Criminal Quilts 2017

My Criminal Quilts series originally commissioned by Shire Hall Gallery is probably my best known work including the 2016 Fine Art Quilt Masters winner. This winning piece will be exhibited in the Minerva Arts Centre this summer and the patchwork piece will be at Unit Twelve from the end of April.  I’m really excited to be starting a new project taking this work further with Staffordshire Records Office in 2017-18. I’ve just received funding from Arts Council England to develop new work, exhibitions and community partnership projects based around the original archive material relating to Victorian women criminals.

To celebrate (or actually, co-incidentally) I’ve got a free workshop on Sunday 26th March at New Walk Museum in Leicester inspired by this series of work.

Inspired by Ruth’s work and using silhouettes of hands, create your own piece with a personal touch. Explore drawing and creating patterns on paper with your own hand outline and embellish with embroidery, fabric and paper collage.   No previous experience is required.  The workshop is FREE but booking is essential. Call the museum on 0116 225 4900 to book your place.

Trapunto project in Today’s Quilter

A trapunto wall panel project I designed for Today’s Quilter is now published in Issue Twenty.

Ruth Singer

 

Trapunto or stuffed / corded quilting is semi-forgotten technique these days and it’s my mission to bring it back to life with new contemporary designs. I have been researching and practicing trapunto for about 10 years, inspired by the oldest surviving example, the 14th century Tristan Quilt in the V&A. It was popular in the 17th century and had a brief resurgence between the wars in the UK although it has a more continuous tradition in France where it is called Boutis. I love trees – both naturalistic and stylised versions  and a branch makes a design for a sampler where you can try cording and lots of stuffed variations.

My love of trapunto continues unabated and I am always looking out for interesting pieces in museum collections and antique textile sales.  It’s been a delight to be asked to produce designs for books and magazines (another one due out this autumn) and to teach this technique as much as possible. I am teaching trapunto this year in various places including one hour tasters at the Festival of Quilts and a full weekend intensive stitching (details TBC) in October. My short history of trapunto is here. I am working on a short online course for beginners trapunto too which will be available later in the year.

Smocking

Smocking Past & Present

One-day workshop with Selvedge. Saturday 24th June, 2017. Selvedge Shop, London. £120. Book here SOLD OUT

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. In this workshop we will learn the basics of traditional English smocking using variety of classic stitch patterns and try out some contemporary, experimental variations in unusual materials and new stitches to create highly original textile art.

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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 18thcentury 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.

Smocking from dressmaking book

Smocking from dressmaking book

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.

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 smockingSewing 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.

The acknowledged expert at making this American smocking fashionable today is Nitin Goyal, a London-based designer who creates stunning silk cushions, bedspreads and scarves using some amazing variations on the technique. I believe the work is made in India. His work is now thoroughly copied and new American-smocked cushions can be picked up in many high street shops.

Smocked pendant by Tinctory

Smocked pendant by Tinctory

As far as English smocking goes, perhaps the best use of the technique is Tinctory, who makes stunning textile jewellery using circular English smocking. I am lucky enough to own this piece.

As 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.

This article first appeared on Mr X Stitch.

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New experiments in printmaking

Last year I joined Leicester Print Workshop (LPW) with the specific aim of exploring textile screen printing in more detail to add to my portfolio of textile skills. Alongside screen printing I have also been exploring different types of print making on paper and other materials which I am slowing adding into my working practice, particularly for my Genetics Artist Residency project. It’s such a different way of working for me but one full of possibilities and it is taking me in directions I couldn’t have imagined a year ago. I’m feeling inspired, challenged and very keen to continue learning and exploring ideas in a new way. Working with Gillian this last year or so has also opened up my way of working, allowing me to think beyond textiles and craft and explore ideas without the emphasis on product or materials. The craft world can be very materials-focussed and I’ve felt a little troubled by working without thread or cloth but it is ultimately very liberating. It’s not really in my nature to be bound by rules of what I ‘should’ be doing.

I recently organised a taster session for Leicestershire Design Factory members at the LPW to share some of the excitement of new printing techniques and try some tests and experiments myself including test printing a version of my floral trowel embroidery.

 

Fabric Manipulation course at West Dean College

I’m teaching a Fabric Manipulation long weekend workshop at West Dean College 16-19 March 2017. If you love texture and structure in textiles this is a perfect course for you to get really absorbed into exciting techniques and develop your own style with three days of teaching with loads of studio time and inspiration.

 

Over the weekend you will have chance to try out a wide range of fabric manipulation techniques, taking inspiration from historic textiles and contemporary fashion. Techniques include formal and organic pleating and folding, stitching and gathering to create interesting textures and 3D appliqué to create bold, exciting fabrics from scratch. You can make samples or work towards a finished textile piece. Fabric manipulation techniques can be combined with embroidery and quilting to make really unique and exciting projects, or learn skills to add into fashion and dressmaking.

West Dean is a spectacularly lovely place to study (and indeed teach) which makes it a perfect place to recharge, learn new things and absorb inspiration. The workshop starts on Thursday evening with dinner with the students and tutor, followed by three intensive but relaxed days of tuition. Students can choose a full-board residential option and stay on site and have access to studios in the evenings, with all meals and equipment provided. You will need to bring some of your own materials to get the best of this course but there is nothing expensive required.

I’ll be returning to West Dean in the summer to teach Stitched Textiles from Historical Inspiration. 

 

 

Spring Blossom Workshop

In the depths of winter is hard to imagine Spring and early Summer blooms but I am happily thinking about the abundance of blossom to come in May & June and planning a new workshop for Made on Holiday. Over a long weekend in May (12th-14th) in gorgeous Devon I will be working with lucky residential retreat students to create floral garlands, hangings, brooches and decorations from vintage, embroidered and delicate natural fabrics inspired by meadows and gardens.

 

As well as exploring local wildlife and enjoying beautiful, luxurious accommodation and food, we will be using very special fabrics to create delicate and intricate fabric flowers which can be made into garlands, hangings, bouquets (for weddings or decoration) and wearables including brooches, hat trimmings and hair clips, perfect for a celebration of summer.

I will bring a stunning selection of vintage and reclaimed fabrics in delicate, natural hues along with hand woven, embroidered and other special cloth from my extensive stash. We will use embroidery stitches in silk and linen to create subtle pattern and texture and build up petals to create a mass of floral delights. This will be a very enjoyable, no-pressure workshop weekend where you can soak up inspiration and ideas and spend plenty of time playing and experimenting to create pieces which bring you delight. You can make one flower or 50, there’s not fixed outcome so you can work at your leisure, at your own pace and with no demands!

 

The workshop includes all materials and tools so you only have to bring yourself. The fee includes two full days of tuition, two nights accommodation, full board including dinners and a promise of a really relaxed, creative retreat. I almost wish I was a student not the teacher!

The workshop costs £599. Full details can be found on Made on Holiday website. 

Urban Growth Project Launch

My collaboration project Interlace was recently commissioned to create a new public artwork with young people in Leicester.

Bethany and I worked with 8-13 year olds in January and February this year to design and make a set of concrete and cloth tiles inspired by the urban environment to be displayed at Makers’ Yard studios in Leicester. We are launching and celebrating the project on Tuesday 7th June and all are welcome to join us.

 

Launch poster