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.
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.