More about Criminal Quilts

Can’t believe it’s been so long since I wrote.

My previous post talked about a collaborative project I was involved in with Ruth Singer. I was lucky enough to be one of the 35 “volunteers” who had their fabric square chosen to be included in the Criminal Quilt. 100 “volunteers” offered Ruth fabric squares and 35 were chosen.

Criminal Quilts collaboration quilt 72dpi

Ruth Singers Criminal Quilts pieced by Christine Price, research volunteer.

Criminal Quilts exhibition will open this Friday 7th Sept at the Brewhouse Arts Centre in Burton upon Trent in England until 27th October. It will then travel to the Wolverhampton University in November until Jan 2019.

My square is the last square on the bottom right.

Ruth sent all the collaborators the artist names and statements for each of the squares. It is really interesting to hear how the data was interpreted by different people, so I have added it here.

The rows start with 1 at the top and squares are numbered across the rows from left to right.

Row 1

  • 1/1 Lucie Bea Dutton.Seven women were convicted of stealing shawls. I used their first initials and then added their sentences together making 990 days.
  • 1/2 Alice Guthrie. By studying the data and counting eye colours of the prisoners, I found a marked variation in the eye colour numbers. Using the given colour palette I chose threads to represent each eye colour number total. Each stitched circle represents the number of prisoners with a particular eye colour.
  • 1/3 EB. One woman stole an apron and received a 270 day sentence. Did that apron mean work? I used worn fabrics to represent an apron needing to be replaced. The edge of an apron on a grey dress.
  • 1/4 Vicky Bilton. My square is crazy patchwork, a technique common at the period of these photos. Inspired by the 10 widows; using different colours to represent them; using 9 different stitches to symbolise their different crimes. Brought the whole piece together using seed stitch to represent all 99 women.
  • 1/5 Charlotte Bilby. I looked at the number of women who were imprisoned for stealing clothing or linen (28), and used this as the number of pieces in the block. The number of women who were photographed wearing their prison number (43) is represented by the circles and knots.
  • 1/6 Rosie Eley. Inspired by the number of checked shawls worn.

Row 2

  • 2/1 Cheryl Hewitt. Using hand dyed fabrics, I responded to the more unusual minor crimes by hand stitching a patchwork square. The chequered design is intended to suggest the visual qualities of the women’s shawls. I also responded to the ages of the women, the youngest being 12 and the oldest being 60, along with the number of days sentenced.
  • 2/2 Gill. I saw there were 3 women who had a number of similarities; residence, age, name, crime and occupation.
  • 2/3 Mandypandy. I wanted to represent all the women. Each piece of shawl represents an individual, the different coloured threads represent the year they went to prison.
  • 2/4 Lesley Wood. I wove together strips of calico to echo the women’s shawls. Each woman’s first name initials were embroidered onto the strips. Surprisingly some initials formed words around the edges of the squares. Are these words valid descriptions of the women?
  • 2/5 Cathryn Brown. I chose four young women who were identified as nailers. This was hard, dirty, poorly-paid work, employing many women and children. Prints from the period show grim, drab, miserable working conditions. I rust dyed fabric with (four) nails and pieced the scraps together, reflecting their clothing, conditions and occupation.
  • 2/6 Tracy Fox. I manipulated the data in Excel then selected one of the categories of information. Using the specified colour palette, I created a background with my handwriting repeating the words ‘youngest, oldest, average’. I then printed the numbers over the top. Youngest = 12. Oldest = 60. Average = 28.

