I’m running one short taster workshop at the Knitting and Stitching Show, this October at Alexandra Palace. The tickets have just gone on sale. One hour Introduction to Stuffed and Corded Quilting, Thursday 10th October at 1pm. The workshop is £15 and can be booked online now.
My memorial pincushions are part of my new solo exhibition, Textile Traces, opening at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre 25th May -7th July 2019. I am running a workshop alongside the exhibition to make your own precious pincushion using antique fabrics, hand stitch and decorated with pins. The workshop is £45 including lunch.
These pincushions are made in remembrance of my aunt, Ann Goodstein, who died in 1992. 46 pincushions represent the 46 years of her short life and celebrate the joy she brought to so many. They celebrate her vibrancy, her love of history. Some include antique textiles, pieces of her own cloth and details which I think she would have appreciated like medieval pins from the River Thames. Her son, Ben, also made one of the pincushions. Pincushions are personal and every day items and were once given as gifts or in remembrance. Many are inspired by pincushions in Gawthorpe Textile Collection. 2015-2018.
I’m pleased to be taking part in the Leicester Print Workshop members exhibition this year. I am working in collaboration with Gillian McFarland to produce a changing artwork installation which will develop from week to week as we share ideas, develop and pass things to and fro and create new pieces inspired by two found objects.
The exhibition opens this weekend (17th-18th November) with the Print Festival and Gillian and I will be giving at talk on Saturday 17th November at 4pm about our work. There is also an exhibition preview on Friday 23rd November – details below. The exhibition continues until 26th January 2019.
Gillian McFarland and Ruth Singer work in collaboration as McFarland & Singer alongside their distinct and established solo artistic practices. They began working together in 2014 while sharing a studio; a space that allowed them to share ideas and approaches. In addition to the work created for this residency, McFarland & Singer have a strong convergence of interest around the archaeology of stains and marks of time.
This work is an ongoing collaboration, passing to and fro between us as we each explore related, but separate ideas. The piece begins with two found objects from a charity shop which we both respond to initially, through discussion and making alongside each other. This work will change every week as we add new prints and related pieces of work. This work is displayed in file trays to represent the orderly collation and separation of ideas. Feel free to take the pieces out of the trays and move them around and change the order. We will use this intervention and selection as part of the process of making new pieces each week.
I’ve got several Meet the Maker days coming up this month alongside two different exhibitions. Next week 9-12th May is London Craft Week and I will be showing my Precious Objects collections with Design Nation in a studio in south London. I will be around all day Saturday 12th May 11am – 6pm to talk to visitors. This event is completely free so please do pop in. Full details here.
Later this month I will be in residence in my Emotional Repair solo exhibition in National Trust Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire. You can find me 12.30-4.30pm in the exhibition space on Saturdays 19th and 26th May. I will be working on adding more names to my Forget-me-not memorial sampler, to which so many have kindly contributed.
My Makers In Museums symposium is only a month away now, on 6th June. This takes place at Gawthorpe Hall alongside my exhibition and includes makers and curators talking about working with museums collections. Find out more here.
The exhibition masterclass is now sold out, and my Festival of Quilts masterclass has just one space left but there are still a few places left on my one-hour quick and easy workshops. I will soon be announcing a couple more workshops in the autumn in the Midlands and in south Wales. And there’s still space in my West Dean weekend workshop at the end of August.
I’ve got a one-day workshop alongside my exhibition at Gawthorpe Hall Textile Collection on Friday 18th May. There are only a handful of tickets left!
Make a Precious Objects sampler using vintage fabrics and tiny treasures. All materials are provided but you might want to bring your own pieces to personalise your work.
You might also be interested in the Makers in Museums symposium for makers and curators in June.
This time five years ago I started work on my third book Fabric Manipulation which was published a year or so later. It gives me real pleasure to see these exciting techniques being enjoyed and re-invented.
It is always a pleasure to go back through my boxes of samples from the book and share them anew. Last week’s students at West Dean College produced some amazing pieces, variations and interpretations of the techniques. Shibori work is by Romor Designs.
I hope this course will be repeated at West Dean in a couple of years. In the meantime I have a smocking workshop in London in June and a couple of dates of manipulation techniques with Gillian Cooper Studio in Scotland in August. Next year I hope to launch some online courses exploring manipulation techniques in more detail. There are lots of links and resources on the Fabric Manipulation page too including extensive Pinterest boards and blog posts.
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.
A trapunto wall panel project I designed for Today’s Quilter is now published in Issue Twenty.
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 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.
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.
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.
Sewing 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.
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.
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.