Ruth Singer - Pincushion (detail)

Pinning The Past – Meet The Host, Ruth Singer

Pinning The Past with Ruth Singer

I like to think I am a bit of a curiosity in the world of textile artists. I didn’t, like most, learn sewing from my mother or grandmother as a young child, nor have I formally studied textiles. I learned woodwork, aged 4, from my dad. Sewing came later, in my teens, but the making-stuff bug caught from an early age, as did the fascination with old textiles.

Ruth Singer
Ruth Singer

I don’t remember where my obsession started, but I was taken to museums a lot as a child and there was nothing I loved better than a costume museum, nose pressed to the glass, absorbing as much as possible about those amazing old dresses. I really haven’t changed much.

Ruth Singer - Circles Coat
Ruth Singer – Circles Coat – The coat is made from around 500 individual Suffolk puffs made by me, students, assistants, workshop attendees and visitors to my studio during April 2012. It was created as an experimental collaborative artwork where anyone’s work could be incorporated into a finished piece which would become part of my body of work.

I went on to work in museums and got behind the glass cases too, but not as much with costume and textiles as I really wanted. I worked in an office, organising creative and exciting stuff for other people to do, and did my own research into medieval textiles, and continued my own making in my spare time (including lunch breaks and days off in the textile study rooms at the V&A). Eventually that got too much and I had to swap sides again. This time I opted for the studio not the museum office, and I quit my job and started my own textile practice.

Ruth Singer - Pincushion (detail)
Ruth Singer – Pincushion – Part of a group of works called Monumental Folly, a personal body of work exploring love and the sense of place related to a particular building.

It is pretty much inevitable that my work is heavily influenced by textile history, and increasingly, by all kinds of history, heritage, personal stories and memories. I still love old places and old stuff with a passion. I tend to growl if I hear the words ‘dusty & boring’ in relation to history or museums. The past is overflowing with inspiration, ideas, challenges, love, passion and delights. How can that be boring?

Ruth Singer - Shadow Embroidery (detail)
Ruth Singer – Shadow Embroidery – Hand stitched piece inspired by a garland of flowers made by my friend and creative collaborator Jan Garside.

As far as textiles are concerned, there are thousands of exciting techniques, designs, colour-combinations and much more to be discovered, investigated, re-worked and brought back to life. Whether you are convinced or not by the delights of history, I hope you will take the time to explore with me in this column, the under-appreciated treasures of textile history and how contemporary makers, like me, are inspired by them.

Ruth Singer - Jewellery piece
Ruth Singer – Jewellery piece: Part of a collection made in collaboration with jeweller Alys Power, exploring decaying buildings, stories and the hidden histories of architecture.


Ruth SingerRuth Singer creates detailed and intriguing textile artworks inspired by historical textiles, museum objects, personal heritage, memory and stories. She uses natural and recycled textiles combined with hand stitching as well as fabric manipulation techniques to create detailed surface texture. Recently she has incorporated photography, experimental dyeing and found objects into her work, and has also developed exhibition pieces working in paper. Find out more at her website.

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