Making Meaning Podcast Episode 16 with Claire Wellesley-Smith

Wellbeing through stitch and communal creative practice runs through Claire’s practice, writing and projects. She’s just completed a PhD exploring this subject in depth and we both love talking about the importance of community making practice, about textile and local heritage and about the power of textiles to change lives in all kinds of subtle ways. This conversation ranges across all these areas of interest and we talk about how our work in communities is so important yet so often overlooked in the wider art world. I was honoured to be included in Claire’s recent book Resilient Stitch – more about this below and also grateful to her for sharing her thoughts on textiles and community making for Textiles in Lockdown podcast which I made in 2020 with Gawthorpe Textiles Collection. That’s coming out on this podcast very soon so you can catch up with it right here. Claire has just relaunched her incredibly popular online teaching sessions, again links below. Claire will also be part of Making Meaning Live Gathering in July, an online social event to talk about craft and narratives. I hope you enjoy this conversation and our delve into textiles and community.

Claire Wellesley-Smith is an artist, writer and researcher based in Bradford. Her practice includes long-term community-based projects and residencies that use textile making to explore textile heritage. Her PhD research with The Open University is multi-site ethnographic research into community resilience through engagement with textile heritage and craft and is based in post-industrial textile areas in West Yorkshire and East Lancashire. Her most recent book ‘Resilient Stitch: Wellbeing and Connection in Textile Art’ was published by Batsford in 2021. She teaches and lectures internationally.


Play here



Claire’s Books


Resilient Stitch

Claire asked me to suggest some pieces of my work for inclusion in the book and write about what resilience means to me. I sent her a selection of my work, mostly from my 2018 Emotional Repair exhibition. She chose this piece, Forget.


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.


This episode is sponsored by Beyond Measure, a shop of beautiful things for folk who make.

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 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.

Words about Women co-creation artwork

Would you like to stitch part of a collaborative artwork for my Criminal Quilts project? Throughout the years I’ve research women in Stafford Prison, I’ve noticed the words used to label women. The nature of the prison documents means the words are quite judgemental and absolute.

With this project I want to reflect on the words used to describe and label women then and now. The artwork will be made of stitched words, both positive and negative, created by women participants through community workshops and women working on them at home. Being part of a collective project about women’s lives and the perception of women is really powerful. I’d love to hear your voice in this work. Find out more and how to contribute your stitched words on my website here.

I’ll be running free drop-in sessions at Llantarnam Grange on International’s Women’s Day 8th March, stitching words for the artwork. You can book yourself a space here.

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.

Criminal Quilts Exhibition Launch

My exhibition opens at Llantarnam Grange on Saturday 5th Feb. Join me for a live stream preview event on Friday 4th Feb at 2pm GMT

I’m excited and sad to be showing my touring exhibition Criminal Quilts for the final time. The exhibition is open at Llantarnam Grange, Cwmbran, Wales from 5th February – 2nd April 2022. Monday – Saturday 9.30am-4pm

This final version of the show brings together brand new work with many of the pieces from the last 10 years of this project and is the last chance to see this body of work.

We are hosting a free live-stream preview on Friday 4th Feb at 2pm. Link and further details will be available shortly.

I’ll also be running an in-person creative workshop at the gallery and a short drop-in session for International Women’s day in March. Details to come

Alongside this, I’ll be running a series of online talks and workshops starting in February. To get the details of all of these events, please join my email list.

Monthly Reflections

One of the most useful habits I have developed over the last couple of years is to review my work & life every month. It’s such a simple thing to do at the end of each month but for me it has really helped me focus on what is and isn’t working in my business (and life) and has empowered me to make the changes I need to. It’s a little like having a mentor or coach to check in with every so often. It reminds me to think about what I’m doing and why I am doing it, rather than just getting on with the things I have always done or the things I feel I ought to do. I’ve used other people’s monthly review documents and found them really helpful in asking some difficult questions, and above all, giving myself a little bit of time to think and reflect before just ploughing on with the endless to-do list. Late last year I decided to create my own reflection sheet with questions that were specific to me and the way I work & live – so there’s a question about health and balance which I can so easily forget about until I’m ill and it’s too late.

This kind of reflection and writing about how things are going is fundamental to a lot of the mentoring, membership and courses that I run including Gentle Goal Setting which starts on Monday 10th January. I find it an incredibly powerful tool in my own growth and in supporting others to find their way and I want you to be able to use this to help your business or creative practice grow this month too so there’s a link to download the file for free below.

