walking skirt

Cultures of Care is artist Ruth Singer's Arts Council England funded project. Ruth states, "Over the next couple of years I will be looking at under-explored stories of care of people, places, objects. I'm interested in how artist activities and creative practice contributes to a culture of care".

Under the umbrella of Cultures of Care are the Care Collaborations, and I'm delighted to have been asked by Ruth, alongside printmaker Mandeep Dhadialla to respond to the theme of care. Working collaboratively, Ruth is creating her own response to our processes and explorations and outcomes will be shared in 2024.  

The brief is open with no fixed outcomes to enable us to find our own pathways and create something personally meaningful. From September 2023 I'll share my thoughts, intentions, encounters, conversations and process here, recording experiences and shifts in thinking.

It was intended that our work would be exhibited at the Erewash Museum in 2024, therefore I discovered my 'jumping off point' in the museums Letters of Hope exhibition. Due to factors beyond Ruth's control the Care Collaborations exhibition is no longer happening, still, Hope Robinson and her family have sparked my process, and I'm taking this spark out into the world to consider strategies of survival when living with uncertainty, using one of my own strategies - solo walking.

Gentle Progress
25th September 2023

Highways and Byways in Derbyshire

Photograph of Penny dancing in the back garden of her Ilkeston home

Penny's skirt, made by her mother, Hope Robinson. 
Displayed in the Letters of Hope exhibition, Erewash Museum, Ilkeston

Detail, blackout fabric, ric-rac and machine running stitch

I'm making gentle progress with the Care Collaboration commission, a project within Ruth Singer's Cultures of Care, Arts Council England funded project.

My inspiration is the Hope Robinson Letters Collection at Erewash Museum. Hope's husband Paul was a prisoner of war in Thailand during WW2 and Hope wrote and published a pamphlet after interviewing two escaped soldiers - this pamphlet led to 5,000 letters arriving at Hope's home in Ilkeston: letters from desperate famalies longing for news of their loved ones.

Within the exhibition are a couple of items that linger in my thoughts, a bamboo covered book: a 1923 edition of the Highways and Byways in Derbyshire that Paul memorised during his captivity, and a dancing skirt made for Penny by Hope from blackout material decorated with ric-rac. These objects represent how Paul, Hope and Penny endured a horrendous time - how Paul stayed connected to Derbyshire, how Hope took a moment to sit at her sewing machine transforming blackout fabric and Penny danced with abandon shaking a ribboned tambourine.

The book/the skirt inspired an interest in stories of endurance, how people endure times of uncertainty and limbo. What strategies, rituals, routines do people practice to survive, possibly thrive during these times?

With this in mind I am making a walking skirt based on Penny's dancing skirt. I will read the Highways and Byways in Derbyshire and walk routes in my ribbon and ric-rac skirt. I'm interested in what may emerge as I make and walk, what conversations and thoughts are sparked, and where this project might lead... 

Opening page 
Highways and Byways in Derbyshire, 1928 edition 

The Delight of Walking, page 16

"To see Derbyshire you must walk. The big high-roads are splendid and inspiring - ride these if you will - but the by-roads that wander up and down at random, the stony lanes where no wheel save the heavy cart-wheel goes, the tracks over the wide moors and heather, the unmapped sheep-paths over the hillside turning here to avoid a boulder, and there to escape a patch of bog, and sometimes swerving out of the way of a mere tussock, the foot-paths by the side of streams, through meadows where the deep grasses grow, by hedges full of song - these, these are the rewards of the foot-farer, the jogging pedestrian." J B Firth

Momentary Acquaintances

I love the closing sentence of the preface in the Highways and Byways in Derbyshire by J B Firth, written in London, February 1905. He wrote, 'Nor would I forget to thank the many chance and momentary acquaintances whom I met on the roads and in the fields of Derbyshire and, perhaps, wearied by my questioning curiosity".

Constructing the skirt
October/November 2023 

Making the skirt during the darker months of the year and hand sewing into the early hours did not result in good photographic records. However, I did share some images of process and construction on Instagram, see links below for details. 

Walk 1: Hope to Win Hill
24th November 2023

Gorse, Furze or Whin, ribbon and rick-rack 

First outing in the skirt

Win Hill, The Vale of Hope 

Walking towards the summit of Win Hill in the footsteps of J B Firth and in honour of Hope, Paul and Penny Robinson.

