Artists’ Tools: Part 4

Our fourth and final part in this series on artists’ tools explores the potential for making our own tools to fit a purpose or explore artistic potential, which makes for an exciting,  productive and engaging way of connecting with the finished piece.

We will also show you the fun some of us have had making our own tools and using them for mark making.

Jo Coombes finds that her collection of household items – plastic cap, tree tie, biscuit packaging and corrugated cardboard make the most interesting marks for her when printing paper and fabric. She is always on the lookout for unusual textures and patterns. Nothing gets thrown away until she has checked its artistic potential!

On a recent seaside holiday, Maria Walker enjoyed fashioning this set of tools from objects found on the beach.

Maria has also made her own walnut ink and has been exploring the marks that she can make using it and some of her home made tools.

On a recent visit to some woodland owned by a friend, Rosaline Darby collected items to use for drawing, printing or mark-making and adapted some of them to make more effective tools.

Here are some of the marks she achieved.

We hope this has given you some inspiration and an appetite to try something new or experiment with everyday objects – the outcome may surprise and delight you!


Artists’ Tools – Part 3

The English proverb:  “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” probably holds true for this third part in our series where we will be showing how we improvise in our art practice by making use of everyday objects, and adapting those designed for other purposes.

Joan Glasgow turns to the cocktail stick continually. She uses it for stuffing and turning the points of very small objects. There may well be purpose made tools for the job but when working on a small scale, Joan would not be without her cocktail stick.

Marie-Ghislaine Beaucé is using the flat handle of a wooden kitchen spatula to turn larger strips of fabric inside out and the rounded end of a knitting needle for the narrow ones.

A selection of Jo Coombes’ favourite tools ……

…. and here are some in action for breakdown printing:

These are the tools Alison Hird-Beecroft is using at the moment to produce the photographs she takes of her threaded structures and the shadows they produce.  There are several coloured bottles and the jar with iridescent cellophane strips and all contain water. The shape and thickness of these affects how the light is refracted.  She uses sunlight beams in a dark room or light beam from the torch shown in photo, putting the structure in the beam that comes through these props or behind them, which makes a more distorted shadow.

Jude Kingshott uses roofing plates and bulldog clips in her eco-printing process.

Rosaline Darby’s initial training was as a zoologist and she finds that the precision tools from her university dissecting kit often come in handy in her textile work.

…… to be continued ……

Artists’ Tools: Part 2

Vintage and antique tools are some of the most treasured and sought-after possessions, whether its for nostalgic reasons or simply because there is nothing better on the current market, our relationship with our tools play an important part of our creative process.

In this second part of our tools blog we will be showing you some of the treasured items that we have inherited or collected.

Joan Glasgow regularly uses this beautiful vintage sewing machine that was given to her mum by her dad. She says its stitching is still as smooth as silk!

Jo Coombes has her granny’s leather work bag and its contents. She says, “Poor lady was dumped in at the deep end looking after my brother and me as children and was pretty hopeless domestically (she had had staff to bring up her own daughters). But she smelled wonderfully of talc and camphor, had the most extraordinary pink whalebone corsets, and a closet full of fur coats. Her one culinary achievement was the most delicious hot buttered scones.”

Robertta McPherson’s needlecase and thimble belonged to her aunt, and her pincushion is from the Embroiderers’ Guild Millennium Project. She made the tassel for her scissors so that she can tell which are hers.

Linda Walsh’s Venetian glass pen was a present from her daughter and makes some lovely smooth marks.

Mary Crabb uses a wide range of simple hand tools to make her work. These are just a selection. She says, “Tools are very personal, and just by handling a tool you form a relationship with it. My favourite tools are those I have inherited and remember using as a child. My Grandad used to buy me a new tool every Christmas, each stamped with my initials and the date. These are the most treasured of all.”

During lockdown Kate Davis re-acquainted herself with watercolour painting.

She says, “This made me think of my father who was art trained and encouraged us to draw and not just fill in colouring books. On holiday in February I lost my watercolour box, so I have resorted to using Dad’s box, which I treated badly in my teens. Also I am using my husband’s seldom used paints and adding gouache to obtain certain colours. Derwent Inktense pencils are useful for extra colour and line. I have a large selection of brushes and these were given me by my older daughter. My younger daughter has commissioned a painting of irises from me which is not an easy task as she is a good artist and designer herself.”