Row 3

  • 3/1 Alison Jackson-Bass. Nearly 12% of the women were convicted for stealing coal, a necessity in winter. I created a mono print of the main roads of late 19th century Staffordshire using ink made from coal and stitched lines to show the distances between the women’s homes and the jail in Stafford.
  • 3/2 Lynn Hall. Stolen Time, Doing Time. Using the data for the four women who stole watches, I made a stitch for each day they were imprisoned in a five bar gate style resembling how you would mark days on a prison cell wall. The threads I used corresponded to their hair colour.
  • 3/3 Grace White. I divided the crimes into categories and colour-coded them: theft of clothes (blue/grey), theft of valuables (beige), theft of other property (brown), other crimes (green) and food or drink-related crimes (cream). I also added the ID medallion with my own initials and date because I identify with those women.
  • 3/4 Nigel Cheney. I found it hard to reconcile the statistical data without the photographic images. Working with abstracted details and dots I codified the given palette with specific eye colour.
  • 3/5 Jamie Vowell. I focussed on the ages of the women, dividing them into age groups which gave me 6 groupings. I made a mark and used a different colour for each age grouping. The one woman in her 60s I represented with a dark brown square mark, 4 women in their 50s have a grey swirl mark, for example. I also stitched vertical black lines to represent the jail cell bars.
  • 3/6 Sallytaylor543. I chose 29 women who were wearing hats and striped or checked shawls. The design was developed using a large central square as the shawl with 29 circles as hats, separated by 29 lines for the pattern. The 4 corners echoing this with circles, small squares and lines.

Row 4

  • 4/1 Liz Boulton. I used the crimes of which the women were convicted to divide the background into areas of different colours. I embroidered heavy lines (prison bars) and heavy text (judgement) and a portrait of the convict I felt most connection to. She was Elizabeth Yates, born in Stone, age 52, height 5’0”. Same name, age and height as me. Same surname as maternal grandmother, same birthplace as paternal grandfather.
  • 4/2 Dizzyducky1. I went with a kaleidoscope eye-colour design, these women’s lives were turned upside down like when you use a kaleidoscope. The eyes struck me the most, sad, shocked, haunted, relieved, almost. I used the more unique crimes for the background quilting, fork, fish, rabbit, horseshoe, money and alcohol being common.
  • 4/3 Ruth Garner. There are 26 women (25%) called Mary from 16-46 years old and they are represented by the rectangles of fabric in the centre. Mary is a biblical name represented by a stitched cross. Within the cross there are 293 white stitches which is the average sentence imposed on these women called Mary.
  • 4/4 Faye Waple. Initially I was drawn to the offences carried out by the women, especially the items stolen; this data forms the border in brown cross stitch. Trade is show with grey cross stitch, marital status referenced by white running stitch – the single thread depicting the single women, double thread married and 3 threads show widowed women. Eye and hair colour are shown and the overall number of women is reflected by the French knots in the middle of my piece.
  • 4/5 Maureen Evans. I chose Hannah Taylor, dressmaker, who stole a skirt. My square is made of woven stripes of cotton, silk and lace. I aged them by eco dyeing with tea and rust. The key is a symbol of the constant sound of locking doors.
  • 4/6 Emma Branch. My block is based on the data relating to hair colour of the women convicted between 1878-1880. I imagined looking down from the gallery to see them all lined up in date order of their court appearance, seeing, not their faces, but the tops of their heads.

Row 5

  • 5/1 Julie Orford. I used maps from around 1880 to represent the birth places of women aged 40-49. As I stitched I thought about the journeys the women had made. Did their paths ever cross? What made them stray from the path? Will prison put them back on the straight and narrow?
  • 5/2 Angela Richardson. I counted the eye colours. 41 grey, 30 brown, 15 blue and 8 hazel. I stitched the eyes from large to small to represent the ratios. The chains keep them enclosed representing the loss of freedom.
  • 5/3 Hazel Vickers. I decided on ages and marital status. The square is divided into 7 stripes, one for each decade. Using various fabrics these stripes were divided into marital status in a rough approximation of the number in the group. Sharp stitches used to signify their imprisonment and harsh lives.
  • 5/4 Lynda Dobson. As a former mathematics teacher the data jumped out at me – particularly the reasons for the crime. I converted the data into a pie-chart.
  • 5/5 Flea Cooke. I responded most to the detail of distinguishing marks, cuts and bruises. This linked to an existing interest in mending and darning, so I used these techniques to suggest pain and abuse suffered by these women prior to imprisonment, even ideas of self harm as a release from turmoil.
  • 5/6 Karen Apps. I focussed on the 34 women who were documented as having cuts as ‘distinguishing marks’. I wondered why so many had such injuries and how and when these were inflicted? Can only imagine the difficult lives these women lived. Each roughly stitched cut represents one woman.

