The twists and turns of textiles: Ruby Richardson

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
ruby richardson2_2
Textile artist Ruby Richardson at home in her Warrnambool studio which is a calm place full of fabric and creativity.

[dropcap style=”color: #8f9f59;”] T [/dropcap]extile artist Ruby Richardson has had a life full of twists and turns, but joining a circus was perhaps the least expected.

It was while Ruby, from Warrnambool, was studying costume design at Swinburne University in the late 1990s that she secured a work placement with The Women’s Circus, based in Footscray, and not only created some of their wonderful outfits, but ended up being part of the show.

“I learnt to do static trapeze, which is where you do various swings around the trapeze but don’t leap from it, and acrobalance,” she explains.

“I was so strong back then!”

womens circus
Members of the Women’s Circus demonstrate the art of acrobalance as part of their show, Out of the Box, using a combination of strength, poise and balance. Image: Women’s Circus.

[dropcap style=”color: #8f9f59;”] A[/dropcap] circus was the perfect – if unpaid – world for Ruby, who was entranced by “the sheer visual spectacle” of costume design and human movement that allowed for so much more experimentation than mainstream fashion.

“One of my lecturers at the time used to ban the ‘f’ word and say, ‘we make outfits for characters – not for the masses!”’, Ruby recalls with a laugh.

During her course, Ruby learnt the tricks of the costume trade – from millinery to creating “fat suits” – and also tried her hand at screen-printing for the first time.

Despite her love for the field, however, the opportunities for paid work were (and remain) limited, so Ruby also became a personal care worker for the City of Yarra, before deciding to return to south-west Victoria in 2002.

It was here that all the threads of her past and present life began to combine.

ruby richardson_6
Screenprinting is one of many of Ruby’s skills and she now teaches others at TAFE and occasionally at The Artery, Warrnambool.

[dropcap style=”color: #8f9f59;”] A [/dropcap]s a child growing up in Woolsthorpe, Ruby had always been a “good drawer” at school but hated sewing classes, until she decided to try her hand at sewing her own clothes at home.

Her father, a shearer, had a sewing machine in the house to make the calico bags he used to store fresh meat: it was not unusual for old-time farmers to know how to use a needle and thread.

“I bumped him off the machine and yeah, there was a fair bit of swearing about that,” Ruby laughs.

Ruby began to make and wear her own clothes; shirts without collars, skirts without hems, a kind of rustic chic .

“It was very rough, but also quite fashionable at the time, so I could get away with it,” she says.

Ruby went on to study art and design at TAFE, before completing a Bachelor of Fine Art at Deakin University, during which refined her drawing and design skills and began to explore printmaking.

After returning from Melbourne, Ruby re-enrolled at TAFE to study screenprinting under the guidance of Donna Dixon and, a year later, began her own label, Pattern & Print,that combined her printing and sewing skills.

“I decided to start making things from what I was printing, little bags, cushion covers, that sort of thing,” she explains.

ruby richardson2_16
The raw and the complete: some of Ruby’s collection of fabrics, including many sourced in Japan, a printmaking cut-out and a completed, hand-stitched felt bag.

[dropcap style=”color: #8f9f59;”] A [/dropcap] decade on and Pattern & Print is well known for its bold, geometric designs and colours that are inspired by Ruby’s deep love of the natural world.

“I can spend hours just looking at a plant, examining it and looking at its structures and colours,” she says.

“If you look closely, you can see how all the tiny pieces of a plant form into one piece and this is repeated over and over: I love that.”

Retro images from the 1950s are another common theme and, again, Ruby uses bold, monchromatic colours and repetition to create her own unique “look”.

These days Ruby has also moved from being the pupil to the teacher, and, three years ago, replaced Donna Dixon as the screenprinting lecturer at TAFE. She also continues to work in personal care, at Lyndoch, where she is known by her first name of Alison (Ruby is one of two middle names).

Like any artist, her work continues to evolve and Ruby is currently working on her first ever collaboration, with ceramacist Clare (Claybody) Fennessy, that will lead to an exhibition of “Prints and Clay” at TAFE on October 20.

“I am loving the process of working with Clare, who’s work I have always admired, and experimenting with different techniques to see what works and what doesn’t,” she says.

Ruby is also keen to produce larger wall hangings of her work, where the print is viewed as a work of art in itself, rather than as part of a functional object such as a cushion or bag.

“I see it as part of a natural evolution, working through processes, trying different things and not really knowing how it may end up: that is the exciting and enjoyable part.”

ruby richardson2_5
The eye-catching simplicity of Ruby’s designs are captured in this backdrop that reflects patterns and images that were popular in the 1950s.

[box] Ruby’s work is available at the Warrnambool Art Gallery gift shop, The Artery gift shop, the Little Yellow Owl hair salon, W’bool, and at her home by appointment. Commissions upon request. e: [/box]

[button link=”” type=”icon” icon=”heart” newwindow=”yes”] Did you enjoy this story? Please subscribe here to help Bluestone thrive.[/button]

 You might also enjoy…


Inspired by clay: Clare Fennessy

A sculptor with the heart of a Lyon: Jon Dixon

Family ties behind every stitch: Sue Ferrari

The quiet contemplation of still life: Jan Allan

Home is where the art is: Karen McKenzie





9 thoughts on “The twists and turns of textiles: Ruby Richardson”

  1. I read eagerly for mention of the sewing genes Ruby surely would have nherited from the FitzGerald sisters Annie (Ruby’s grandmother) and Anastasia (my grandmother and Danielle O’Brien’s great grandmother) both sewing and general teachers at the Woolsthorpe primary school in their day.

    1. Well that Ruby is a dark horse, Pat – we didn’t get to talk about this impressive lineage, but it explains why there are such sewing skills throughout the whole family!

  2. I never new you were in the circus!!! What fun you must have had. Congratulations on all of your achievements. Not only are you a lovely, gorgeous person, your designs have total SPUNK! I love that. xx

  3. Such a talented artist and always generous with sharing her skills and know-how. I can just imagine you wowing the circus crowds with your unique costumes and your warm and witty presence.

  4. Lovely write up Ruby. Great to hear about your artistic journey. Look forward to seeing future creations.

  5. Lovely story Ruby. You are a very generous person; always willing to share your knowledge. Great to hear of your circus experience.

Comments are closed.