…… to be continued ……..

Artists’ Tools

What are your go-to tools when designing or creating?  Rosaline Darby has collected ideas from all our artists and presents us with some exciting images and stories from a range of contemporary tools to some which may take you down memory lane.  Written in a four-part series, you’ll be keen to continue to the next stage.

Part 1

We all use a wide variety of different tools in our work, from state-of-the-art, specialist and purpose-made ones to those adapted from other uses, cherished items inherited or passed down, tools improvised from everyday and found objects, and those that are home-made for a specific task.

In this first part we will be sharing some of our specialist tools.

Maggie Barber’s beautiful, detailed and intricate quilting is produced using this wonderful long arm Bernina sewing machine.

Whatever form of textile work Joan Bingley does, it is always some form of needlework. And that means the type of tool she uses most is a needle.

There are specialist sewing needles for every use: upholstery or sail for heavy fabrics, curved for awkward corners, blunt ends for canvas and fine points for darning. There are a vast range of needles differing in point style and size, eye shape and size, length and diameter, including degree of taper. Joan sometimes resorts to the stereo microscope to check markings, especially to see sizes for the sewing machine, and how sharp or worn the needle points are. Worn or damaged points can spoil the fabric.

Some years ago, Joan was given a set of needles in a case by the then Master of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, a livery company in the City of London. This is so attractive and her existing stocks so plentiful, she has not yet brought herself to use one of this set of needles. She just enjoys looking at them.

What Linda Walsh uses most are her digital camera and computer. Loving to travel, she takes hundreds of photographs around the world, changes them on the screen, transfers them to fabric and adds stitch.

Rosaline Darby’s work almost always incorporates printmaking of one sort or another, which requires a range of different specialist tools including silk screens and equipment for carving and printing lino and wood.

Lynne Butt also enjoys printmaking, and is mainly focussed on that as well as drawing and collage at the moment. On the Gelli plate is her very beautiful walnut drawing stick and a pallet knife which is useful for mixing paints and printing inks. It is also great for getting glue under those annoying bits of papers that don’t stick down entirely. Also her bone folder that she hadn’t used much until recently when she discovered how useful it is for smoothing collaged papers and a roller/ brayer essential for printing.

Samantha Jones was lent a new tool recently, a Japanese Screw Punch. Needless to say, she thinks she may have to purchase one, although a bank loan may be needed first!!

….. to be continued ……

“Home” in detail continued

Our final four artists reveal some fascinating insight into their contribution to our group project.

During lockdown, my home became a place of sanctuary and spirituality. I was and remain privileged to have the space for quiet contemplation and reflection.  In addition, the daily walks with my husband provided rich inspiration in the foliage from giant oaks to shrubbery, and offcuts from recent tree felling. Free machine embroidery allowed me to interpreted my response.

Also, the quietude and renewed freshness of the air supported my appliquéd interpretation of the spiritual feelings I took from this extraordinary experience.

Joan Glasgow

I found Lockdown 2020 a difficult time, my day job went online over night and I found I was working on the laptop for 8-9 hours and using my creative space as my office. I still haven’t been back into that space to work creatively!

When it became mandatory to wear face masks I made a variety for friends and family through the @bigcommunitysew challenge. I was left with a bag of scraps and mulled over what to do with them when as a group we decided to set ourselves the ‘Home’ challenge.

During the summer I was lucky enough to spend a week at fellow Phoenix member Jude’s house where we explored indigo dyeing. This was a fabulously rejuvenating time for me creatively so I have incorporated some of that fabric into my piece.  Collating the fabrics together was inspired by a trip to the Turner Contemporary in Margate and seeing the Gees Bend quilts.

It is my intention now to spend some time slow stitching my fabrics – no plan just stitch.

I’m back at work now and some slow stitch in an evening will help to unwind and hopefully encourage my creativity to return.

Samantha Jones

I settled in to my new home after a chaotic move at the start of lockdown.  The spring and summer flowering in the new garden was a continuing delight and hope during this extraordinary time.

Robertta McPherson

Home for me during lockdown was being cooped up in an urban flat, in solitary confinement. No access to human life apart from essential trips to buy food.  I read a lot, revisiting books, catching up on BBC iPlayer, and endless sudoku.

