Claire Benn surface design classes
Claire Benn surface design classes
Claire Benn surface design classes
Claire Benn surface design classes
Claire Benn surface design classes

Claire Benn

Claire stitched a bit at college, dropped out, stopped stitching and started working … finally re-engaging with textiles after seeing a Mennonite quilt in 1994. What can be done to a piece of cloth still amazes her.

In 2001 she teamed up with Leslie Morgan to form ‘Committed to Cloth’ which became one of the foremost textile teaching practices in the U.K., with seven great books published during the partnership. In 2014 Claire retired from the partnership (but not completely from teaching) in order to focus more on her own work. Working with students in a community of like-minded people is a continued joy as teaching provides such a positive feedback loop; everyone learns. Her focus as a tutor is to enable; she presents clear demonstrations and instruction, believes in straight-talking, offers guidance, pulling and encouragement.

Artist statement
Solitude. Stillness. Silence. Experienced in wilderness landscapes and made visual through cloth, thread and pigments.

A piece of cloth is always Claire’s starting point, which Anni Albers describes as “the pliable plane”. Uncomplaining of a sharp needle and welcoming lines of thread. Porous enough to absorb pigments, strong enough to support them and tough enough to withstand an electric sander. Using earth pigments connects Claire back to the wilderness. Binding it in acrylic medium or soya milk allows her to make washes that soak through the cloth - cotton canvas, linen or hemp are strong enough to take the weight of the pigment and build up layers to communicate the texture of soil, sand, grit and rock. But the cloth is also open enough to yield to stitch; rows, lines or scatterings of thread offer a visual trace of time and a literal surface texture that fingertips can feel.

These are Claire’s quiet materials, used to make art that evokes solitude, stillness and silence.

• For more information about Claire and her work, visit her

Claire’s 2-week class

  • • May 1-6 & May 8-13, 2022 | Marking Time & Cloth, Pigment, Stitch

    Open or Close
    Marking Time & Cloth, Pigment, Stitch
    • Note: Class begins on Sunday, May 1 at 4 pm
    • Only 16 students accepted since this workshop focuses on smaller-size pieces as hand stitching takes time. Students will share two workbenches each; one for wet work and one for stitch/dry work, and share a table in the ‘communal zone’ of the class room.
    • Level: Beginner to advanced
    • Sewing machine: No
    • Materials fee:
    • Dye facility usage fee: $60

    • SORRY, class is full To be placed on waiting list, please send in registration & deposit. If space does not become available, a full refund will be issued.

    Tuition & Meal plan for 2-week class with Claire (limited to 16 students):
    $2805 | 10-day Tuition ($2225) & Meal plan ($580)
    Claire Benn surface design
    Week one: Marking Time
    Although Claire is known for surface design, she has another side to her personal practice; that of slow, quiet, contemplative work and a love of old cloth.

    The appeal of hand work is the slowness, quietness and the rhythm and peace to be found in repetition. The appeal of old cloth lies in its (usually) humble roots, be that a bed sheet, tea towel, napkin, handkerchief, quilt, pillow slip or shirt. Old cloth is already marked by the passage of time and seems to have a resonance, it speaks to us. Colours may be faded by weather or laundering. There may be areas of wear and tear, some mended, darned or patched. These are things that offer a particular tactile experience, which can be respected and offer inspiration.

    Many of us also respond to what can be found in the landscape (rural and urban) and as with old cloth, it’s often the decayed and time-battered items that seem to appeal the most: smooth pebbles, bent sticks and twigs, dessicated leaves, rusted, holed, bent and worn objects, weathered tiles, timber, brick and stone. All have been marked by time and often have qualities of purity, restraint, simplicity and humility. Time is also a crucial element for ‘active’ looking, the kind of looking that enables us to notice the small details and establish a sense of place and a feel for things.

    This workshop is designed to enable the student to:
    • Take the time to actively look, notice, observe, contemplate and extract what personally matters
    • Engage and respond through the processes of collecting, mark-making, over-painting, writing, drawing, assembling, wrapping, binding and stitching
    • Discuss (one-to-one or as a group)
    • Hold and experience silence and stillness

    A finished piece may or may not be the end result. Each student will ‘mark’ their time in their own individual way and the tangible results may only be revealed in the fullness of time.

    Participants will have a choice as to their focus for the second week:
    • Continue in the style of ‘Marking Time’, but focusing on intentional work, driven by outcomes and ideas from week one.
    • Focus on the second element, ‘Cloth, Pigment, Stitch’, which will also be drawing on the activities of the first week, including using some of the stitched cloth.

