode Two – Gillian McFarland

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.

Artist Gillian Adair McFarland and I met in 2014 when she moved into our shared studio in Leicester. We immediately found common ground with our work and became great friends. We have collaborated a lot on projects over the last few years and continue to work remotely now Gillian has moved back to Scotland. In this conversation, we talk about the areas of interest where we cross over, starting with stains and marks of time, land and human experience. We also talk a lot about the process of making art, comparing our experiences in very different fields – Gillian more in fine art and me in craft / textiles. We also discuss the idea of value in art-making and the challenges of working in a capitalist world where financial value is placed above other kinds of value. We both collaborate a lot with other artists as well as each other so we also talk about the importance of working with others, including scientists. We talk about the difficulty of focussing on just one idea out of so many and how this works so well in our collaborative work.

We have worked together on art-science projects as well as other collaborations. We have recently finished a new Criminal Quilts collaboration and are just starting a co-creation project with the Hutton Institute, Dundee which you can get involved in. Please sign up to my mailing list to find out about that when it’s ready.

Listen here

Gillian and her recent work


Images below of Gillian, Gayle Price glassblower at University of Leicester and photos from our genetics residency

More images and information about our Genetics Residency can be found on our website McFarland & Singer


Gillian Adair McFarland

head and shoulders image of Ruth Singer, white woman with short dark hair and glasses

Support the podcast

If you have enjoyed the podcast, please consider making a contribution towards my costs to create and host these conversations. You can make a one-off donation below or join my Podcast Supporters Membership on Patreon for £4.50 per month. You can also support for free by subscribing, reviewing and sharing the podcast on your social media. Thank you!

Podcast donation

A small contribution towards the podcast costs

£2.00

Download the transcript here

This is an auto-generated transcript, which I have edited a little but may still have mistakes and unclear bits.

Creative confidence through mentoring

Mentoring for artists, makers and creative business owners

Recently my friend and mentor Melody Vaughan shared a series of blog posts about mentoring / coaching within a craft context. She has generously included me in one of her posts, as well as Sharon Adams who is also an artist-mentor. Melody reflected on the importance of mentoring and also the relevance of a mentor who is in the same or similar field and understands the content of craft.

I work with makers in all materials and also those outside of making – I’ve worked outside of craft as well as inside for over 25 years now and have a lot of experience of supporting others including the last year running the Establish part of the WebinArt professional development programme for 28 professional artists. I’ve written more about mentoring here so you can find out what it is all about.

I also recommend reading all Melody’s posts about mentoring and coaching in general if you are thinking that it would be something useful for you. I am sure it would be useful for everyone, but I know it depends on your situation and finances and if you feel ready for that kind of self-reflection. 

I completely understand that not everyone is ready for the commitment, cost and time of 1:1 mentoring, so I am developing a group mentoring programme which will run first in the autumn – winter (for those who aren’t makers focussed on Christmas selling) and again in in the new year. This will be a great way of experiencing mentoring without the intensity of 1:1 and also experience the benefits of sharing with others, making connections within the creative world and learning about how others work to apply to your own practice, in a supportive, facilitated space. This will be online so accessible to as many as possible (in UK timezone!).

If this sounds like something you are interested in being part of this, please drop me a line and I’ll put you on the list to hear about it first.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode One – Welcome

It has taken a lot longer than anticipated to get my podcast available, but hurrah, it launches today. You can now find and subscribe to Making Meaning in most podcast apps or listen directly below.

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.
Episode one is very short – just a few minutes for me to introduce the idea behind the podcast, explain what I’m planning to do over the series and to talk a little about the importance of creative conversations. I share why I love talking to creative people and how inspiring and invigorating it is to have the chance to bounce ideas around and talk about things that matter. I also introduce my first guest for episode two and mention the mentoring and other support I offer. There’s also a plug for my Patreon for anyone who wants to dig into my work more, support the podcast and make textiles with me! There’s a full transcript available at the end of this page too.

I’ll be talking to artists and makers, creative freelancers and consultants, coaches and others across the creative sector who chose to do work which is meaningful. I’ve wanted to make this podcast for years but the pandemic has really made it necessary and vital for me.