This is just a taster of what my Gentle Goal Setting workshop covers. The workbook for the course includes a thorough but empathetic review of what has been going on for you over the last year. There’s no judgement and no right and wrong, just reflection on what you have learned about yourself through what did and didn’t happen. From that review I encourage you to look at what success really means for you, not what society or your own self-criticism expects. We consider what is really important to you in making you feel good and how to make those things part of your goals. The goals we then create are more like guiding lights, principles of how you want to be, live, work and create, not hard, target-based things that you must push yourself towards, no matter what. There’s no setting yourself up to fail here, just creating gentle goals that empower you to feel expansive and excited about what you do, whether that’s a creative business or an art practice that’s just for yourself.

When you download the Monthly Reflection, you will get a discount code for the Gentle Goal Setting workshop and for mentoring too. Find out more about Gentle Goal Setting too here.

Introducing Textile Study Space

One of the things I have missed during the pandemic is getting together with others in the same room and sharing textile techniques, ideas, seeing samples and threads, textile treasures and books. In 2022 I’m starting to run a lot more online textile workshops but I wanted to also do something more modest and accessible alongside. I wanted a space where I could share my love of textile techniques in a smaller way. From late January I will host a Textile Study Space on Patreon, a subscription site where I will gather and share fragments of textile. There will be mini tutorials, technique ideas, historical examples, pieces from my work, sketchbooks, samples and also from my historical museum of old and usually damaged textiles collection .

I want this space to be low-key and unpressured, somewhere you can explore textiles at your own pace, pick the things that interest you and explore. There’s no fixed outcome, you don’t have to make anything, it’s just there to inspire. There will be very low minimum price per month of subscription but if you find it valuable and can afford a bit more, the amount you pay will be flexible. I hope that will be nice and democratic, allowing textile enthusiasts who love what I do to be part of my creative world without the cost and commitment of other online programmes.

To find out when Textile Study Space opens, sign up to my mailing list here and I’ll let you know. I hope you will join me, I can’t wait to share some of the textile treasures in my studio.

Gift ideas from Ruth Singer’s eclectic online shop

Do you have someone on your list who likes crime? What about concrete ? Maybe some silk ruffles to beautify a Zoom background? I’ve got quite a selection of unusual gifts in my online shop mainly under £50. A lot of my shop has been hibernating since I moved, so if you spot something that says ‘coming soon’ just drop me a line and I’ll see if I can find it for you! I’ll be posting until Monday 19th December so there’s plenty of time for UK shoppers.

There’s these wonderful concrete and cloth decorative bowls by me and Bethany Walker which start at £15 for a single bowl or can be bought in sets of 3 or more.
For fans of craft and crime, my Criminal Quilts book fits the bill. It’s just £16 for a signed copy
A good stocking filler for the creatives would be my Patchwork Patterns Colouring Book which is £8.50 including UK postage
My bargain boxes of older textile artworks to hang on the wall has some amazing pieces at fabulous prices.
A great virtual gift might be my Gentle Goal Setting course for January 2022. This workshop helps you reflect mindfully on the last year and plan goals that are meaningful, manageable and inspiring.
For those who would like an original piece of artwork, I have some of my print patchwork pieces available now too.
Several of these Pearly Pipes are still looking for the right homes at £50 each
And last but not least, my quilt blocks are a tiny £10 each.

New Criminal Quilts work

Back before I moved house & studio I did a bit of making and completed some new work and then they’ve been packed away and I forgot to share them. So this is one of them, to be shown in the new, and final outing of Criminal Quilts exhibition in Feb 2022.

It seems to have taken me a long time to get this one finished. I had hoped to source more of the patchwork pieces and make this larger, but that hasn’t been possible so it is finished. This work is made from old patchwork pieces, Victorian cloth with original papers still inside. Before I bought them, someone had cut them apart, slightly ruining the edges as the fabric was cut as well as the stitching, making them very tricky to stitch back together 

 I’ve reassembled the pieces together, using a contrasting red thread. The paper inserts include prints of prisoner photos, documents and details as well as some of my own designs, along with the original papers where they survived. The original stitching is tiny white stitches joining the flowers, while my interventions are all done in red thread, both tacking the papers in place and joining the patchwork flowers. It’s important to me to show where I’ve worked, separately from the original work, like in textile conservation where all interventions can be reversed if needed. 

These new pieces will replace some sold works and I am also selling some of the older work from the show and retiring a couple of pieces, to keep the exhibition fresh for the new venue.

