Earlier this year I paid my first visit to the city of Berlin. I am old enough to remember the Berlin Wall being erected in 1961 and dismantled in 1990.  Dividing the city’s East and West German portions, it spanned 155 kilometres (96 miles). It actually consisted of two walls, the border wall (the part that faced the West) and the inner wall in East Berlin.

Photographer: unknown

The wall was designed to stop the residents of East Germany escaping to the West. Whichever side of the wall you were on when the wall was built was the side you stayed until Germany’s reunification in 1990. There was a wide area between the two walls with trenches to make it easier to see and thus capture anyone trying to escape, an area known as the ‘death strip’.

During these years it is estimated that over 100,000 people tried to escape. Over 5,000 were successful and it is thought that up to 200 people were killed by the guards during their attempts. Initially the barrier was made of concrete blocks and barbed wire but it was reinforced over time eventually becoming 12feet (3.6m) high and stronger so that there could be no attempt at driving cars through it. There were guard towers positioned around the wall. The wall became one of the largest canvases in the world as people in the west painted it with graffiti or street art expressing their opinions. The west side was completely covered but the east side was blank as people were not allowed to get close to it.

In 1989 a series of revolutions in Poland, Hungary and other Eastern Bloc countries caused a chain reaction and eventually the Iron Curtain between East and West was broken. On 9thNovember 1989 the East German government announced that their citizens could visit West Berlin, many  climbed the wall in an atmosphere of celebration. Immediately people started to chip away sections of the wall and pieces were sold or collected by souvenir hunters.

The wall was finally demolished by the middle of 1990 and in the spring of that year an international group of  over 100 artists from 21 countries began painting a series of murals reflecting the political changes in Germany and the world. That huge canvas had gone but a section remained and is now known as ‘The East Side Gallery’. This is possibly the longest open-air gallery in the world painted on a portion of the wall that originally faced the territory that belonged to East Berlin.

Many visitors to Berlin visit this site and over time there have been many repairs and touching up of the paintings. Inevitably more graffiti was added and in 2009 most of the paintings were replaced and an ‘anti-graffiti’ coat was applied. Some artists refused to repaint their destroyed images others were copied without permission. Controversy over the site has persisted especially as the area is wanted for development. It is now a heritage-protected landmark expressing hope for freedom for all people of the world.

The photographs here are ones that caught my eye and in close up you can see that some of the surfaces are damaged by erosion with flaking paint. Some are quite famous including the iconic Trabant car bursting through the wall. The manufacture of these cars was a state monopoly in East Germany and the waiting list for purchasing one was up to 12 years. The car had a steel frame with the boot, bonnet wings and doors made of plastic made from recycled cotton waste from the Soviet Union.  The average life span of a Trabant was 28 years although it was noisy and unreliable!

Another well-known image is ‘The Kiss’ although the actual title is ‘My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love’. It is a depiction of a photograph taken on the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the German Democratic Republic (Eastern Germany) in 1979. The two men are Leonid Brezhnev, General Secratery of the Soviet Union and Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party. It is now widely regarded as a symbol of Berlin’s inclusivity.

So the cold, grey and inhuman wall has been replaced by this colourful gallery, no longer dividing the city but bringing together thousands of tourists each day who absorb the history of the Cold War and hopefully look forward to a peaceful future.

Words and images by Linda Walsh


The Phoenix biennial exhibiting schedule affords us the luxury of being able to do in-depth research on our chosen theme. This takes various forms: observational drawing, experimenting with materials, online research, following news reporting in depth, visiting museums and galleries, travel, or studying the work of other artists. But in this instance, we are focussing on books that have inspired our current body of work, or that influence our practice in general.

The book that inspires Marie-Ghislaine Beaucé’s work at the moment is “The Earth Viewed from the Sky” by world-renowned photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Some of the aerial shots taken from quite close to the ground represent man-made constructions, or structures of repairs on roads, or planning of agricultural plantations. These patterns are an inspiration for the bases of her current work.

Kate Davis found this book by chance in a charity shop and was attracted by the image on the cover, which is a painting by Giorgio de Chirico called ‘The Enigma of Arrival’, and which the book’s author also chose for his title. The book resonated with Kate’s ideas because the author rented a secluded cottage in the countryside for twelve years. He relates how the area and the inhabitants changed through the time and seasons.