#2: Collaboration and Connection Making Meaning

Ruth talks to fine artist Gillian McFarland. Ruth & Gillian have collaborated for a number of years on art-science and other conceptual projects. In this episode, Gillian talks about the meanings and thought processes behind her work and why she chooses to collaborate with other artists. For more information visit: ruthsinger.com
  1. #2: Collaboration and Connection
  2. #1: Welcome to Making Meaning
head and shoulders image of Ruth Singer, white woman with short dark hair and glasses

Support the podcast

If you have enjoyed the podcast, please consider making a contribution towards my costs to create and host these conversations. You can make a one-off donation below or join my Podcast Supporters Membership on Patreon for £4.50 per month. You can also support for free by subscribing, reviewing and sharing the podcast on your social media. Thank you!

Podcast donation

A small contribution towards the podcast costs

£2.00

Download the transcript here

Developing a body of work

Maker Membership with Ruth Singer, for textile makers who want to be inspired, creative, imaginative and make work with meaning.

When I was starting out as a textile maker, I really struggled with the reality of making a consistent body of work. I made all sorts of things in all kinds of designs, textures, patterns, colours and materials. I just wanted to make what I wanted to make. I don’t have a textile degree or any formal education as an artist / maker and really hadn’t had to create a consistent style for myself. As things progressed I became more and more aware of this being a problem and that it was holding me back from making an impact with my work. Fabric manipulation became my trademark and that helped me refine my style quite a lot. I used one technique on each piece of work and mostly used the same fabric throughout which really simplified and toned down all my colourful and textural excesses. I also fixed on making pieces on frames / panels which again slowed down my need to make clothes, bags, cushions and ALL THE THINGS.

Even while making this work I had other creative outlets including designing for books and magazines, so I did get to use some of the extra ideas without confusing my actual exhibition work too much. I never really got the hang of a consistent colour palette though, using the excuse that I worked with recycled fabrics and had to use what I could get rather than buying within a colour range. It was a slow development from this kind of work to what I do now but there were two projects which really forced me (in a good way) to change the style of my work for good.

These pieces, Monumental Folly, were pivotal in changing the way I worked. I chose to work with fabric manipulation techniques but add in a few other materials and processes and work with a very subtle palette. Above all though, these pieces had a narrative and meaning for me and that was what really worked. It then took me years to show these to anyone and exhibit them as I struggled to know if they were good. I was lucky to get some amazing feedback from the brilliant Emma Daker (Craftspace) who encouraged me to show them and later awarded me a prize for this work. That really helped me press on with the idea of making narrative work with limited colour palettes and with a strong underlying thread of history, building on my previous career in museums.

Around the same time I also started on the first Criminal Quilts pieces, directly as a result of making the Monumental Folly pieces. It was a huge creative challenge to create work from a criminal justice building rather than purely textile inspiration but it was a steep learning curve that has set up my career for the last 10+ years and helped me find exactly the right niche in textile art where I belong.

This process of creative challenge, revision, limitation and experimentation has helped me find my unique creative voice and allowed me to be consistent and considered in my ongoing work. I diverge and do slightly different things, bring in new techniques and sometimes colour palettes, but I feel now that I have a recognisable style and theme which brings all my work together.

Maker Membership is my new online programme which I hope will take textile artists (and aspiring artists) towards finding this special place themselves. Creating work which is meaningful, consistent and imaginative.

What is Maker Membership?

It’s about tapping into your own interests, researching, thinking, considering, editing, testing and rejecting lots of ideas until the right one filters out. My approach to teaching in Maker Membership is about growing your confidence in exploring and refining your ideas. It’s about seeding those ideas with research prompts and exercises in exploration and investigation and then refining your thoughts to filter out all the excess to get to the thing that’s important. 

This programme is not about learning to make what I make, it’s about learning to think like I do and applying textile skills that make sense with the meaning of your work. 

What will it be like?

