17 May 2013

with thanks to Josephine Crabb


The ambience was set fair for Ruth Daniel speaking about her life in textiles and crafts at the Grove Heritage Centre. For the audience surrounded by two of the Cookham Festival exhibitions  ‘Cookham on Canvass’ and ‘Textiles and Crafts’, as well as the John Lewis Fabric Archive and examples of Ruth’s exquisite work it was a multi art form experience.   
Ruth talked about inheriting the crafts skills from men and women in her family and particularly her Auntie Kath a Yorkshire woman ‘born and bred’ who embroidered in an Art Deco style with stitching so fine that the back and front were indistinguishable.
In her teenage years Ruth first earned pocket money making buttonholes for her mother’s friends at 6p per button hole and then as a private dressmaker. This contrasted greatly with the three years Ruth spent in New York in one room 29 floors up in mid-town Manhatten during which time she visited old colonial homes and to her delight discovered the crafts of  needlepoint (petit point) and patchwork with 400 stitches to the square inch.       
On returning to the UK Ruth lived in Cheshire and entered a national competition to depict the wild life of the County for a map of England. Ruth included an avocet in her design which was somewhat controversial at the time until proven that some decades previously an avocet habitat had existed in Cheshire. The initial stage of the competition was judged regionally and awarded Ruth first prize in the North West which led to a third prize overall at National level.      
In the 1980s Ruth studied the work of Linda Straw whose method of quilting was quite different working from the back and she attended a Linda Straw workshop arranged by The Maidenhead Quilters.
Ruth described herself as a person who always needed to be busy and doing something as well as being able to learn a new skill to learn from watching someone else crafting.
At the age of 40 Ruth became a lace maker by enrolling at the adult education centre for beginners’ lace and then teaching lace making to family and friends. Ruth made English Lace and progressed to Flanders and Bruges Lace. Unfortunately illness prevented Ruth from continuing to make lace so a friend finished Ruth’s work and accompanied her to Bruges to join and mount the lace. 
Some of the inspiration for her work Ruth derives from books including an early 1960’s sewing book which contains ancient Egyptian designs 3,500 years old and she showed us a table mat with a fish design taken from a painting on a tomb.
The ‘Embroidery in Religion and Ceremonial’ book was the starting point for the ecclesiastical embroidery Ruth worked on for 15 years including a richly embroidered Byzantine Stole made as a leaving gift for a church minister.
Ruth replicated ‘Amy’s book’ a 1980’s book from Vogue for her own children. This book is great fun as well as being a teaching aid. It is made entirely out of material and depicts animals with all manner of fastenings. Ruth calls her version ‘The Do it Up’ book and showed us some of the ‘pages’, the crocodile with the zip for a mouth; the lion with a plait for a tail; the pelican with the tie; and the giraffe with bow tied ribbons along its neck. Ruth entered this version of the book in a local show and won first prize overall.           
Ruth’s father was a wood worker and although Ruth had inherited his tools it was 19 years before she joined a woodwork class in the Midlands. Ruth did not realise that the class was a wood turning class and not a wood carving class. Nothing daunted, Ruth bought herself a lathe and started to make things out of wood such as lace bobbins and mahogany bowls.
On moving to Cookham Ruth was able to fulfil her wood carving ambition at last. She was particularly interested in the work of the Dutch graphic artist Escher and carved a wooden sphere in his style.  Sphere and cube carving is particularly complex when carving a two dimensional pattern onto the three dimensional surface.
Ruth’s son Gordon was an Eton scholar. To celebrate his 18th birthday Ruth had started work on the quilt she calls ‘Floreat Etona’. Sadly her son had a fatal accident and work on the quilt was abandoned for several years during which time Ruth started writing poetry which she found therapeutic. The quilt was eventually completed with the support Ruth received from the Maidenhead Quilters.
At the turn of the Millenium Ruth attended a weekend course at Debenham College and won a prize for her work ‘Cascade’ in the fabric challenge which required painting water in water colours where 60% of the quilt had to be a form of cascade.                 
Ruth again showed her considerable flair for design when she won the Golden Jubilee Cup, the WI competition in all Berkshire, for her design of a pennant for an Olympic Athlete. Given the constraints of being unable to use the Olympic logo, or the words London or figures 2012, Ruth ingeniously depicted Big Ben with the clock hands at 20 minutes and 12 noon flanked by the London Eye, the Gherkin, St Paul’s Cathedral and a Trafalgar Square lion statue.
The talk ended with Ruth reciting ‘The Needlewoman’s prayer’ which in essence speaks to the future and the work of the needlewomen living on and continuing to bring pleasure. The audience certainly gained a great deal of pleasure from listening to Ruth’s experiences as a craftswoman and viewing some examples of her exquisite work.   
Ruth’s prizewinning streak continues with a ‘Runner Up’ award in the 2013 Cookham Festival’s ‘Cookham on Canvass’ competition. 
Examples of Ruth’s work can be seen locally in High Street Methodist Church (2 pictures); at the Little Chapel in Long Lane (altar front); and in Luxton’s Chapel at Eton College   




Cathedral Windows Godhead
Satin Quilt Wooden Carvings
Petit Point Place Mat
Art Deco Style Embroidery 2012 Pennant
Eton Quilt Pennant

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