Kate’s current work is based on the sense of place of a village she has been visiting for fifty years. Looking at a map from five centuries ago, it is interesting to see how the roads, the main boundaries and the names have not changed. Today more new houses are being built to be inhabited by residents from diverse places, the character of the village is changing, but the ancient landscape still exists.

Kate has a large library which she refers to continuously, but the ‘Enigma of Arrival’ reinforced her experience of a place in the country.

Lynne Butt finds this a lovely book to dip into. It looks beautiful and is extremely helpful for creating abstract art.

Lynne’s current work is inspired by abstract artists, in particular Barbara Rae.

Maria Walker finds that these are the four books she returns to again and again for inspiration and grounding.

Mrs Tinne was a well-to-do Liverpudlian lady who considered it her duty to support local drapers and seamstresses when sourcing her extensive wardrobe, most of which is in the archives at Liverpool Museum. Maria actually thinks she bought one of Mrs Tinne’s linen tablecloths from an antique centre in Cheshire as it has her laundry mark on it!

This is a children’s book about the human body.  Maria really likes the clear illustrations which she finds useful for an ongoing project to do with the human body.

For Joan Bingley, this book is both an inspiration to alter her base cloth to the mood of her artistic work and a useful manual on how to do so.

When Joan is getting bogged down by technique and forgetting why she wants to say something as the how dominates her thoughts, she gets this book out to remind herself that even a format as rigid as counted stitching on canvas can be free and tell a story.

This is an old book, but Joan finds it to be full of useful ideas and helpful design hints.

For her current body of work, Joan is using some vey old atlases dating from her school days!

Linda Walsh has so many books that it is hard to choose, but this is a beautiful one, a present to Linda’s husband. He studies the architecture, and she enjoys the photography. It inspired a holiday in 2010: seven weeks driving in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, discovering 23 abbeys along the way! Linda always takes her sketchbook along on her travels, to record the elements that interest and inspire her.

A constant influence for Robertta McPherson is history and nature. Her current inspiration is a sense of place in the landscape and the traces left by our ancestors.

Another book that Robertta often references is The National Trust’s Countryside. This image is an illustration of how stones have been used through the centuries to build settlements and cairns and to enclose land.

Robertta’s current work examines the apparently precarious but nevertheless enduring way that stones have been piled into these structures over the centuries.

Joan Glasgow has many books that she constantly refers to, but this is her current favourite. Her work has always been figurative but abstract expressionism has recently captured her focus, as it is forcing her to think in a more conceptual way.

Rosaline Darby attempts to capture movement, gestures, interactions and fleeting glimpses in her work. She has found these books encouraging and helpful.

Rosaline’s current work is concerned with the poor quality of public debate and the apparent increasing polarisation of a society where single issues are advocated for passionately whilst disregarding other, equally important considerations. This book has helped her to clarify her own thoughts.

Jo Coombes always starts an exhibition theme with a copious amount of research. This is from both the internet, and from books gathered over the years that have piqued her particular interests. Often a news story will prompt her to update or revisit an issue, drawing on as many sources and viewpoints as possible.

For ‘(Un)Balanced’ she is keen to join the debate of how much our old and heritage buildings should be fully restored, compared with conserving them to display their original and aesthetic beauty in their declining state. This is a complex issue which faces all those charities charged with the care and financial upkeep of historical buildings.



Collagraphy was totally new to me when I signed up for Sally Hirst’s Complete Creative Collagraphy course last year. Suddenly a new world opened up for me.  I loved making the plates, then inking and printing them.

Sally has done a vast amount of research on tools and supplies which is invaluable to a beginner and the videos are clear and concise. They cover everything you would possibly need to know. Sally is also on hand via email or on the Printmakers Forum to answer any questions you may have.

The first plates were made using beer mats, mount board, perspex drypoint plates, mirror card etc; mainly by carving out a design and adding masking tape, foil and tissue. The foil can be scratched into in the same way a design can be scratched into the perspex plates.

First plates

Inked plates

First proof prints

Print and ghost print

Combined card and drypoint plates

Plate made from packaging

In part 2 of the course, plates are made by using acrylic-based paints, gels and mediums along with textured papers such as wallpaper, handmade papers and packaging.