Each month I will create resources (audio, video, written – it will vary) around a theme which fits into a quarterly over-arching topic. Members can then develop their own ideas, sketchbooks (if they want), samples and research in a way that works for them. There’s no testing, no right or wrong and no fixed outcome that you have to produce. Everything is digital so you can join from anywhere in the world. There will be a monthly live ‘thing’, probably on Zoom but I will tweak that as we get going and adapt to what suits the members best. You can fit it in around your commitments and make it part of your daily /regular studio practice. The membership runs through the established membership platform Patreon, which I have been using for over a year and you will get emails with all the content. You can find out more here.

Are you ready to learn and grow with me?

Membership is £21+vat per month and you can stay as long as you need. But the first quarter has limited membership and will close on 30th June at 6pm BST or when the remaining 11 places have been taken. If you would like to be part of this group, please click below to join.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Maker Membership with Ruth Singer, for textile makers who want to be inspired, creative, imaginative and make work with meaning.

I get asked this question all the time, as though people are looking for The Magic Answer or trying to understand how I do my research and develop original ideas for my creative work. It’s something I’ve pondered a lot and for years had an idea that I could share some of this process in a workshop or course. One of the things I always say is that ideas take a long time to filter, percolate and turn into the thing you see. This is a case in point. It’s probably 6 or 7 years since I wrote myself a note to create a course which helped others through this process. And finally in 2021, here it is. I’ve created Maker Membership, an online programme which I hope will take textile artists (and aspiring artists) towards The Magic Answer.

What is Maker Membership?

It’s about tapping into your own interests, researching, thinking, considering, editing, testing and rejecting lots of ideas until the right one filters out. My approach to teaching in Maker Membership is about growing your confidence in exploring and refining your ideas. It’s about seeding those ideas with research prompts and exercises in exploration and investigation and then refining your thoughts to filter out all the excess to get to the thing that’s important. 

This programme is not about learning to make what I make, it’s about learning to think like I do and applying textile skills that make sense with the meaning of your work. 

But where do you get your ideas from?

Mostly I develop new ideas through research which falls into three areas: learning (by reading, listening to documentaries and talks and chatting to interesting people), visual research (which is generally visiting museums) and experimentation (thinking through making). Then comes the refining and selecting, editing and dropping ideas and selecting the one that is right for you. That’s what Maker Membership will focus on: generating ideas, refining ideas and creating work which is true to your unique artistic voice. There will be some textile technique in there too, as a way of exploring and demonstrating processes but it’s very much a thinking programme.

What will it be like?

Each month I will create resources (audio, video, written – it will vary) around a theme which fits into a quarterly over-arching topic. Members can then develop their own ideas, sketchbooks (if they want), samples and research in a way that works for them. There’s no testing, no right or wrong and no fixed outcome that you have to produce. Everything is digital so you can join from anywhere in the world. There will be a monthly live ‘thing’, probably on Zoom but I will tweak that as we get going and adapt to what suits the members best. You can fit it in around your commitments and make it part of your daily /regular studio practice. The membership runs through the established membership platform Patreon, which I have been using for over a year and you will get emails with all the content. You can find out more here.

Are you ready to learn and grow with me?

Maker Membership is £21 (+VAT) per month and you can join for as long as you want. Membership is open until 30th June and we start in July. There are limited places available for this first round and a third have already been taken.

Textiles In Lockdown Online Talk

Join Ruth Singer to hear more about the textiles in lockdown project with Gawthorpe Textiles Collection, Monday 18th January.

Textiles in Lockdown was a commission from Gawthorpe Textiles Collection to gather stories about textile making during the first UK lockdown in March-June 2020. I worked with them over the late summer to collect stories from over 300 professional and hobby makers about their textile practice during this time and how impactful it had been for their wellbeing, mental health and creative businesses. From these stories I created an ebook and a podcast, both of which are now freely available to enjoy.

Graphic with rainbow of threads in a circle shape with text Textiles in Lockdown and funders logos

Gawthorpe Textiles Collection have invited me back this month to present a live Zoom talk about the project, about my work and creating the ebook and podcast. On Monday 18th January at 7pm I will be sharing my thoughts and answering your questions about the project and about how important textile making is for our wellbeing in this new 2021 lockdown. Tickets are just £5. Please book here, directly with Gawthorpe.