Row 6

  • 6/1 Kay Steven. I focussed on the references to distinguishing marks (scars, moles etc) clustering stitches to roughly represent the location of the marks on the body. Those with ‘no marks’ (-) and those with moles (x) hold the piece and the women together. A code emerges.
  • 6/2 Laura Mabbutt. Felt bobbles indicate the number of women showing their hands. Each woman is represented by 99 weathered sequins, mimicking the prison numbers they wear. Each white line represents a woman wearing check fabric. Blue cross stitches represent the number of women who were married, the beige stitches the single women and the white cross stitches the number of widows.
  • 6/3 Rachael O’Brien. Ninety-eight women sentenced to a total of 15,593 days imprisonment. This equates to nearly 43 years. The number coincidentally reflects the average life expectancy at birth for women at that time in history equating to in total one life’s worth of incarceration. Stitches represent notches of count of time passed.
  • 6/4 Tanya Rogers. Brown-eyed, fresh-faced thieves. The number of days spent in prison and what they stole. One hexagon per thief, each hexagon has number of prison days printed on it as well as a stitch pattern according to what they stole eg IIII = clothing, II = coal.
  • 6/5 Nigel Cheney (see 3/4) Working with visible mending techniques I hoped to echo the way we construct narrative from such historical clues.
  • 6/6 Megan Byrne. The focus was eye colour. Four eye colours identified: brown, grey, hazel and blue. I wove the colours together in strips. Majority of eyes grey (42), then brown (31), then blue (15) and hazel (10). Weaving the colours I hoped to integrate this data into the overall narrative.

Criminal Quilts with Ruth Singer

Ruth Singer is an award winning textile artist from the UK. She has a passion for history and textiles and melds these two together in small and large scale participatory exhibitions and installations. She has recently been artist in residence at the Staffordshire Records Office researching/exploring Victorian women criminals incarcerated between 1877-1916. Ruth won a prestigious Fine Art Quilt Master competition at the festival of Quilts in 2016 with Criminal Quilts:Hanging. She has been working with this data from 2012.

Criminal Quilts uses photographs and documents from the Records office to explore the lives of the criminal women through fabric and stitch. The project has many parts – research, volunteers helping with research and creative endevours, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, symposiums and much more. Ruth sent out a call for people to help by making a quilt square using the data and photographs she would supply. This opened the project to international participation. I accepted.

We were sent spreadsheet data from the booking slips kept at the Records Office and booking photos of the women and a colour pallet. You had to explore the data and design a 8in square (6 in finished) that interpreted that data. Only natural fibres could be used.

The photographs are all front on photos of women. They show clothing worn, hats, shawls, no gloves, some are seated, some standing. They all have that heavy, round identifyer around their necks and seem to have their best clothing on.


It was challenging finding different ways to use fabric and stitch to interpret the data. There was a lot of data to choose from – names, convictions, hair colour, eye colour, distinguishing marks, county, length of sentence, how many had shawls, hats, wore plaid etc. The photos snapshot textile fashion as well.

So much interesting information – e.g.-

  • 36 were married, 52 were single,10 were widowed
  • 48 were unemployed
  • 25 had Mary as their first name
  • sentences ranged from 3 days to 540 days
  • majority of crimes were theft – from food to jewelry
  • 12 stole coal

I chose eye colour: 42 women had grey eyes, 31 had brown eyes, 15 had blue eyes and 10 had hazel eyes.


this was the palette of colour.