    Week two: Cloth, Pigment, Stitch
    In Week One we undertook a slow exploration of hand stitch on ‘old cloth’, or cloth with character.
    This follow-on workshop will offer students the opportunity to:
    • Learn how to use earth and synthetic pigments on cloth, primarily using soya milk as the binder.
    • Combine cloth, stitch and pigment media, working in layers and developing the surface.
    • Explore aging and wearing through abrasion and erosion.
    • Progress ideas from ‘Marking Time’ and develop the work further.

    The initial focus of the workshop will be to learn the key principles of working with soya milk as a pigment binder. Once some knowledge and experience are gained, students will have time to develop intentional pieces. Claire has decided to put the emphasis on using soya milk as it has no impact on the environment and doesn’t stiffen the hand of the fabric to the same degree as acrylics. This means the cloth can still be stitched and used for cutting and restructuring. However, acrylic medium will be used for certain approaches such as abrading and distressing and the media will be adapted to lessen the stiffening of the cloth.

    A note on colour: please understand that earth pigments tend to come in ‘earthy tones’ ranging from black, grey, brown, yellow, orange, red-orange, cream and buff. Claire will be supplementing this range with three synthetic pigments in a red, a blue and a green.
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    ON-SITE SUPPLIES (provided by materials fee)
    A selection of media and tools will be supplied appropriate to the workshop, including:
    • Some antique linen and hemp for sharing and use
    • India/China ink
    • Chunky charcoal and graphite
    • Earth and synthetic pigments
    • Soya beans
    • A range of acrylic colours and fluid matte medium
    • Candles/tea-lights for burning and smoke effects
    • Inktense sticks
    • Paper: some hand-made papers (including Chines papers), 200-300gsm paper, acid-free tissue paper, tracing paper, old newspaper and plain newsprint or lining paper.
    • Awls and screw-punches
    • A good selection of calligraphy/lettering/mark-making tools
    • Cotton scrim/butter muslin
    • Cotton plasterer’s scrim
    • Rollers, scrapers and paintbrushes
    • Small mono printing plates
    • Electric sander and various sanding blocks

    A key requirement is for each of you to travel as lightly as possible. For this to happen, please be selective in choosing only items you truly respond to and truly believe you’ll use. The supplies list may seem long, but it encompasses what you’ll need for both weeks.

    CLOTH for both weeks
    • Old cloth in natural cellulose fibres in whatever form or weight that may take. This might include (bits of) old shirts, tea towels, napkins, handkerchiefs, jeans, aprons or plain cloth. No more than the equivalent of 1 yard and make sure the weave isn’t too tight for hand stitch!
    • 5 yards of medium-weight white or unbleached linen such as sold in Joann (suiting weight is good but please ensure it’s 100% linen as Joann sells a linen-polyester blend – don’t get them confused!). Please scour it before coming.
    • 3 yards of cloth suitable as a backing cloth – this could include a medium-weight linen or a 7.5 to 9.5oz cotton canvas. Again, please pre-scour this before coming.
    • A half-yard of white acrylic felt.
    • A half-yard of white Misty Fuse fusible web.

    No more than three small, old, weathered objects/items of choice. This might include weathered plastic, an old rusted can, nails, hooks, small bones or weathered sticks, a piece of metal ‘junk’, pebbles, etc. Go looking and scavenge and I’m sure John can help us out too.

    50g of soil – please ensure this is
    NOT the kind that’s been supplemented with manure or compost (such as is suitable for a vegetable garden) as this type of soil has too much organic matter in it for use as pigment. Clay-based or silty soils are best for pigment use. Note that pure sand or sandstone is difficult to use as a pigment, being too hard to grind finely, but it can be used as a surface texture with acrylic medium.

    • Hand-stitching thread: choose colours carefully by thinking about the old cloth or weathered items you’ll be using it on and try to include a red, a yellow a blue/turquoise, an orange and a green. To this, add some white, black, grey and a neutral. Please make sure these threads are a light-to-mid weight and of natural fibre such as cotton, linen, hemp or silk. DO NOT bring thick, lumpy threads.
    • Machine-weight thread that would work with the hand-stitch thread (you might need to couch).
    • A good variety of needles: again, think of the hand stitch thread you’ve chosen and select needles accordingly. Make sure at least one needle is a ‘blunt’ tapestry-style needle, and one is a curved needle.
    • A general sewing kit including a thimble if you like to use one, small, sharp scissors and a stitch ripper.
    • Pins: pins for pinning up ideas and pins suitable for pinning threads or similar on to cloth. As pins are small, lightweight items, you may wish to get creative and consider entomology or lace-makers pins. You might stitch them down as marks on your old cloth.