Image of Ruth Singer, side view, sitting in her studio working on a piece of hand embroidery. Wooden shelves and boxes in the background.

Online Exhibition for Festival of Quilts

Today is the launch of Beyond the Festival of Quilts – and online version of the huge event which would normally take place this weekend. I have been part of it every year, one way or another for the last decade or more. I launched my Criminal Quilts book and exhibition there in 2018 and won the Fine Art Quilt Masters competition in 2016, and I have taught so many workshops there that I have lost count. This year I have created an online exhibition featuring some of my pieces from my 2019 solo exhibition Textile Traces. I’ve recorded a talk about the work available alongside the images.

Screen shot of online exhibition website.

Mini Prints

I want my work to be accessible to as many people as possible, so I have started producing mini prints from professional photos of my pieces. These are professionally-printed on high quality archival paper and each print is around 6x8inches (or a little smaller depending on borders) so somewhere between postcard and A5. These three are now in my shop, although two are almost sold out. They are priced at £15/16.

Each month my Patreon Silk members get a print posted directly to them. It does work out slightly cheaper to get this through Patreon and you will also get my monthly digital letter / mini magazine. Original one-off mono-prints are also in my shop too.

Digital Print on Textile

My artist statement says that I prefer to use old cloth in my work, enjoying the history embedded within the textile, and I have tried throughout my 15 years of practice to use sustainable textile techniques. It isn’t the whole story as I do also use digital print on new fabrics for specific projects.  I wrote a book in 2007 about sustainable textiles and home sewing. It wasn’t that long ago, but things have moved on so fast that I didn’t even cover digital printing as an option for craft stitching, as it wasn’t commercially available on a small scale then. Since then I have used commercial digital print services for school projects, commissions and in Criminal Quilts. Commercial digital print is now available in small quantities on sustainable fabrics and for Criminal Quilts I used fine wool to make the shawl below and for the library commission I used organic cotton. It is a great way to use designs created by participants in workshops and projects, even if their work is on paper not textile. I also used digital print for the Harefield Hospital Centenary Quilt, working with groups to select and print their own images of the building as well as scans of archive documents and photos.

On a much smaller scale, I have also used home printed textiles for smaller pieces including in Criminal Quilts. These small pieces of fabric are printed on my ordinary inkjet printer which works just fine for small projects. I have used ready-prepared fabrics bought online for workshops but for my own work I prefer to use fabrics from my own stash including organic cotton, silk organza and vintage linen.  I used to teach workshops on printing textile on a home printer which was exciting but chaotic as one printer between 12 people is not ideal! I’ve now condensed the information into a PDF which is available in my online shop for £5. This also includes a section on creating scanner collages which you can print on textile or paper which is a really fun at home activity if you have a scanner / combined printer / copier. 

 

This is a shortened version of a longer blog post about my use of digital prints which is available to my Patreon Cotton level subscribers for $5 a month. Cotton supporters get 2 blog posts every month while Wool supporters at $10 a month get a digital monthly mini magazine and 5% discount on anything from my online shop. Silk supporters get all the treats as well as a mini print posted directly to you every month, and 10% off shop purchases.

Visit Criminal Quilts (online)

While my Criminal Quilts exhibition is behind bars (in boxes), I have created a free online version of the exhibition. I’ve included lots of high resolution images including details of embroidery, quilting and showing textures and stitches as much as possible. All the exhibition panels, labels and other resources are also on my website for you to explore. There’s also a digital version of the exhibition display book which includes some case studies and historical information. The only thing missing is the surreptitious touching of textiles which you aren’t supposed to do! It also includes work which is now sold and no longer in exhibitions and pieces which haven’t been in all the versions of the touring exhibition. Very soon there will be some brand new work added which is currently in my studio awaiting photographs.

 

 

Don’t forget to visit the gift shop after your visit… There are copies of the Criminal Quilts book, greetings cards with my original digital designs and a handful of postcard packs available too.

There’s also a virtual donation box if you would like to support my future work.