I decided I wanted to weave the colours, trying to weave the information into the narrative. Grey had the most numbers so it was the warp. The other colours were the weft. All linen except the hazel. the strips were left with raw edges and sewn on machine in straight lines.

first try

I tried it again with plainer cottons trying to get the data clearer. It was clearer but less interesting.


I ended up sending Ruth both of them this week, leaving it up to her which she would use.





More printing

I have previously I talked about rusting. That’s really a form of printing rather than dyeing. The object is printed on the fabric in rust. I think it’s a great form of printing. I also like printing leaves and other plants onto fabric.

I became interested in eco printing through the work of India Flint .  She has a serene presence and ecologically sensitive approach to her work that is very inspiring. She lives in Australia and sources all her plants etc from her property. I’ve read her books and follow her blog and try to learn all I can from her. Her CV is very impressive. One day I hope to meet her.

I trialled many of the formulas that India kindly shares with her students and readers. I started by collected a variety of fallen leaves, flowers, petals, barks from walking around Herdsman Lake, and throughout my own garden. For awhile there plant matter was just about everywhere in the house waiting its turn to be changed into gorgeous prints.

Then I chose cotton homespun and rayon, cut them into long but not wide strips and soaked the fabric in soy milk (mordant).  Ring the fabric out but don’t dry it. It should be wet when you put all the garden goodies on it. I wrapped this bundle very tightly around small iron rods. (Iron is a mordant). Then I placed them in a steamer that I sourced second-hand just for the purpose for about 1 hour. The steamer and saucepan are aluminium. The smell was heavy with eucalyptus. Lovely. (Remember that the water should not touch the fabric bundles.)  Much of the plant material I collected was dry eucalyptus leaves.

leaves, bark, seeds on soy milk soaked cloth
covered with another cloth to get a mirror print
wrapped very tightly with iron rods inside
lovely leaf and bark prints just after unwrapping. The black prints are from the iron rods.

I also tried some greener leaves and flowers from my hibiscus bushes and some bougainvillea. Same process. Fabulous purple colours but indistinct prints. I have had equal success with rose petals from highly coloured roses.

I was more interested in getting prints than in getting a dye colour, but I was happy with the end result. There is still a lot to learn and I’d really like to try other substrates like silk and wool and linen. I think it would be worth trying other means of “steaming” the bundles as well, like solar power in the high summer. Something for the future.

Learning something new

I recently had the opportunity to attend three x two-day workshops with Maryann Devereux, a Western Australian painter working in acrylic and mixed media. I had first seen Maryann’s paintings during an open studio weekend for Joondalup. Her work is impressive and shows her love for the sea and for Western Australia.

I jumped at the chance to attend one of her workshops and ended up attending all three over 6 weeks. Maryann works from her home and the workshops are in her studio space, and are limited to 4 or 5 people, so we all got maximum Maryann time. She also supplies everything you need. Very attractive if you only want to try a new technique – no big outlay for supplies before you see if you like it. You also get the chance to try different kinds of things before buying.



I started with a texture workshop using texture pastes and paint. So interesting to see how to add dimension to areas of your work. Lots to learn about this very versatile medium especially about where not to put it!

I got to try a seascape and a landscape using this technique. The seascape was definitely better. The last picture shows the texture paste prior to painting. The substrate is gesso primed matt board.

The second lot of workshops was collage using mixed media. I got to play with drawing, all kinds of beautiful speciality papers and fibers. I really loved this workshop and could see the application of some of these techniques to my fabric work. I love collage, it’s so spontaneous and you get all kinds of serendipitous results. I’ve already begun collecting speciality papers for more of this art. Maryann provided a great still life for us to use.


The final workshop put everything together – texture and collage. You could use any image you wanted or again a still life was offered. So much variety shown by the others in the class. I chose a still life and put it by the sea.

maryann workshop

I love all the additional texture. Now to work out how to use these new techniques with Fabric!

Attending the workshops really invigorated my art mojo. It was great being with fellow artists, talking art, talking exhibitions, talking about our work. Fun to laugh, stop for tea and great cake. I’ll be looking for more ways to increase my art knowledge I think.