Textured papers can also be made by pushing acrylic gels through stencils or marks can be made in the gel with various tools.

Found materials plate

Proof print of found materials plate

Found materials and reductive plate combined (I think I need more practise with registration!)

I then went on to make several long plates with a silk base built up with gels….and there I have stayed (for now anyway!)

Proof print of my first silk based print

Colour print

My second silk-based long plate is more controlled. It takes practise to achieve the right consistency of the gels.

Second silk plate

I added an inked piece of die cut paper to the plate to fill a blank space.

Second print in red then turned around and printed again in black.

With my third silk plate I made adjustments at the press.

I then used acrylic paint and stencils to modify the print.

There is so much more to the course than this little snapshot and I look forward to spending many more pleasurable hours working my way through it.

Stensils used are from Stencilgirl and Tim Holt as well as my own designs,

By Lynne Butt

What Lies Beneath: Women, Politics, Textiles

Murray Edwards College (formerly New Hall) in Cambridge houses an unparalleled collection of art by women artists, which can be visited free of charge and without the need to pre-book:

Visit the Collection

From February 17 to August 28, 2022, they were also host to the exhibition “What Lies Beneath: Women, Politics and Textiles” by a multi-generational, international group of women artists and collectives, using textiles to comment on politics and society.

“Traditionally, the history of textiles is the history of women’s work. Whether hung over beds, laid on floors or worn on the body, textiles have a unique ability to communicate collective histories and individual stories. Over time and continents, this tradition has evolved. From Chilean arpilleras to quilts from the American South, textiles have become a powerful way to shape identity, build community and prompt political action.”

Here are some of the highlights, picked out by Phoenix member Rosaline Darby:

Miriam Schapiro (1923 – 2015)

Schapiro was a pioneer of 1970s feminist art in America, spearheading the Pattern and Decoration movement, which employed craft and decorative traditions to honour women artists excluded from art history. Madness of Love is an example of what Schapiro called femmage, combining the words “feminine” and “collage”.

Stella Mae Petway (born 1952)

Petway is a member of the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers in rural Alabama, where quilting techniques have been passed down through generations of women. The quilts draw on symbols and patterns from African and Native American textiles. They are often made from the good parts of old clothes and are intended for practical use.

Anya Paintsil (born 1993)

Paintsil draws on her Welsh-Ghanaian heritage in her work, which employs rug-hooking (passed down by generations of her Welsh female forebears) as well as Black and Afro hair styling techniques, and aims to elevate craft-based practices traditionally associated with women of colour and from working-class origins. Blodeuwedd (Flower Face) is a character from Welsh folklore.

Tejedoras de Mampuján

The Colombian Mampuján Sewing Group made this appliquéd piece in collaboration with local women as testimony to the horrors of armed conflict.

Permindar Kaur (born 1965)

Kaur often works in installation to show the potential of textiles to be sculptural objects. These nine stuffed “toys” contrast the softness of textile with the hardness of metal, which the artist links to stereotypes of femininity and masculinity.


This arpillera, a type of Chilean textile art that normally has an activist element, depicts hands holding up photographs of “the disappeared” – people who went missing during the Chilean dictatorship. Memorarte is a feminist art collective.


The Woven Child exhibition, shown at the Hayward Gallery in London in Spring 2022, was a great opportunity to view some of the work Louise Bourgeois created in the last decades of her life.

The artworks on display incorporated her own clothing and textiles (such as bed linen, handkerchiefs, tapestries and needlepoints) from all stages of her life. The use of such personal textiles created a moving and profound snapshot of her rich, complex and notably dark life. For the visitor it felt, to some extent, like being in the same room as the artist.

On entering the exhibition one was confronted by strange juxtapositions – sculptures which were half human, half animal – all made from the artist’s own garments.

Some were brightly coloured….

Others less so.

There were richly embroidered, life-sized disembodied heads staring at me from glass cases, which were very unsettling.

There were contorted bodies with multiple heads, an armless female figure whose breasts were tied with the spindles of thread (The Good Mother, 2003) and other figurative sculptures, all of which demonstrate the artist’s obsession with corporeality, childbirth and the domestic.

Much of Bourgeois’ work was overtly sexual, such as this cage sculpture, which, from certain angles, resembled a phallus….

