Worn Stories

Yesterday was the first of six sessions for a community project I’m running with Mandeep Dhadialla. We have been commissioned by ArtReach to create a project with refugees from around the world and now living in Leicester exploring stories of textiles & recycling. It was such an inspiring and enjoyable session with really fantastic conversations and creative work.

For this first session I shared a collection of world textiles which we will use throughout the project as our inspiration. We talked about embroidery and decoration in the clothing from the participants’ countries and cultures and we started the process of a creating a group artwork using these textiles as our source.

We made rubbings, tracings and drawings of the embellished and decorated cloth and we shared conversations about who made these stitches and the similarities and differences of cloth and culture around the world. The project continues weekly for a few weeks with the addition of printmaking and textile techniques and the collecting of stories of textile re-use and preservation which will all be shared at ArtReach’s Re/action festival in Leicester in August.

Working with this group and hearing their stories is also being very fruitful for my thinking about my own work on migration, refugees and displacement which I’ll be sharing more about in the coming months.

You can find out more about my work with communities and previous projects here. I’ve got some exciting collaborations and co-creation projects in development for the next couple of years including ones where anyone can get involved in sharing stories and contributing to my creative projects. Keep in touch to find out more via my email newsletter.

Following Paths and Hedges

One of the starting points of my Blossom & Thorn project about hedges along the National Forest Way has been my work on paths. This piece, on a wall boundary, represents a path, a walk, an escape route, a boundary. My work crosses over lots of elements of personal and landscape history at the moment and the stories intermingle, grow together like hedge branches and twining honeysuckle and rose.

During the development of the Blossom & Thorn project concept I chose to bring together my interest in paths and walking routes with this project about hedges. At one point I was thinking about hedges across the whole National Forest area which is 200 square miles and was far too big for a 6 month project! I realised the National Forest Way, a 75 mile long distance footpath winding across the National Forest, starting a couple of miles from my house, was the perfect container for this idea.

During this month volunteer hedge spotters are walking parts of the National Forest Way and using my hedge spotters guide to look closely and think about the hedges they find on their walks. The process of looking at hedges on a walk makes you slow down and consider your surroundings. I hope it is helping people learn new things and see their familiar landscape in new ways. By slow looking and thinking we can engage in depth with something new. By walking along footpaths we take our time and we also walk in the footsteps of thousands before us who would have known these hedges too.

This week is National Hedgerows Week and I encourage you to go out and look at rural and urban hedges while they are at their best, full of greenery and blossom, before the thorns become more obvious again in the winter. If you are near enough the National Forest Way in Leicestershire, South Derbyshire or Staffordshire, please share you findings about the hedges you see along the National Forest Way and be part of my project mapping and recording the fascinating linear forests our landscape is crisscrossed by. Find out more about taking part here. Volunteers can win tickets to Timber Festival and join me on a walk exploring the old hedgerows of the festival site as well as much more!

Behind the Hedgerow

During National Hedgerow Week I am sharing more about my Blossom & Thorn project creating artwork about hedges along the National Forest Way. Today I’m sharing a bit of behind the scenes about my developing ideas for the artwork I will be creating over the next couple of months to share at Timber Festival.

This project concept really started a year or so ago while walking locally across fields and past hedges. I’ve got a longer-term project about local landscape and history within walking distance of my house and hedges have formed part of this ongoing research. So when I saw the National Forest Arts Grants opportunity it made sense to come up with a project proposal involving landscape history and trees.

My proposal was to work with volunteers to walk in areas of the National Forest and identify historic landscape features like boundaries, abandoned farms and old woodlands, as well as old hedges, and from this create an artwork for Timber Festival.

In January I visited the Timber Festival site to consider how I might present some work within the trees and an old hedgerow caught my eye and suddenly clarified the project. I would make work about hedges in the National Forest and present it, if possible, in this old hedgerow.

My working drawing of the piece in situ is below, centre. The other images are pages from my project book as I work through various ideas of what I could make and what I would ask volunteer hedge spotters to investigate.

So now there are hedge spotters around the National Forest area walking parts of the National Forest Way and sending me their findings and hedge stories which I will incorporate into the artwork. There’s still time to take part, you can find out all the information here. And if you are already doing this, please don’t forget to send in your hedge discoveries by 31st May.

I’m sharing much more of my development of this project with my Maker Membership group. My Maker Membership is an online group for makers who want to build more meaning and research into their practice and want to learn from me and share with others. I also set a theme and creative brief for any members who want to explore new research and ideas along with. At the moment the theme is Woodlands to tie in with my Blossom & Thorn project. I’ve shared some recent experiments with quilts in woodlands and the background and development of this project around hedges. Membership is open for anyone who makes and wants to think about their practice, reflect and learn. There’s more information below.