Photos by Clare Logan

Chesterfield Train Station
24th November 2023

Penny in her dancing skirt, early 1940's, Ilkeston, Derbyshire

Karen in her walking skirt, early 2020's, Matlock, Derbyshire

The ribbon and ric-rac on my skirt is placed in the exact same positions as on Penny's. 

Today I noticed other people wearing long skirts and was interested in their construction... Someone in Chesterfield train station had an ankle length, deep red (almost furnishing fabric) skirt with godets! A seam was unravelling along one of the godets.

I wondered if I might feel self-conscious today, that I'd notice people looking. But no, I turned into the looker, the observer.

Walk 2: King's Newton to Swarkestone Bridge
12th December 2023

Highways and Byways of Derbyshire, page 30

After an inspirational meeting with Ruth Singer and Mandeep Dhadialla jostling sketchbooks and teacups in a cafe in Melbourne we headed to King's Newton, walking in J B Firth's footsteps along an ancient pack horse track towards Swarkestone Bridge (spelled Swarkston by Firth). The pack horse track (Wards Lane) was once the main highway from north to south through the midlands when Swarkestone Bridge was the only bridge over the Trent between Burton and Nottingham.

Was awed by Swarkestone Bridge, even though I'd read about it, hadn't taken in its dimensions... Firth writes about how the bridges numerous arches look 'futile and meaningless' standing in the dry meadows of summer but today we saw the flood planes doing their job, the bridge unquestioned in the landscape.

We visited the Holy Well in King's Newton, tossing coins in. We spotted a buzzard, kestrel, starling, fieldfares (maybe), a robin, a wren... Sections of the walk were bereft of birds. Hedges had been flailed and a young ash was laying atop a section of hedge, I carried it and used it to ford the puddles in my non waterproof trainers before bringing it home.

Reading Highways and Byways in Derbyshire by Firth has provided another experience to consider as I walk, thinking about what he would have seen in 1904, what would he make of these places today? What is absent? What fills the space of the absence? I wish I'd experienced the riot and noise of abundant nature almost 120 years ago.

Thank you to Ruth and Mandeep for a heart warming and heart filling meeting, it was wonderful to connect and see the overlaps and meeting places within our practices.

Walk 3: Matlock to Cromford
23rd December 2023

Ribbon and ric-rac and trusty hazel stick

Vibrant green

Natural spring


Woods beyond The Heights of Abraham

Sycamore in Scarthin Woods

Walked in the footsteps of J B Firth for a while but parted ways as a favourite sycamore tree in Scarthin woods was calling. Firth suggests 'those who are wise' continue to the summit of Mason Hill (1076 feet) for unparalleled views. I will return and be wise another time.

The route I followed is very familiar, and I felt at home, welcomed even in/by the woods. It was drizzling and water droplets pattered onto the forest floor, creating a comforting soft tempo. The far horizon was blurry through the trees, low sunlight illuminating grey clouds... It was stunning.

A couple passed on the path, the only people I saw. I noticed vibrant moss, branches forming arches and fused branches... It's interesting to observe what stands out on particular walks.

The evening before I'd written down my intentions for 2024 on small pieces of paper. Upon reaching the sycamore I read these out loud to the tree, before folding them and tucking them into a gap in the trunk for safekeeping. 

Standing with my back against the tree, then facing it, I created two listening circle drawings, mark-making in response to the sound enveloping me, responding in the moment. The A6, insistent, appears alongside bird chatter and alarm call, leaf rustling, my breath/the scrape of collar against chin...

Walk 4: Matlock to Cromford
29th December 2023 

Ruth by a natural spring fed horse trough built into the
wall of the Chapel of St John the Baptist, Matlock Dale

Winter sun after overcast days

Woods above The Heights of Abraham, Matlock Dale, Matlock

At the close of 2023 Ruth and I met in Derby station and took the train to Matlock, a journey of 18 miles and 32 minutes. Memory is a funny thing... I'd thought this was a new route for Ruth, but as we walked, realised it was the third time wandering these paths together, previously collecting clusters of elderberries in a hedgerow near Ember Lane (I returned this autumn and was disappointed to see the trees cut back and no berries to be seen).