Whilst other pieces were more delicate and intimate such as these embroidered household linens which explored femininity.

There were also some intriguing sculpture exploring balance made from stiffened clothing and domestic fabrics.

And finally the largest and scariest of her art works (for me at least) was Spider Cell 1997, one of Bourgeois’ iconic spider sculptures.  The 15ft bronze spider filled the room and straddled a steel mesh cage of items, including a tapestry chair.  Spiders reminded Bourgeois of her own mother who was a weaver and restorer of antique tapestries.

The detail below of a much larger piece was untitled.


Written by Maria Walker

INDIGO … the true blue

Our June meeting this year fell on the weekend of  the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, so we decided to do something different and  some of us gathered to experiment with  an indigo dye vat and share a picnic.

In these days where everybody (except me!) has a pair of blue jeans the colour is very familiar but indigo dyeing has been around for thousands of years. Before the invention of synthetic dyes, if you wanted your toga or whatever to be a different colour, you’d have to go find something in nature to dye it with, maybe mud, a mineral, an insect or the seed, flower, root or leaves of a plant.

Applying wax before dyeing

Lynne and Joan G prepare their wrapped pieces

Indigo is said to be one of  the oldest dyes, with cloth found in Egyptian pyramids and Ancient Peru. Ancient civilizations used indigo as more than a fabric dye. They used it in cosmetics, paint, crayons, and more. The blue dye is extracted from the ‘indigo fera’ plant- a family of roughly 750 shrub species found in tropical and sub- tropical regions of the world. The word indigo traces its origins from the Greek word ‘indikon’ which translates to ‘Indian’, indicating India to be a prominent source of indigo for the Greeks. However, it was also naturally cultivated in diverse areas like China, Japan and Egypt. In Europe the ‘Isatis Tinctoria’ plant was used to produce the blue colour known as ‘woad’ or ‘false indigo’.

Bundled pieces on the line awaiting dipping

Chatting and dipping

Now ubiquitous, indigo was once a highly prized pigment available only to the rich and powerful. Aptly referred to as ‘the blue gold’ the demand for this vegetable dye fuelled several trade wars. It also enriched many empires and left an indelible mark on the histories of many colonies where it was cultivated.

Italian merchants first encountered indigo during the Crusades in the flourishing markets of the Middle East, who in turn obtained the dye from East Asia. The Italians started importing large  quantities of indigo to Northern Europe. The Indian indigo was found to be of a far superior quality than the local woad. Needless to say, local woad producers felt quite threatened by this hugely popular import and labelled it as ‘the devil’s dye’.  Over time Genoa became popular for its tough, rich blue fabric that was found to be an ideal workwear for miners, fishermen etc. French being a commonly spoken language in Europe during that time, this sturdy cloth came to be called Bleu de Gênes or the Blue of Genoa. This term would later turn into the word jeans in English.

Jo and Joan B at the vat

Joan G and Kate at the vat

The Blue of Genoa also reached the French city Nîmes known for its exceptionally talented weaver community. These weavers sought to create their own version of the indigo dyed cloth. Several experiments later they were able to create a similarly strong blue fabric. The warp yarn was treated with the indigo dye while the weft yarn stayed white. The result was a fabric that had two strikingly distinct surfaces. The deep blue surface of the cloth was kept facing the outside with the white/faint blue surface on the inside. It became roaringly famous due to its exceptional durability and was named de Nîmes or denim in English. Indigo dyeing had truly come full circle from producing fabrics that only the affluent elite could afford to robust workwear for the masses.

It takes at least 100 pounds (45 kg) of plant to make 4 ounces (113 g) of dye. This made it a very valuable commodity. Indigo plants consist of a solitary stem which supports oval, deep green leaves and clutches of red flowers. The dye is obtained from the leaves through the arduous and smelly process of fermentation. This is  quite a delicate process and there is a lot of scope for things to go wrong. This led the natural dyeing process to become surrounded with many superstitions, for example, in some places like Eastern Indonesia it began to be seen as a sacred activity that only women were permitted to carry out –  men were prohibited from even looking at the indigo vats.

