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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
The Kingpin of Contemporary Embroidery. Committed to changing the way the world thinks about needlecraft.