There's a wall early on in this walk which always draws my attention. The wall has been extensively repaired and an attempt made at disguising the repair with weird scored lines mimicking stone blocks. I can't take my eyes off them! Soon after this wall there is a gorgeous trough with fresh running spring water built into the side of a church - whatever the weather, I dip my hand in and marvel at the clear water, experiencing it as a cleansing ritual.  

We were treated to winter sun after days of rain, and observed light illuminating branches hosting flourishing lichen varieties in the woods, sharing, breathing in the good clean air. As we walked Ruth collected natural bits and bobs with the intention of adding them to the weft of a hand woven piece, planned in response to this walk.

In Scarthin Woods, we stopped by 'my' sycamore tree and made listening circle drawings, mark making in response to the sounds of the woods. A few people passed by, their 'hellos' making their way onto my paper. We compared drawings, noticing similarities in how we'd recorded sound, in mark-making and placement on the page. Later, at home, I looked for the photograph I'd taken of Ruth drawing by the tree, only to realise there was no photograph, the image existed only in my mind.  

  Listening circle drawing

Momentary Acquaintance Cards 
10th February 2024

My Moo mini cards have arrived! I'm wondering if anyone will comment on the skirt when out walking? I've noticed the odd person eyeing the skirt, but is it considered rude to mention others clothing? It's something I do when spotting interesting garment construction, unusual fabric, something handmade or mended with skill, I can't help myself. 

I ordered 100 cards and wonder if I'll have 100 by the end of the 10 walks? Made the journey to Wirksworth earlier this week and met with (much missed) artist friends from Haarlem Artspace, was good to share this project with them and listen to their responses.

Walk 5: Matlock to Cromford
15th February 2024

Matlock: stepping off the X17 bus from Chesterfield

 High Tor

Listening Circle drawing atop High Tor. The fields opposite 
are the route I frequently take in The Walking Skirt

Steps out of Matlock Bath behind the Fishpond Pub

Nearing the top, the aptly named Upperwood Road

 One of a line of Sycamore trees growing where once there was a dry stone wall

Having walked this route for many years I have memories of 
long gone fallen trees, this woven beauty is decaying wonderfully 

Sherds found on the path to Scarthin, Cromford - signs of past lives

I took a different route to Matlock from Langley Mill today: train to Chesterfield, then X17 bus to Matlock - it's more expensive but reduces journey time by 20 minutes and is a more pleasant route. There's a feeling of arrival into Matlock, descending into the town on the Chesterfield Road, the front seat of the bus is a must.   

A gloriously sunny day, worryingly warm - at one point I was down to a short sleeved t-shirt, though a strong breeze at High Tor saw me quickly dress. Before reaching these dizzying heights, I stepped into woods after the footbridge at Dale Road and was immediately enveloped in bird song so layered and loud I rejoiced in entering their territory! The birds in their in power, sap rising, shouting their claim, calling in mates. 

Seated at High Tor I made two listening circle drawings, a strong breeze in my left ear. From this vantage point I could trace the familiar route usually taken on the other side of the valley, and thought of myself on that path, looking towards where I now sat.

The path down from High Tor provided more wonder: sunlight through yew branch, hazel catkin and rotting wood. Sanding under the yew trees (always a holy experience) my eyes focused on their pollen dancing in the air, specks of gold landing on my purple fleece, a moment with complimentary colour.

Climbing out of Matlock Bath, I took the steps behind The Fishpond Pub, welcoming the pauses to take photographs that allowed me to catch my breath. What a feat of effort and strength to create this stone stairway out of Matlock Bath to Upperwood Road - thank you ancestors.

Upperwood Road converges onto the path towards my beloved Scarthin woods, I said hello to the sycamore trees growing over an almost vanished dry stone wall, and remembered the route blocked by a fallen tree many years ago, this memory prompted by a recently fallen tree, past and present in dialogue.

Nearing Scarthin I spotted sherds on the path in a place I've gathered from before. Muddy fingers turning over small pottery pieces, the reward of blue pattern and white glaze - treasure.

Walk 6: Outwoods circular walk, Leicestershire
16th February 2024

Who built this and why?

Geological interest

Flowing branches - reminded me of ink drawings

Late winter sunlight

We took the wrong track briefly and experienced 
a feeling of intimacy surrounded by young trees   

My first visit to Outwoods on the south west outskirts of Loughborough was fascinating. These are the woods that 
Ruth Singer has walked since childhood, and rightly so, they are hers

I'm keen to hear about such a deep connection to a place, related to childhood memory, family outings and re-walking that route through life. I haven't experienced this, maybe that's why I've chosen the routes I'm walking in this project, claiming them for myself.