Joan B waiting for the green to oxidise to blue

Adding to the vat

The harvested indigo crop would be submerged in huge containers filled with water. Wooden logs would then be put on top of these containers to thoroughly press the crop inside. This would initiate the process of fermentation- the water would begin bubbling and turning blue. This blue liquid was then drained into another container to separate out dirt and other debris that might have got into the mixture.

This repulsive smelling blue water was then mixed around with specially constructed paddles to further separate the plant from the pigment. Now a third container was employed to store this clear blue liquid. It was allowed to sit in here till the indigo contained in it settled down. Then the water was drained out and the indigo set aside to dry. The final products were small blue objects which could be grated to get the wonderfully blue dye.

Sitting on the step to undo stitching

Needless to say, our day did NOT begin with collecting leaves from indigo plants!!

Phoenix member Rosaline Darby generously organised the buying of indigo and a large vat and setting it up for us to dye our pieces. We donned our old clothes, aprons and rubber gloves to see how the magic worked! Damp fabrics needed to be carefully lowered into the vat to avoid excess oxygen mixing with the liquid. It is oxidisation that makes the ‘magic’ as items soak up the green liquid but quickly turn blue when they are removed and come into contact with the air. The fabric needs to stay in the dye for 5-10 minutes and we tied string around the pieces so that we could suspend them over the vat. Using carefully gloved hands the fabric is squeezed gently under the surface to encourage the dye to penetrate. Care is also needed to extract the pieces without too much disturbance.

The length of time in the dye determines the depth of the blue shade and pieces can be re-dyed if you want to make the colour deeper. Most of us made patterns by adding resist in some way. Wrapping with string produces a ‘tie-dye’ effect, folding the fabric with clips to keep the folds in place produces lines of colour. The fabric can be stitched in various ways with a strong thread so that the dye penetrates unevenly. Anyone familiar with Japanese shibori techniques will know that amazing patterns can be produced. Wax can also be used to resist the dye and then removed later by ironing. After dyeing the pieces are then rinsed in water with added vinegar to  neutralise the alkaline soda ash that is in the dye bath. After another good rinse in clear water they can be hung out to dry!

Our finished washing line

Nowadays of course indigo is mostly manufactured synthetically. It wasn’t until
1856 when a teenage British chemist named William Perkins accidentally formulated the first synthetic dye. A breakthrough came in 1870  when German chemist Adolf von Bayer managed to produce artificial indigo. He perfected his technique and in 1897 sold the formula to the German chemical company BASF. The natural indigo dyeing process is becoming rarer and rarer now. There are now only a handful of producers who provide natural indigo dyed fabrics, with most of them found in Brazil, Indonesia and El Salvador. Almost all our denim clothes are dyed using synthetic indigo which gives it a darker blue shade. Compared to natural indigo, synthetic indigo is purer, cheaper and gentler on the environment. During an excavation in Thebes, Greece, an indigo cloth was discovered. It is thought to date back to 2500 BCE. It seems like our current love for indigo has very deep roots!

Jo’s finished pieces

Maria’s finished pieces

Kate’s finished pieces

Joan G’s finished pieces

Although, given that it takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to grow the cotton for a pair of blue jeans, perhaps we need to keep thinking carefully about the environmental damage to the planet of everybody’s favourite garment!

End of an enjoyable day

Thanks to Joan Bingley for the use of her garden and barn, to Rosaline Darby for the dye preparation and to Linda Walsh for the research and compilation of this article.


Jo Coombes gives below an exceptional synopsis of the Festival of Quilts exhibition, held earlier this year.

The Festival of Quilts, launched 19 years ago in partnership with the Quilters’ Guild, recently had its four-day annual show, attracting both national and international visitors. Quilts in a variety of categories from traditional to ‘art’, pictorial, miniature, contemporary and modern are exhibited in both juried and non-juried categories. Over 800 professional, amateur and young quilters enter work. Workshops, talks, demonstrations and retail therapy, as well as galleries featuring special exhibitions by notable artists, make it one of the premier European quilting shows.

Jo takes a very personal look at her favourite galleries, picking out quilts of interest to an art textile enthusiast. The wonderful award winning quilts for each category can be found on the Festival social media platforms, so this is just the tiniest sample of the treasures on offer. Unfortunately, many very deserving pieces will be left out of this account, as will many of the professional artist’s galleries!