    • One rubber roller/brayer.
    • A small cutting mat or similar that you don’t mind getting paint or glue on
    • A sketchbook or notebook (if bound, be willing to tear out the pages)
    • Cloth apron and comfy shoes
    • A camera, or use a phone (which will be on ‘silent’) or an iPad
    • Journaling, notes, references - key written work or references that may be important for your marking of time
    • iPod and headphones if you like to work to music
    • Favourite mark-making tools. Within this, consider at most:
    • 2 ‘off-the-shelf’ pens (permanent/water-proof black ink only please)
    • 2 calligraphy-type pens (purchased or home-made)
    • 2 pencils of different hardness/softness
    • 3 brushes, perhaps fine, medium and large
    • 1 empty and washed soft drink/beer can for making a cola pen or bring a cola pen if you already have one.
    • Thermofax screens: thermofax use will not be the focus of the class, but it can be worth bringing one or two thermofaxes of a linear or textural nature.

    Most of this pre-work will be used in Week Two, so could be done in the evenings of Week One, but acknowledge that you may prefer to occupy your Week One evenings by continuing to work on your stitched pieces. So, I’d recommend doing the prep in advance of coming.

    Hand stitch for over-painting:
    • Tear two pieces of medium-weight linen to a size of 20cm/8” square and iron it flat.
    • Tack them together.
    • Using a natural fibre, not-too-fine embroidery thread in white, black, grey, cream or a brown/taupe neutral, hand stitch the piece in any way you want to; you don’t have to smother the entire surface or obliterate it entirely with stitch but don’t be lazy about the amount of stitch either. Hand stitching takes time, so treat this as an evening meditative activity and start well in advance of the class.
    • Remove the tacking stitches once finished.
    • The piece will be over-painted with a white or pale neutral acrylic colour during the workshop.
    • If you wish, prepare up to and no more than three hand-stitch samples in advance, but one will be enough if you’re not fond of hand stitching!

    Machine stitch for mono-printing & over-working:
    • Tear two pieces of linen or medium-weight calico to a size of 20cm/8” square.
    • Choose a cotton machine thread colour that tones nicely with the colour of the cloth; it does not need to match exactly!
    • Cut a piece of batting/wadding slightly smaller than the two pieces of cloth to make a quilt sandwich. If you don’t have batting/wadding, use an old face flannel, or a piece of towel; something that will give you some loft.
    • Put the three layers together like a small quilt and make sure the inner layer isn’t visible around the outer edges of the sandwich.
    • Machine stitch/quilt them together in any ‘design’ you like; pebble stitch, wiggles, curves, lines, grids – whatever. Just make sure there’s a reasonable amount of quilting, go for a bit of density.
    • You will be mono-printing this quilted sample.
    • Please prepare 2 quilt sandwiches.

    Please contact Claire if you have any queries about the class content or supplies.

  • • 2022 Spring Art Retreats | Tuition and Meal Plan
    Tuition & Meal plan for 2-week class with Claire Benn: (Note: Only 16 students accepted)
    Both weeks (10-day class) of this workshop are to be taken back-to-back. No registrations accepted for only one week.
    $2805 | paid in full as soon as possible | 10-day Tuition ($2225) & Meal plan ($580)
    + $110 materials & dye facility usage fee

    Tuition & Meal plan for 2-week classes with Nancy Crow:
    Both weeks (10-day class) of these workshops are to be taken back-to-back. No registrations accepted for only one week.
    $2530 | paid in full as soon as possible | 10-day Tuition ($1950) & Meal plan ($580)
    + $200 professional presenters fee for Master Composition

    Tuition & Meal plan for 2-week class with David Hornung:
    Both weeks (10-day class) of this workshop are to be taken back-to-back. No registrations accepted for only one week.
    $2530 | paid in full as soon as possible | 10-day Tuition ($1950) & Meal plan ($580)
    + $110 materials & room usage fee

    Tuition & Meal plan for 1-week class with Carol Soderlund:
    • Sign up for one or both weeks of Carol’s workshops.
    $1265 | paid in full as soon as possible | 5-day Tuition ($975) & Meal plan ($290)
    + $100 materials & dye facility usage fee for Color Mixing for Dyers 3
    + $100 materials & dye facility usage fee for Layers upon Layers

    Meal plan
    During the art retreats, Margaret Wolf, will prepare fabulous gourmet lunches and dinners plus a coffee/snack break daily during each week of class. The meal plan is provided so participants may concentrate fully on their work without being bothered by the interruption and inconvenience of cooking for themselves. The break times present a great opportunity to get to know your fellow students, share ideas, and just relax together in this wonderful environment.

    The meal plan includes an opening night welcome dinner, five lunches, five afternoon coffee/pastry breaks, and four more dinners during the duration of the workshop. Coffee, tea and water will be served during these break times. Participants are responsible for any other beverage choices, such as soda pop, beer, wine, milk or bottled water.