Relief came when we were allowed to venture further afield. I planned visits to NT venues, the London wetland centre and nearby Painshill park. These were my salvation as they allowed me to enjoy the open countryside, the peace and quiet of being in the open air and lots of walking.

I started to sketch and paint, something I had not done for a long time, time to lose myself and feel part of nature.

Carole Waddle

“Home” in detail continued

Our “Home” project continues with a further four of our artists giving us more information about the inspiration behind their submission.

This is a digital drawing using Apple Pencil and Procreate on iPad Pro.

Lynne Butt

Lockdown was a lonely time for many but for me, being cooped up day after day with my husband and son, with other family members and friends in anxious and distressed states and needing help and support, carving out a little peace and quiet and time to myself was important. Each evening, after the heat of the day, I would escape into the sanctuary of my garden and do a few quick doodles of the plants in a concertina book, calming and cooling down after a busy and often fraught day.

Rosaline Darby

This year’s lock down has brought lots of people closer than usual by means of telecommunication, especially friends and family who reside outside of the United Kingdom.

Marie-Ghislaine Beaucé

During this strange time of lockdown much time has been spent in the garden picking up leaves that have fallen from the HUGE holm oak tree that dominates our tiny courtyard.

I took the above photo looking up into the tree canopy, ….

changed it digitally, ……

……. printed it onto silk organza and layered the pieces and added stitch.

On the reverse some words about the tree and some, unreadable, about the sadness that has engulfed our family this year.

Linda Walsh


Featured Artist – Jo Coombes

We are delighted to continue with the second instalment of Jo Coombes’ fascinating series on her retrospective and current practice:

Part 2 – Façades and Follies

The world has many dark moments and turmoil, often as a result of human actions, neglect and beliefs.  I try to respond to some of these events.

The horrific demolition of Mosul, Iraq, and the desecration of Syrian monuments, by so-called Islamic State, brought a sharp focus of horror to our news’ screens. How could people survive this destruction and what could be achieved by reducing cities to rubble, and erasing history by destroying classical buildings and sculpture. Were we witnessing the end of a civilised world?

“Hollow Victory”

“Erasing History”

Closer to home, I chose lifts (elevators) as a motif to highlight the small proportion of women appearing to ‘rise to the top’ and break the ‘glass ceiling’. They start at the bottom with equal opportunities as the men, so I posed the question as to whether they self-select to leave the cut- throat race in their careers, and thus achieve a more balanced lifestyle for their families.

“The Cost of Options” (detail)

Travelling to London via Vauxhall on the train, I have been struck by the proliferation of new building construction. “Progress?” shows tower blocks rise ever higher for offices and flats, with little green space. Can such a density of urban living be healthy for the mind and soul?

The above two images, and below, of the same piece, was worked with a faux deconstruction process to print using a silk screen and watersoluble crayon rubbings. Christine Chester’s inspiring “Poetry of Decay” course produced many different techniques of adding texture to paper and fabric, and was instrumental in finding the desired effects.

Many people have struggled recently in ‘lockdown’ to work from cramped small flats in London. I remember a piece I made some years ago, influenced by the brutalist architecture of Corbusier. In an abstract piece, “A Shaven Patch of Green”, I reflected on the plight of families living in high-rise blocks with minimal outdoor garden space.

My current work for Prism focusses on man’s search for a better life, promised irresistibly by a prosperous big city.  With the covid pandemic, this desire may now fade, as people value a lifestyle working ‘from home’.


Current work for the Phoenix exhibition, ‘SeenUnseen’ references the abandoned towers of Hitler’s failed, grandiose WW2 Atlantic Wall project. Though a mark of man’s dominance, in time, nature will regenerate and soften these military wastelands and disguise these forbidding, iconic structures.

“Home” in detail continued

A further four of our artists give some background and inspiration behind their work on our “Home” project:

A view through window bars and reminders of lockdown activities collaged to echo an internet-based meeting screen.

Joan Bingley

Thinking about being restricted/caged due to lockdown and yet birds flying free – goldfinch escapes while I did puzzles.

Joan Bingley

Mary Crabb

For me, home is multi-faceted. This icosahedron is made from twenty circles; folded stitched and joined as equilateral triangles. Most faces are covered with text relevant to me or the time we are living through. Rather like a Venn diagram the circles overlap.