QuiltWest over for another year

This was the best QuiltWest so far. Lots of beautiful WAQA member quilts showing all the fabulous talent we have here in the West. There was really stiff competition this year. If only more people knew what was here. If only people knew that there is more waiting for them west of South Australia.

Lots of photos of quilts, WAQA members and QuiltWest committee can be seen here. Gorgeous displays of the Best of Australia, AQC challenges and special exhibitions.

Some members I spoke with had entered QuiltWest for the first time. I was very proud. QuiltWest is a members show, without quilts we wouldn’t have a show. Sharing what we make is integral to the quilting community. Showing what we do offers inspiration to others. I love seeing my quilts hanging in a show. Prizes are bonuses. I would like to see a show where every member enters a quilt.

Never think that your work is not good enough. Not all quilts are judged, some are for display, but all are from our members. Can’t wait for next year.

I was awarded second place in the theme “Architecture” for my quilt “Marked by Time”. My inspiration came from a photo by Christopher Payne , who kindly gave me permission to use his photograph. In his reply to me he said, “I love quilts. I would be honoured.” I rusted fabric, dyed fabric, painted fabric and bought fabric for this quilt. I love making representational art quilts, especially of old, rusted things. They have a new life as art after serving their intended purpose for so long.


Christopher’s original photo is in the top left. “Marked by Time” is the bottom right.

I was also awarded a third prize for my applique quilt “Woven in knots”. I was going to enter it last year, but it wasnt finished on time and I really didn’t think it was good enough (yes I can hear you say, I no longer listen to that inner critic!) It is an original design, machine appliqued and home quilted. My first love was applique and I love machine quilting. I have been practicing my hand quilting so I can see a hand quilted quilt in my future!

Woven in Knots

I used batik and solids on black. I have it hanging in my entry. I might make it a pattern.


Back from Road to California

“Gorgeous Girl”, my pictorial quilt of an old farm truck, has returned from Road to California. Road to California is a premier quilt show in California. It has large money prizes and is open to national and international quilters. More than 39,000 people visited the show in January of this year. That’s a big show. I was very proud and pleased to be chosen to have my quilt seen by so many people. I have entered Road to California many times but this was the first time chosen. The judges comments were favourable: “excellent raw edge applique”, “good fabric choices” and “very painterly”. That was my favourite comment.

“Gorgeous Girl” won runner-up Best of Show at QuiltWest in 2017, plus a first in the Pictorial section and Viewers Choice but did not make it over for the Best of the Best Show at AQC in Melbourne because it was in California. A bit disappointing. There’s always this year with QuiltWest just around the corner for us here in WA.

gorgeous girl
1st Pictorial QuiltWest 2017, Runner Up Best of Show QuiltWest 2017 and Viewers Choice


Fun at the Workshop

I had such good intentions of keeping the blog current and writing about all the things that I have been up to out in the Studio and at workshops. I ran a one day mixed media workshop at Easter and wanted to share all the happenings there. Better late than never.

There were 11 women at the workshop and it was exciting watching them enjoying working with fabric and paint. There was monoprinting on glass print plates and learning about masks and how they can add extra interest to a print. How to work with stencils and stamping was very popular and direct printing with leaves and feathers had excellent results. Rubbing using wire shapes and texture plates then augmenting the surface with more paint. Everyone has success and went home very happy with their mounds of new fabric.

I had planned on spending the morning with fabric and paint making new fabric to use in collage work and free motion stitching in the afternoon, but that proved a bit ambitious. It was thought by the students that a 2 day workshop would have been ideal, with one day working on printing and the next day on collageing the results. I will definitely look at that for next time. It was a great day and I enjoyed sharing my passion for printing on fabric.

all the students with their favorite pieces
Everyone actively engaged in creating new fabric! And our wonderful morning tea!

feather printing was very popular


convict cloth

rubbing over wire shapes and texture plates