If you are looking for a creative community with ongoing support and resources to challenge your thinking and take your creative practice further, have a look at my Maker Membership. It’s a monthly rolling membership that you can join any time. I create workbooks, blog posts and videos about all kinds of things including research, creative development and reflection. There’s also a lively community who share their work and their thoughts via the members chat and we meet monthly on Zoom for a group mentoring session which is always really inspiring and encouraging. It’s £25 per month to join with no minimum term. Find out more here.

Hedge walks

Like the hedges, my Blossom & Thorn project is in bloom now! Last weekend I led a guided walk along a section of the National Forest Way in Leicestershire. 14 of us (and one dog) explored several stretches of hedges in really varied condition. Some were closely clipped and others gone semi-wild, while others were entirely feral. Most of them had signs of old laying within them and we found a good variety of species including some unexpected like gooseberry!

The participants told me they had a lovely time, chatting with each other about their own nature enthusiasms and learning about hedges, fields, landscape history, trees and plants. It was a really fun experience for me to take others on my hedge walks as I do most of my hedge-spotting research walks by myself.

I’ve been exploring different parts of the National Forest Way for this project and have been to both places I know well and completely new routes. Last week I visited the Rosliston Forestry Centre, in the middle of the National Forest. The National Forest Way, the focus of this project, snakes around the site and into local fields and villages. I managed to visit on a beautiful sunny day and enjoyed a 3 mile walk with only a little bit of deep mud. I found my first old hedge immediately upon leaving the visitor centre (top left image below) and followed a line out into the village of Rosliston. This turned into a flourishing young hawthorn hedge around the churchyard with the remnant of a hedge opposite, one forming a green lane but now a stray hedge on an access road (top centre image).

I found some amazing old hedge trees turning into full sized ash trees (above left) and some fragments of hawthorn (centre) as well as some beautiful sheep and lovely spring hedge bottom plants like hedge mustard / garlic and bluebells.

I’ll be sharing more of my hedge discoveries, my sketchbook and plans for the artwork in the coming week for National Hedgerow Week.

In the meantime, please volunteer to share your hedge stories if you are near to the National Forest Way and can visit in the next few weeks before the end of May. Find out more here about taking part in this project. My project is supported by a National Forest Arts Grant.

Freestyle embroidery

I recently got to revisit this embroidery I made a few years ago to write a post for my Textile Study Space about freestyle, no rules embroidery. The post (for subscribers) is about techniques, experimenting and finding your own style and about knowing what feels right and what doesn’t. I ended up getting very self analytical about what my stitch style says about me, which is absolutely fascinating but also not where I intended to go!

Hand embroidery is a major part of my creative practice these days. I use stitch in pretty much everything I do, but when I started (18 years ago), I didn’t have hand embroidery in my repertoire. I was actively scared of it! There were rules and patterns and the ‘right’ way to do it and none of this was appealing to me. I have always struggled with remembering complex stitch patterns and getting French knots right.  I approach hand stitch in the same way that I approach a lot of my work – I use the technique, materials and processes that are appropriate to the story I am telling. And I make it up as I go along by testing, revising, unpicking and experimenting with my needle. If I like how it looks, then it’s right.

A snippet of the post

Textile Study Space is an online home for all the masses of textile techniques, making and study of historical textiles that I have amassed over the last two decades. I share posts about my work and how I’ve made it, techniques and ideas of how to use them in your own creative work, about materials and about the historical textiles that inspire and fascinate me.  The Textile Study Space is like being in my studio and having the chance to look around at the boxes of samples and projects, textile collections and my work-in-progress. You’ll find stitch and quilting, historic embroidery, printing and appliqué and masses more. It’s just £5 a month to join.

Blossom & Thorn – get involved

Blossom & Thorn is a creative project looking at hedgerows in the National Forest in the English Midlands. You can take part in the project by joining a guided walk and / or walking parts of the National Forest Way with my hedge guide and sharing what you find.

You can find all the information on the main page for the project here.

Guided Walk

Join the artist for a research walk on Saturday 29th April 10am-12pm at Newtown Linford, Leicestershire. This is approx 2 hours gentle walking mostly on footpaths with a couple of stiles and one road to cross. It will probably be muddy so please wear suitable footwear and waterproofs in case of rain. You can still volunteer if you can’t join this walk. Free! Book here

Share your own walks

Walk in your own time on sections of the National Forest Way that are near you and send me your observations about the hedges you see. This is open until the end of May as I will need the data to make the artwork in June. You can walk as little or as much as you wish and send me one hedge report or 20. There’s a digital or printed booklet to help you explore hedges and you can send me your hedge stories online. Full details here. Volunteers can also get free tickets to Timber Festival where the artwork will be displayed, 7-9 July 2023.

Blossom & Thorn project launch

I’ve had a rather hard winter so far, but a small beacon of joy has been the success of a project application to work with the National Forest on an arts project about hedges. I’ve been pretty obsessed with hedges for a long time but since moving to the edges of a town in 2021 and walking along hedgerows pretty much every day, they have started to creep into my creative consciousness, not just my environmental consciousness.