Mary Crabb

Jude Kingshott

Jude Kingshott

The above three images are details of my home piece, which represents the dark side of lockdown; the fear, the isolation and the forced changes in the way my life is lived.

It reflects the order and routines that developed and the importance of my Buddhist practice, bringing positivity and hope. The processes used are eco printing, calligraphy, hand painting and collage.

Jude Kingshott

My home has always been important to me and more so during Lockdown.

In the past I have lived in quite ugly, modern houses so I was delighted to buy an attractive 1930s house when we moved to London. I had sketched it a couple of years ago ……….

Maria Walker

………. so I decided to use this sketch to create an embroidered line drawing onto a fabric collaged background which references its past history.

Maria Walker

I am not the neatest of embroiderers so the back of the work is wonderfully messy which could be the antithesis of the seemingly tidy exterior.

Maria Walker

Featured Artist – Jo Coombes

We are fortunate to have Jo Coombes, one of our talented practitioners, as featured artist this week, who has generously given us a unique insight into the influences of her retrospective and ongoing work.

Part 1 – Façades and Follies

I have always used my professional interest in human behaviour as a rich source of inspiration for my textile art. For many years, I have drawn on the concepts of architecture as a metaphor for the human condition: buildings, prestigious or humble, pristine or crumbling, can evince rich parallels with people’s lives.

Current issues, both political and social, inform my work. The structure and elements of a building, from the foundations up, or the historical era of its design, and the purposes it was built for, provide fascinating insights into people’s lives.

Maybe my love affair with architecture started with this little hand stitched picture of my home, made many, many years ago at an Adult Education Class!

The research underpinning these various themes has prompted me to try different textile techniques. Breakdown printing, paper lamination and mixed media (stitched paper and heat reactive fabric) lend themselves to the more decrepit edifices with their crumbling brickwork. Thickened acrylic paints and 3-dimensional fabric paint, add more texture. Mono-printing and thermofax screens can give crisp detail to modern tower blocks built of steel and glass. Hand embroidery enhances the work: it adds coded messages and text, and highlights the human element within. Ribbon and cord can be used effectively for scaffolding and girders. Colour palettes are carefully chosen: cool monochromes and silvers for modern buildings of steel and glass, and ochres, rusts and browns for ruined, abandoned and decayed structures.

In all my work, I hope to prompt questions by my explanations, rather than impose my own views.

The Financial Crash of 2008 led to an abstract piece ‘Lime Street Blues’, depicting the external lifts of the Lloyds building in Lime Street, EC3.

“Dictum Meum Pactum” referenced the exposé of corruption in the City at that time. Money was lent, and businesses were built on shaky foundations, lies and dubious marketing.

Man’s proclivity for corruption featured too, in my Cuban series. This showed the rapidly crumbling, but aesthetically stunning colonial edifices, which the communist government has neglected. Those living in them face structural danger, as time and sea salt erodes the brickwork and wooden floors.

“Tipping Point” 1

“Tipping Point” 2

Brazil’s favelas are overcrowded, violent and impoverished. In “Room with a View” (PIC4) I asked the question whether the 2016 Olympic Games would leave a legacy of regeneration, entrepreneurialism to build a safer community.

……………. to be continued …………..

“Home” in detail

Four of our artists give some background and inspiration to their work on our latest “Home” project:


My love of calligraphy inspired this imagery. The text (unreadable I hope) expresses my life at home and how it has evolved over the thirty five years we have lived here. I spent a lot of time during lockdown reflecting on my colourful, happy home.

Maggie Barber

Jo Coombes

For me, a home is more of a feeling than a location: a place of comfort, relaxation, happiness and hospitality. A sanctuary. Somewhere to enjoy the company of family and good friends. The Italian courtyard I am creating in my new garden, will be a tranquil spot to inspire and to reflect.

Jo Coombes

During the exceptionally sunny spring weather at the time of lockdown we used our garden as an outdoor room. We appreciated the fresh air and the growing plants gave us hope for the future at a time of stress and confusion.

Kate Davis

Alison Hird-Beecroft

I collected images of my home during lockdown and collaged them and put in doors like an advent calendar, each with a hidden  “Home is where…” message about the various things there that I treasure.

Alison Hird-Beecroft