Ruth Singer has exhibited extensively in the UK and overseas, and has won several commissions and awards. She works with schools and community groups, and runs regular workshops and creative events from her studio in Leicester. I chatted to Ruth about her inspirations and her background in sewing…
When did you start sewing?
“I started designing and making dresses for my dolls when I was quite small, but I actually started off doing carpentry with my dad when I was really young, about 4 years old, and started making beaded jewellery at about 9 or 10. At 12 I asked my stepmum to teach me to make clothes; she’d made me an amazing silver sparkly dress for my 11th birthday (to my own design!) and I wanted to be able to make myself some more.”
What inspires you?
“Historical clothing is my main source of inspiration for techniques, but ideas come from all over the place and can also be project-specific. For example I recently made a series of mini quilts for a gallery commission which were inspired by photographs of Victorian women criminals. I used mainly traditional techniques such as trapunto quilting and reverse applique which I have discovered by looking at textiles in museums. I also find woodland very inspiring and invigorating, as well as historic houses and museums, even pavements and puddles.”
Do you consider yourself a ‘crafter’ or an ‘artist’?
“I have a foot in both camps. My own work that I exhibit and make to commission is very much in the textile art world; it is inspired by research, it explores ideas, feelings and concepts and is pretty much non-functional and for that part of my work I consider myself an artist. ‘Crafter’ implies making things for fun, for the joy of it, and usually making things that can be used. My crafter side really comes into my teaching and my book-writing; I design and make projects for other crafters to make, I suppose. In the middle I am a designer-maker, the term many professional craftspeople use to describe what they do: a combination of both designing and making; rather than designing for production or making to someone else’s design.”
Which creative people do you most admire?
“This is such a hard question as I admire loads of people and I don’t know where to start! The people that come to mind first are friends like Jennifer Collier and Amy Twigger Holroyd who do amazing work and are a huge inspiration. Textile artists that I admire include Anne Wilson, Sue Lawty, Ptolemy Mann, but I also really love jewellery and could make another long list of favourite jewellers. Then fashion designers – my favourite is Paul Poiret who created amazing, innovative clothes in the early 20th century.”
Do you listen to music or the radio/ TV while you sew?
“Exclusively Radio 4 or Radio 3.”
Describe your perfect day?
“Walking in woodland in the sunshine with lovely people followed by delicious food; either a meal mostly consisting of cheese or South Indian food like masala dosa. Leicester is the best place outside of India for South Indian food and I like to make the most of it!”
Fashion or textiles?
“Textiles definitely, but I have always loved fashion, right back to my childhood when I would happily have spent whole days in costume museums. My first love is historic costume and that will never change.”
Cats or dogs? (I think most people know the answer to this one!)
“I think most of my Twitter followers are bigger fans of my fat, cuddly, bossy, gorgeous tabby cat Maya than they are of me.”
Trains or planes?
“Trains. I haven’t flown for years for eco reasons, but I am going to be breaking my own eco-promise soon because my brother is moving to San Francisco and I can’t not visit!”
Do you find sewing relaxing despite it being your ‘day job’?
“Absolutely! Although really 90% of my day job doesn’t actually involve me picking up a needle and thread, so I can hardly get bored with it. I sew for myself, or for the pure pleasure of it, relatively little. I struggle to find time to sew these days, which is kind of sad. If life is being stressful I do need my sewing time, and disappear into my sewing room to do some making. I have a sewing room at home for this very reason, even though I have a big teaching studio in the city centre as well.”
Ruth’s brand new book, Fabric Manipulation, offers instruction on 150 creative sewing techniques including folding, gathering, smocking, quilting, trapunto and applique. It’s also available as a downloadable PDF ebook, so you can start reading straight away! I spoke to Ruth further about the book and how to use pleating techniques for your sewing projects. Take a look at Ruth’s website for more information about Ruth Singer and her work.