Some people are just special – they have that aura and a powerful effect on those they meet. My friend and fellow quilter, Ruth Higham, who died at the weekend, was one of those exceptional individuals.
I met Ruth purely by accident 10 years ago. I had just moved back up to Scotland and I didn’t know a single person here who was interested in textiles. So when I saw there was to be a talk by two artists as part of the Quilt Art exhibition at the Collins Gallery and the opportunity to meet some of the makers, I jumped at the chance to go. I was very nervous as everyone seemed to know each other, but I carried on and went and sat down in the lecture hall. A lovely lady sat down next to me and started chatting – it was Ruth.
I couldn’t have had a better introduction to Scottish textiles and quilting because Ruth was at the centre of it. Along with Isabel Patterson and Patricia Macindoe, she had just run the first Loch Lomond Quilt Show. As a result of this original meeting, I ended up exhibiting twice at the Loch Lomond Quilt Show, spent a year generally trying to help the show, taught C&G Patchwork and Quilting and above all, gained a wonderful friend.
Speak to virtually any quilter in Scotland and they will have some connection or story related to Ruth. She was an inspiration to so many people. Her own artwork was beautiful and meaningful and she had a lovely way with hand stitching. She was always eager to try out new things and experimented with lots of techniques. In particular, I am thinking of her work in breakdown printing. Above all she was keen to share her knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Originally at Cardonald College and then at the Loch Lomond Studio, she was a thought-provoking and very generous teacher. Ruth asked me to teach City & Guilds Patchwork and Quilting with her three years ago and I learned so much from her vast knowledge of quilting. She was interested in all areas: traditional, quilt history as well as art quilting and art cloth.
When she had to stop teaching at the Studio, she encouraged me to set up on my own – something I would not have got round to doing without her hefty push and her belief in me. She and Isabel were also incredibly generous in helping me stock my teaching studio with some of their spare supplies. I can’t use the purple or emerald green dyes without thinking of Ruth as these are colours I associate strongly with her work and ones I wouldn’t have chosen myself. Nonetheless, they are creeping into my palette and work. The way I am teaching C&G is a direct result of her influence, for which I will always be grateful.
She continued to be inspiring right to the end. Even when the cancer was not going away, she was finding positive aspects of the experience and continued stitching and living as full a life as she could. Truly a great role model. In case this makes her sound too saintly, Ruth also had a wicked sense of humour and shared similar tastes to me in trash television.
I am incredibly sad that my dear friend died at the weekend. She was far too young (especially in quilting terms!) and too full of life and exciting plans. She will be sorely missed not just by her family, who were centre of her busy life, but also by her huge circle of friends. I feel incredibly privileged to have known Ruth and been inspired and encouraged by her. I have been very lucky to have been able to count her as a friend and will continue to draw on all she taught me, particularly in her great kindness and generosity of spirit.