Outwoods is full of surprises, small hills and escarpments, rocks pushed through earth, planted trees and naturally established trees. Apparently, the woods will soon be carpeted in bluebells and I hope to return to experience this.    

Walk 7: Matlock to Cromford
29th February 2024

Prior to this walk I decided to not take photographs. Taking a photograph momentarily separates me from the walk as I begin to consider how others will witness it, rather than simply being within the experience.

There's a sense of spaciousness (physical and mental) arriving into Matlock, is this because of geography and landscape, and/or an emotional response? I headed to a cafe and over a fragrant cup of earl grey, began to make notes as Teardrop by Massive Attack played, Elizabeth Frasers's haunting vocals evoking memories of the late 1990's.

This week I discovered I have Aphantasia - the inability to form mental images, known as image free thinking. A tiny percentage of the population have Aphantasia (it must be under-diagnosed), so I'm mulling this over and considering how it makes sense that I feel places and conjure them with words, feeling memory within my body. Walking with this realisation, I reflected upon how walking is a place of devotion for me, that I can drop down into something other, root myself alongside the plants and trees and my younger self who built connections with this place through repeatedly walking it.

Near Greenhills Farm I took a moment to notice cool air entering my nasal cavity, feeling it spreading within my face before my body warmed it and the sensation vanished. The moments I am in the landscape and the landscape is within me I experience a sense of expansion. These moments are fleeting in my busy brain: I try to catch myself, hang on but this is exhausting and I thought - what if I am ok as I am?

I experience a home of sorts in the woods, green (my favourite colour), rich leaf litter, creatures living their lives intertwined, the complexity of the natural world, coexistence, circular systems, growth, decay. Nothing is thrown away, all consumed, transformed. I feel equal here.

Considering my practice, I am drawn to noticing human impact in the natural world and landscape, simultaneously noting the absence of the person who laid the hedge, built the dry stone wall - their mark is everywhere, they are physically gone but present.  

Walking Skirt is the first time I've dressed to walk, taken an item I've made by hand and worn it on my body. I inhabit the skirt, I am present. This feels new. The process of walking in the Walking Skirt has allowed time for thoughts to surface and I've been reflecting on my use of dress forms within my practice and life. In 1998 I created a dress form with organza and pressed flower petals for a group exhibition in Nottingham. In 2017 (unintentionally) I wore a dress I'd made during last days of my mum's life, sitting by her side in palliative care - I've never worn that dress again. In 2020 I drafted a pattern from the 1998 dress and hand stitched eight interconnected organza dress forms in honour of my female ancestors, titled Daughters of Daughters. Through Ancestry I've named most of these women, my research led to Norfolk and I hope to trace the names of my 4x and 5x grandmothers in the near future. 

The Care Collaboration has opened up space to consider my practice and braid it's threads together with care. How will this unfold? I welcome the path ahead.

Walking with Ruth's path-like weave 
29th February 2024

On the 29th December 2023 Ruth Singer and I walked from Matlock train station to Cromford and in response, Ruth created this woven piece inspired by natural objects gathered on route and moments on the walk. 

I've kept the weave safe in the envelope Ruth gave it to me in and on the 29th February 2024 walked with the piece along the same route that inspired its making. Just before leaving the woods and descending into Cromford, I held, then unfurled the path-like piece, hanging it on a branch and observing how winter colour sits peacefully within a brighter spring and how change is gentle in the woods.

Walk 8: Matlock to Cromford
28th March 2024


Natural spring fed horse trough at the Chapel of St John the Baptist, Matlock Dale

Walk 8 of 10 exploring clothing and intention, walking and ritual to consider strategies of endurance at times of limbo or uncertainty. In Derby bus station a seated man asked, 'are you Druid?', 'are you Wicca?'. He is the first stranger to ask about my skirt, enquiring 'do you make clothes?'. Just as I was about to hand over the card I'd made for this occasion he asked if I lived alone and was I divorced? The card in my hand was swiftly withdrawn and put back in my pocket.