Fourteen works were shortlisted for the Fine Art Textile Awards which recognise a broad range of skills to create visual art.

The winner this year was Jess Blaustein with ‘Table Settings’.

But Jo was impressed with Marian Jazmik’s innovative use of machine embroidery on heat treated and distorted synthetic fabrics to create ‘Stems and Stalks’. Marian has written a book on her wonderful and imaginative techniques.

Jane Walkley’s ‘Rhythm of the Weave 111 is a clever sculptural tapestry which captures the memory and repetitive life of mill workers by casting artefacts and debris in Jesmonite. Jane’s conceptual work on Yorkshire’s industrial heritage is so impressive.

Clearly, the most moving and exceptional piece was Caren Garfen’s Jewish tallis (prayer shawl) ‘The Weight of the World’, meticulously stitched over 2 years.

Jane Sanders’ ‘Self Portrait’ creates a clever eye-catching and contemporary modern picture with her vintage sewing machine.

The SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Association, Inc) gallery focused on migration and the refugee crisis in an exhibition of members’ work, called ‘Forced to Flee’. Eunhee Lee, from South Korea, creates a powerful image of this.

Jo’s favourite piece was this small intimate group of desperate people, rendered in vintage fabrics by Kathleen Loomis, Kentucky, U.S.A. It is poignant and effective, urging us all to see refugees as people seeking sanctuary, not as parasites and threats.

A stand out gallery was that of the irrepressible and lovely Sarah Hibbert who has developed a signature style of combining hand stitching on linen to create quilts with a modern design twist. Recently, she has explored paper collage and how that can be translated into her textile work. Her recent book details her creative journey and textile passion.

The Art Quilt category was very varied this year. A standout piece for Jo was Janice Gunner’s ‘Ruptured – Grief’ – a very personal piece on the loss of her husband after a long illness. It is never easy to portray such a personal story but this was done sensitively and courageously.

Niki Chandler’s ‘Tipping into the Shadows at the End of the World’ was a masterclass in precision piecing.

Whilst Liz Heywood’s ‘Rockfall’ perfectly evokes the vulnerability of the cliffs along the North Norfolk coast.

The Creative Textiles Studio, with its live demonstrations of dyeing and printing techniques is now evolving under the new leadership of Christine Chester, Terry Donaldson and Hazel Ryder (In Stitches) and Leah Higgins. The large number of visitors popping in to watch, suggests it has a bright future.

The Committed to Cloth community, nurtured by Leslie Morgan for many years, was a celebration of work created at her studios during courses and monthly sessions and then demonstrated at the Festival.

Among the many wonderful contributions to the Gallery, were those of Alison Garrett and Amanda Duke, who did a great job curating and hanging.

Lesley Morgan’s beautiful quilts

Anna Woodhead, Maggie Barber and Jo Coombes

To end, Rathangan Co Kildare, Ireland school’s delightful ‘Winners Cup’


Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature

Victoria and Albert Museum London until 8 January 2023

This fascinating exhibition documents the life of the artist, author, natural historian, farmer and environmentalist who was Beatrix Potter. Most of us will have grown up with and loved the characters in her books and it is a privilege to learn more about the person behind them.

Beatrix, aged 15, with her beloved spaniel, Spot

The Original, Real Peter Rabbit

That Beatrix Potter had superb drawing skills, honed through much practise from an early age with the help of great teachers, goes without saying but it is her observational skills and meticulous attention to accurate detail that stop her stories, whilst anthropomorphic, being twee. The actions and reactions of her characters are based firmly in accurate depictions of the types of behaviour that the animals represented would exhibit, and they inhabit a believable and recognisable world.

Sketchbook aged nine

Of particular interest to embroiderers is “The Tailor of Gloucester”. When working on this book, Potter visited the Victoria and Albert Museum to study a fine example of an 18th Century embroidered waistcoat, which is still in the museum’s collection today.

18th Century Waistcoat

She was very particular in asking to see it laid flat on a table, having already a clear idea of how she wanted her illustration to look, and made detailed drawings of the garment and notes about the embroidered decoration.

Beatrix Potter’s Study Drawings and Notes

Her final book illustration clearly shows this detailed study of the waistcoat’s embroidered design.