It is interesting how much work has become smaller again, now I am working in the confines of my small studio with one table, rather than the larger pieces I made when I had access to university workshops in 2018. But I started Criminal Quilts with miniature pieces and I have always loved the small so this a return to my roots in a way. Having said that, one large Criminal Quilts piece is in development too, also for the new show at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre, South Wales, opening 4th Feb 2022.

If you are inspired by the way I create work with meaning and research, you might like my Maker Membership, a group where I share resources to help you develop your own work. There’s also a social side with online chats and zoom meetings. It’s a really lovely community and it’s open now.

Project Books

In my Maker Membership group, sketchbooks come up a lot. Some love them, some are terrified by them and some are just not sure. I thought I would write about my own use of sketchbooks or project books as I prefer to call them. Using books to collect ideas, information, images, notes and samples is something I’ve come to later in my practice but I am so grateful for it now. I love making books about the work I am developing and find them enjoyable and inspiring to make and endlessly useful and fascinating to revisit. 

I don’t like the term sketchbooks as it implies drawing and like many textile makers, drawing is not part of my process. I sometimes do annotated simple drawings but I don’t sketch. I struggled through my A-Level art aged 18 with some additional drawing tuition and have done very little representational drawing since. It’s just not a process I enjoy. I love mark making and creating patterns with pens, pencils and crayons and created a book of patchwork-inspired designs for colouring a few years back. 

My ‘sketchbooks’ are usually created for a specific project. The first one I properly worked on was for a commission called Metamorphosis . The people who commissioned the work were keen to show sketchbooks as well so it was a good exercise for me in creating something I was happy to share. 

I didn’t fill the small sketchbook for this project so it became a more general studio book instead. Studio books are where I keep samples, ideas, notes, fragments and other inspiring things that are otherwise loose in my head or in my studio. I go through phases of keeping these but I never regret it. 

Since that project / studio book, I have created many others. I usually have a very general studio book on the go which has measurements, calculations, lists, sums, designs and working notes for whatever I am working on at the time.

What I have kept up is the project books. For the Leicester University genetics residency in 2017, I used an A3 book which gave me space for lots of drawing, notes, images and mind maps. 

For the first part of Criminal Quilts, I had notes and sketches and ideas in a lot of different notebooks and studio books and really regretting not keeping it all in one place. When I started the 2017-18 Criminal Quilts residency, I knew I needed to keep a project book which I would share as part of the project. It has been to many workshops, talks, events and open days. Although I started making it as a public resource, it is also my working sketchbook or planning book. I have notes of pieces that I have since made or since abandoned, and things that are parked for the future. It has a lot of notes, lists, scribbles, mind-maps and drawings as well as the collected materials of inspiration. It helped me to have all this in one place while I was doing the residency as so little of the project happened in my studio. I was able to carry it all around with me. Having said that, the huge heavy hardback book I chose, whilst being perfect for display, was a pain to carry around on the train / on foot! I used a wheelie suitcase a lot for that project as my sketchbook was too big for a rucksack. 

For the Libraries Live commission in 2019 I made a quilted book and a series of activity kits for library visitors. Throughout the residency I kept a decorative sketchbook intended as a record of my workshops and to inspire workshop participants. I decided to include the sketchbook as part of my commission as I felt it belonged with the other elements. As this was a commission, it was very different to my own work and has quite an unique identity. These photos are professional shots taken for the project and a nice record of the work for me to look back on. 

My current studio books and project books are quite experimental including collage and print work and some gathering of inspirational materials. Before I packed away my studio to move over the summer I started working on a book of things that were lying around but worked well together. Postcards, samples, fragments, old paper and cloth, images and notes. This is not about a specific project but a process for me of making use and sense of the inspirational things I have around which might otherwise be on the walls or getting in the way in my studio. I refer back to this a lot – I simply enjoy looking at it and letting my ideas flow.

I have also got one which is purely for experimental collage and print work which I have just re-found after moving. 

For my textile projects I have two ongoing project books, one about quilts which I started when I did my Fragments exhibition in 2017 and another which I don’t have a name for which is about my long-term research about damage and decay. 

Writing this has made me think more about sharing some of my sketchbooks in a digital form which may or may not happen, but either way it has made me excited about getting back to my project books and adding more to them. Do you use sketchbooks or research books to gather your thoughts and inspiration? I’d love to hear about them.

There’s more about creating and using project books within my Maker Membership site. Membership is open now for anyone who makes and wants to build more depth and meaning to their craft practice, connect with a like-minded community and work with me. It costs £25 a month and you can join for as long as you need to. Find out more here or use the button below to join.