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

More about rusting

I continued experimenting with different mordants for rusting cotton fabric. I tried coffee and green rose tea. The coffee was quite strong and the tea was not. I soaked the fabric in coffee then wound it round the rusted tin can and was quite surprised with the result. The same thing was done with the tea. There was quite a difference in colour and in the print. I am quite partial to printing and I like to see the print result as well as the colour change.


People have asked me what do I do with all my printed and rusted fabrics. I use them for all sorts of fabric art projects and they are very versatile fabrics.

Lots of texture

Lots of texture is a collage of eco printed rayon fabric for the base, tea dyed cotton, rust printed cotton and woven cane. Some cotton lace, rusted elements and machine and hand stitching.

collage with beading

Collage with beading uses a print fabric as a base. The pattern was free motion quilted over the print design, hessian, silk organza and purple silk, rust printed cotton fabric and embellished with metal and wooden beads. I think this one could do with more colour in the background so it may change with time.

feel free to try any of my experiments and id love to hear what you’re making.