Tailor of Gloucester Book Illustration

Compiled by Rosaline Darby



Tetrapak Drypoint Printing

Here at Phoenix, our members are always looking to expand their knowledge of techniques and methods.  The potential of a new technique often gives freshness to our work, and the variety of skills and expertise within the group provides for a range of enjoyable in-house workshops.  When Rosaline Darby showed us her experiments in drypoint printmaking using otherwise waste Tetrapak cartons and a portable etching press generously lent to her by fellow Phoenix member Maria Walker, we jumped at the chance to have a go ourselves. Here, Robertta McPherson describes her experience of the workshop.

Some examples of Rosaline’s prints:

It was a revelation to discover that we could reuse a ‘throw-away’ carton as an environmentally friendly printing block.   We used a sharp pointed implement such as a tapestry needle inserted in a cork to make an improvised drypoint needle to etch a design onto the shiny side of the Tetrapak, remembering that the final print would be in reverse.

Concentrating on etching their designs:

At this stage, part of the surface could be textured using a small pad of wire wool or a small wire brush, or small areas of the surface could be cut out to create darker areas in the resulting print.

Next, we carefully applied the ink, rubbing it into the design with a wodge of tarlatan scrim.   Then any excess ink was lifted off with acid free tissue paper.   This was all achieved with varying degrees of mess.   However careful we were, the ink found a way to the inside of our rubber gloves!

Applying the ink and rubbing into the designs:

Then came the exciting part when, with the use of the etching press, we discovered whether our designs produced a reasonable print.

Here is a selection of our results from the day:

Once the prints are properly dry, colour can be added using watercolour paints.  Here are some that Robertta embellished with colour later at home:

It was a really enjoyable, fun workshop.   According to Robertta, this method of printing will certainly find a place in some future work.


Text to Textiles by Maria Walker

The sharing of skills is an important part of the Phoenix ethos, so our members often give demonstrations or workshops at our monthly meetings.

Phoenix member Maria Walker uses stitched text on fabric in her narrative based work, so she offered to demonstrate some of the techniques she uses and brought along some examples of her previous work.

Maria owns an old Pfaff sewing machine which can be programmed to create text. She very occasionally uses it to create text but generally finds the process of programming the text  is quite time-consuming and the choice of fonts is limited.

Free machine embroidery is Maria’s preferred method for creating text onto fabric as the style of text reflects her own handwriting and the technique is fairly quick to achieve once the vagaries of free machine embroidery have been mastered.

Maria prefers not to use a hoop as she finds the lack of manouevrability restricts her writing style. To overcome the problem of the fabric puckering she either uses a thick fabric such as boiled wool or uses a stabilizer such as “Stitch and Tear” or a dissolvable fabric as a backing.

She usually stitches directly onto the fabric but if a more accurate placement of the text is required she writes the words onto the fabric first with a vanishing pen.

Other effects can be achieved by layering a few fabrics together before stitching and then carefully cutting away the top layer or even burning away with a heat gun if a fine synthetic chiffon is used.

Creating text using a sewing machine does not necessarily mean that only fine threads can be used. Text-effects can be created using a thicker thread wound by hand onto the bobbin. This method involves stitching the text on the reverse of the fabric so when it is turned over the text created using the thicker bobbin thread will be on the right side of the fabric.  A modicum of skill is required when attempting this technique as it is important to stitch the words backwards onto the fabric so the text is legible when the fabric has been turned over. It is best to first write out the words in reverse first on a piece of paper and check for accuracy using a mirror. The effect is worth the effort as text created this way can often look as if it had been stitched by hand.

If you want something bolder then cutwork text is the technique for you. To create this you stitch the outlines of your letters onto a single layer of a non-fraying fabric such as woollen felt and then cut away the background fabric leaving the letters in tact.

You need to plan this very carefully because, as with stencilling, if you cut away too much background you will just be left with a big hole. It is a good idea to stitch horizontal lines of running stitch across the fabric first , thus creating a line paper effect. The letters can then be stitched within the lines making sure the top and bottom of the letters are attached to the line to hold it in place once the background is cut away. Maria found that looking at the cut paper work of artist Rob Ryan proved to be very useful to her when she embarked on this way of working.

Maria runs in person one-day workshops for embroidery groups in which attendees are shown how to do all these techniques. You can find more details on her website

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