A month has passed since my last walk, the result of a very busy March, poor weather on dates I'd planned to walk and public transport cancellations. This walk was much needed and it as a relief to arrive into Matlock. Spring has bloomed bringing wonder and new growth - so magical. As well as observing my surroundings I also noticed my ease with the skirt, less awareness of navigating its folds and volume, gathering it when needed, arranging myself over styles with ease - the skirt has become familiar.

My focus was inward and outward simultaneously, rain pattered on my hood giving a sense of enclosure, I stroked a friendly donkey's face, marvelled at Blackthorn blossom, Scarlet Elf Cup, Nettle, Cleaver, Wild Garlic, Lesser Celandine and Wood Anemone. The light was beautiful, softly illuminating green clouds of emerging leaf buds, suspended overhead. This is a very particular green, so new, energetic, bursting - I wished all could go to the woods and breathe it in.  

Walk 9: Matlock to Masson, then Cromford
31st March 2024

Near Greenhills Farm, Matlock, photos taken by Clare Logan

Approaching Masson Hill just beyond Ember Farm
Page 397 Highways and Byways in Derbyshire

Masson Hill

During walk 3 on the 23rd of December I ignored Firth's advice that 'those who are wise will continue to the summit of Masson', deciding to take another path and vowing to return another day - today was the day!

Walking with my sister Clare and the Highways and Byways in Derbyshire book we attempted to work out Firth's route from the written text and map of Matlock and Matlock Bank printed in the book. It was confusing and we reached the summit of Masson without knowing it, taking a different route to Firth and only realised we were in the correct place when home - Clare sent an image of the hills trig point found online and it was the exact same view as in the final image shown above. (I've worked out Firth's route on my Ordnance Survey map and will walk it on 2nd April). 

On page 397 of the Highways and Byways in Derbyshire Firth writes: A stone tower on the Heights, a conspicuous landmark from the valley, offers a delightful view, but those who are wise will continue the easy ascent until they reach the summit of Masson - a thousand and seventy-six feet - not a peak, but a broad plateau with a large clump of windswept trees. From here the whole of Matlock Bank, with the north side of Darley Dale and the uplands above, looks a smooth unbroken ascent stretching away towards Ashover and Chesterfield. Riber Hill stands up boldly across the entrance to Darley Dale with its squat castle crouching on the top, but its sloping shoulder is cut off sharply by the gorge of the Derwent. By the side of Riber we can look over Scarthin down the railway past Cromford to the ruined Stand on Crich heights; we can see the ridges of Stonnis and Middleton-by-Wirksworth, and the densely-wooded depressions which mark the gorges through which run the roads to Bonsal and Winster. In the far distance we may distinguish the clumps about Newhaven; the line of Axe Edge is often visible, and over Stanton Lees we can make out the heights above Hathersage and Grindleford. The view from the summit of Masson can hardly be omitted from the finest prospects in the whole of Derbyshire.

Walk 10: Matlock to Masson, then Cromford
2nd April 2024

Masson Hill

Walking along the Limestone Way out of Matlock I stopped for a moment to enjoy the fact I had a shadow companion - what a beautiful spring day.

Walk 10 of 10: the final walk of this Care Collaboration Commission part of Ruth Singer's Cultures of Care Arts Council England funded project. I'm really looking forward to showing and sharing this work alongside Ruth and Printmaker Mandeep Dhadialla to witness our connections, give space for the work to 'talk' and see where these conversations flow next... 

Masson Hill was the destination today, and this led me through a favourite place - a tunnel of Holly on the Limestone Way. It's cooler in there, embracing, accepting, protective - I took another moment to breathe deeply and observed how alert and fizzy my nervous system is. 

From this place my body wanted to walk, no listening circle drawings, only a couple of photographs... Parting from the Limestone Way I walked through a field with three horses eating peacefully, then up a winding path through scrubby trees. Reaching the plateau of Masson was a joy, as Firth promised the view stretched for miles. Skylarks sang all around and I watched a small bird body flutter upwards belting out its powerful melodic song, the volume impressive.

Again, I took a moment, this was a walk of taking moments.

Walking in a skirt is familiar now and I imagine I'll feel immodest returning to leggings. This project has provided a wonderful opportunity to explore new ideas and ways of working, brining together threads of mine, Ruth and Mandeep's practice. This process is sparking new ideas but I'm holding back 'what next' thoughts to allow the experience to soak in and settle in my mind and body. I'll share reflections in the near future.