    Please keep in mind that if anyone chooses not to participate in the meal plan, they are solely responsible for all of their meals, snacks, coffee, tea, and other beverages. The kitchen facilities are reserved for the resident chef. There is a microwave and a refrigerator in the wet studio for student use. Most restaurants are at least a 20 minute drive away from the barn.

    Please note: Due to facility limitations, meal plans are available only for workshop participants.
  • • Accommodations
    Recommended accommodations & offering special rates:

    Hampton Inn, Canal Winchester, Ohio (20-25 minute drive to Crow Timber Frame Barn)
    This new, highly rated, clean, comfortable hotel is offering reduced rates. Please ask for “Nancy Crow Workshop” special rate (includes breakfast) using the local phone number 614-953-2204 or book online

    Hampton Inn, Pickerington, Ohio (15-20 minute drive to the Crow Timber Frame Barn)
    This clean, comfortable hotel is offering reduced rates. Please ask for "Nancy Crow Workshop" special rate (includes breakfast) using the local phone number 614-864-8383 or book online

    Best Western, Pickerington, Ohio (15-20 minute drive to the Crow Timber Frame Barn)
    All suites hotel with separate living area and bedroom. Offers complimentary full hot breakfast, free wifi, heated indoor pool, exercise room, & business center. Call 614-860-9804 to book and ask for “Nancy Crow Workshop” special rate.

    Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Reynoldsburg (15-20 minute drive to the Crow Timber Frame Barn)
    Please ask for "Crow Barn Workshop" special rate (includes breakfast) using the local phone number 614-861-8888 or Email the manager
    If booking online, please use the corporate ID code: 786931270

    The Morgan Theater Home, Baltimore, Ohio (5 minute drive to the Crow Timber Frame Barn, mention Crow Barn)
    Former silent movie theater converted into a private residence. Three rooms for rent include free cable TV & free high speed internet access. Kitchen/refrigerator/stove & all "kitchen stuff" available. Phone: 740-862-4765 or Email

    Rosabella B & B, Millersport, Ohio (10 minute drive to the Crow Timber Frame Barn; mention Crow Barn)
    Beautifully restored 1850s Italianate farmhouse is surrounded by farm fields. Breakfast included. The grounds include a wrap-around porch, hammock, patio, pool, hot tub, and fire pit. Phone: 740-467-3580

    Other accommodations, please negotiate your own weekly rates:

    AirBnB options in the area near the Crow Timber Frame Barn

    City of Lancaster, Ohio (15-20 minute drive to the Crow Timber Frame Barn)
    • Hampton Inn, 740-654-2999, clean and quiet
    City of Reynoldsburg, Ohio (15-20 minute drive to the Crow Timber Frame Barn)
    • Fairfield Inn, 614-864-4555

    Campgrounds near the Crow Timber Frame Barn
    Rippling Stream Campground, Baltimore, OH, 740-862-6065, (5 minute drive to the Crow Timber Frame Barn)
    KOA Campground, Buckeye Lake, OH, 740-928-0706, (15-20 minute drive to the Crow Timber Frame Barn)
  • • Miscellaneous information
    • Please let us know if you would like a roommate. We will try to match you with another participant to share accommodations.

    Travel to and from the Crow Timber Frame Barn
    • The Barn is located near Baltimore, Ohio (southeast of Columbus, Ohio)
    • Please keep in mind that there is not a shuttle service to and from the motels to the farm, therefore please arrange a rental car or carpool with another participant.
    John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH) in Columbus, Ohio, is the major airport serving the area (30 minute drive to the Barn)

    Rental sewing machines, cutting mats & lamps
    • Bernina sewing machines are available for $150 per 10-day class.
    • Cutting mats are available for $30 per 10-day class.
    • Lamps are available for $30 per 10-day class.

    Formal class hours
    • Monday-Friday: 9-12 and 2-5 daily
    (Classrooms are open 7 am-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 7 am-5 pm Friday)

    Professional facilities
    Each student is provided with a large work table, an 8’ x 8’ work wall, and a comfortable chair. Classrooms are well illuminated and are open from early morning until late in the evening, plus the classrooms have air conditioning & heating. The surface design/dye studio at the Crow Timber Frame Barn includes large padded tables, lots of light (natural and color-corrected bulbs), 3 commercial stainless steel sinks, & washer/dryer. All facilities are non-smoking.

    Mailing list
    If you would like to be placed on a mailing list for information about upcoming art retreats, please send your contact info.

    Questions? Email
Images of Claire Benn, student work and classes at the Crow Timber Frame Barn