Blossom & Thorn, a hedgerow homage for the National Forest

An exploration of the extraordinary and humble hedgerows of the National Forest with artist Ruth Singer. Over the coming months, Ruth & a team of volunteers will be meeting with hedges along the National Forest Way and sharing their stories. From this gathering of hedge learning from old maps, from observation and emotional connection, Ruth will create an artwork to be shared within an ancient hedge. 

This project gives me the opportunity to explore some of the hedges along the 75 miles of the National Forest Way, a long distance footpath starting about mile from my home and rambling across the National Forest in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire I will also be working with volunteers to walk sections of the Way and report back to me on any hedges they find, and their condition. I will collate all these hedge stories into an artwork which I hope to present at an event in the summer (tbc). If you would like to get involved please let me know using the contact form below.

I’ll be leading a guided walk on Saturday 29th April in Leicestershire and tickets for that will be available soon.

Find out More

The project page is here

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Stitches That Speak Symposium

On 20th April I’m giving a talk for a symposium at De Montfort University, Leicester. The programme is full of fascinating talks and presentations about biographies through objects. My presentation description is below. The event is free and all are welcome.

Emotional Repair: personal stories in cloth and stitch

My artist practice is entirely tied up with my first career in museums. Since my Museum Studies MA 25 years ago, I have been intrigued by our reverence for objects and the power of objects both to fascinate us and to embody stories. This has become a fundamental part of my research-led textile practice, in which I often work with historic garments as source or material. My work stems from my museum training of exploring objects from different angles and my passion for textiles and the stories we create around them. My artistic practice is counterpoint to museum practice by considering irreparable textiles as valuable. My work with old cloth is a thoughtful and considered interpretation of conservation and preservation methodologies and practices.

In this paper I plan to present two bodies of work which come from the same core interest in how cloth holds life stories.
Garment Ghosts is an ongoing body of work created from badly damaged and irreparable antique clothing, to which I give new life by remaking. I unpick clothing and textiles beyond repair and the fragmentary cloth is brought back to life through trapping the disintegrating garment between transparent layers, keeping the outline of the piece but also opening up seam allowances and pleats to take the fabric back to its original form.

Imprint is a commission to make a new piece of work inspired by a family textile collection, where I was asked to preserve the garments intact which presented me with an intriguing challenge of working with a textile collection without cutting anything. Unlike much of my work using garments divorced from their humans, I had a clear provenance and stories to go with these pieces. I created an archive box of small pieces telling stories of damage, use, fragility and human experience.

The Power of Personal Stories

I was thinking yesterday, on a museum visit, of the power of personal stories in heritage and in art practice. I often use objects as my source material but the stories about real, named women are what has made Criminal Quilts so impactful. It’s been important to me all the way through this 12-year long project to emphasise that the women in the photographs were real, troubled women with multiple challenges in their lives, in a harsh system which tried to remove their individuality in prison. Their stories deserve to be told and remembered. My Criminal Quilts book has short case studies of 37 women and I have added extended biographies to my website since the book was written which you can find below.

Criminal Quilts is my first self-published book and it’s been a joy to share it across the world. It’s 80 pages full of prison photographs, the background to prison photography and details of the 500+ photos of women in the Stafford Prison archive. It also covers all the textiles I made up to 2018 and much more besides. It’s £16 available directly from me here.

I’ve been asked a thousand times how I got into this project and how I got from prison photographs to the quilts and other work I have made over the years. It’s almost impossible for me to define my long, slow working process, but I have been working on ways to share my research and development processes with others. My Maker Membership is designed to do this: helping other creatives who want to build in more research, meaning and connection into their practice. It’s an online group with resources and workbooks to help you define your practice and a friendly group to share and connect with. Members always tell me just how brilliant it is to find your people – others that understand what you are trying to do with your work and are properly interested in your ideas and want to support you to do your best work. I am really proud of this amazing space I’ve created and I want as many of you as possible to benefit from the support and development it offers. I have some free Find Out More events coming up soon but you can always find info here.

Learn new textile techniques with me

Textile Study Space is my online school for all things stitch and fabric. It’s a subscription site for just £5 with monthly posts and a growing archive of things like this.

I’ve been slowly building my Textile Study Space over the last year with new content about textiles, inspiration, my work and some techniques and ideas for how to use stitch and cloth.

In the last few months I’ve added a mini video workshop on stitch meditations like these here.

There’s also technique posts about negative space embroidery and about this glorious antique stitched card.

There’s a video lesson on how to make these little irregular patchwork windows (left) and a study of an antique patchwork (below).

There’s a tour of my fabric stash which is quite extensive!

And lots of background posts about my work including my use of digital print and studies of antique textiles.

And it’s only £5 monthly subscription for all of these archive posts and something new every month. Find out more and join Textile Study Space here.