Judy Merchant: Tool kit - TextileArtist.org

Judy Merchant: Tool kit

Judy Merchant: Tool kit

Judy trained in Textiles and Fine Art at Canterbury College of Art in the 60s and 70s and after qualifying as an art teacher, her career took her away from her art practice.

Ten years ago she returned to developing her own work and has exhibited regularly ever since. After such a long break Judy had to catch up with all the new products, techniques and equipment which are now essential items in her studio.

Judy Merchant: 64 x 70 cms Fabric, paint, gesso and machine stitch

Judy Merchant: 64 x 70 cms Fabric, paint, gesso and machine stitch





Judy creates abstract pieces using a combination of paint, gesso, fabric and machine stitch.

In this article, Judy reveals her five must-have items she keeps in her tool kit. She shares some handy tips on how to use them and we discover where to buy, or not to buy them!

Judy Merchant, Bernia sewing machine

Judy Merchant, Bernia sewing machine

Item 1 –  Sewing machine

Brand: Bernina
Model: 1008
Year: 2008

How do you use this item in your practice?

Although my work could be described as painting, I always start with several layers of material which will be attached to each other either with bondaweb or stitch and probably both.

I also use the machine to ‘draw’ onto the material to create lines or blocks of colour. I only ever use the straight stitch, with or without a foot, and the zigzag. When I do use a foot it is usually the Freehand embroidery Foot 24 which is open at the front so it enables you to see where you are going with your stitching.

I also have a sewtable attached to the machine to support the work I am sewing.

Why do you use this specific item?

I used to have a Toyota which I loved and which had lasted forty years until it broke down just as I was preparing work for an exhibition. I was expecting the engineer to mend it but he more or less refused and recommended the Bernina machine as one which ‘all the art colleges have’.

I understood this meant that it was strong enough to cope with a lot of use and maybe abuse! Because I often stitch through several layers and paint or gesso he knew I needed a robust machine and it has turned out to be ideal. It is metal and therefore has some weight and It is reliable, efficient and easy to use. I absolutely love it.

And where did you buy it from?

I bought it from MKC Services, Leeds. They also service it for me.

Judy Merchant, Thread

Judy Merchant, Thread

Item 2 – Thread

Brand: Madeira Polyneon 40 Multicolour

How do you use this item in your practice?

I use this in my sewing machine to attach pieces of fabric and to draw into the work to create lines, textures and areas of colour.

Why do you use this specific item?

Because they are beautiful colours, lovely quality and they don’t ever break!

Their whole range of colours is amazing but my favourites are the multicolour threads which change colour. This means that when used to stitch a variety of colours show and the area stitched doesn’t look flat.

And where did you buy it from?

Barnyarns in Ripon, North Yorkshire who have an excellent range of different sizes, colours and type. They usually have a stall at the Knitting and Stitching shows and they do mail order.

Judy Merchant, Heat Craft Tool

Judy Merchant, Heat Craft tool

Item 3 – Heat Craft tool

Brand: Ranger Industries
Model: Heat It Craft tool
Year: 1996

How do you use this item in your practice?

I use this tool every day and without it, my practice would be very different. I use it to heat fabric to create texture and to dry paint which I can then stitch into. The heat changes the quality of the fabric and paint.

Why do you use this specific item?

Although it looks similar to a hair dryer it is different and it is specifically designed for the task of applying heat to a specific area of fabric. It is suitable for anything which needs heat applied including embossing powders.

And where did you buy it from?

I’ve had it so long that I can’t remember but a similar tool can be bought on the web through Amazon or other sellers.

Judy Merchant, Soldering iron

Judy Merchant, Soldering iron

Item 4 – Soldering iron

Brand: Antex
Model: M 230V – 12W
Year: 2014

How do you use this item in your practice?

Instead of cutting with scissors I use it to burn through man-made fabric which has bondaweb stuck to it. I work in layers and I use it to cut shapes or create textures.

Why do you use this specific item?

I use this particular model of soldering iron because it is small, light and has a very fine point so I can use it like a pencil. Antex also sells a range of alternative sized and shaped bits for the iron.

When it’s switched on I keep it in an upside down clay flower pot for safety.

Judy Merchant, Soldering iron in clay flower pot

Judy Merchant, Soldering iron in clay flower pot

And where did you buy it from?

Antex (app. £34)

Judy Merchant, Card mount

Judy Merchant, Card mount

Item 5 – Card Mount

Brand: My own

How do you use this item in your practice?

I use card mounts of all sorts of sizes and shapes from tiny 3 x 3 cms to 100 x 100 cms.

The smallest one is useful when I am drawing and I want to choose an area to focus on to perhaps enlarge. In this case, I would hold the frame in front of the view to find a pleasing composition a bit like taking a photo.

I might also use a frame to focus on a small area of a drawing to perhaps enlarge that area and create a new drawing.

I could also use a small one to help balance a miniature piece of work.

I use the larger frames to provide a temporary frame to my work during the process of working out the size, composition and balance of a piece and this can be continually changing as a piece grows and develops.

Why do you use this specific item?

Because it helps in my development of a piece as it creates a boundary within which I am creating a composition. As I move my mount around I can try different compositions and assess the different elements within.

The large mounts I make in two pieces so that I can be flexible with where the boundary lies. The piece will either be square or rectangular and so I can slide the two pieces until I find a satisfying overall size. I never have a clear idea of how a piece will finally look because it will go through so many changes, of colour, shape and size as I develop it.

And where did you buy it from?

I don’t buy them; I make my own cut with a Stanley knife, ruler and card.

For more information visit: www.judymerchant.com

Let us know what’s in your Tool kit by leaving a comment below.

Wednesday 05th, August 2020 / 20:49

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10 comments on “Judy Merchant: Tool kit”

  1. Jane Parten says:

    Thanks for sharing some of your tools and techniques. I have just visited your site and find the combinations of subject matter, vibrant colours and abstract shapes very exciting and inspiring.

  2. Linda Atherton says:

    This is very inspiring! Several years ago, I was drawing, painting, and hand stitching on small canvasses. I have since moved into a very small apartment and have been itching to organize my supplies and get my art going again. This is just what I needed to renew my resolve to make it happen! Thank you.

    • Oh great……good luck with starting up again. Being in a very small space may impact on your work but the beauty of textiles is that small can be just as beautiful as big pieces.

  3. Laura says:

    I love the information about “why” you use the Bernina that you do. I have a real metal machine and love that it is solid. didn’t realize how important that was. Your work is fun and inspiring!

  4. Mary Duhon Louviere says:

    Enjoyed reading the process and it opening up an idea I had not pursued. I have my mother’s metal Kenmore sewing machine made in the 50’s for it’strength and durability. Had not thought of how I could use it before this article.

  5. I guess it will be interesting to see what your sewing machine can contribute to your work. If it was made in the 50s it may not have the zigzag free stitching facility but just a single stitched line can be quite powerful.

  6. Ellen Cunningham says:

    The Bernina is a great machine-we used them at Glasgow School of Art in the 1960s and some of the Glasgow area schools also had them in the home economics department-did many school show costumes on them-sadly can’t afford one myself at present but use a little Toyota quilting machine which has the useful clip on table for bigger items. My favourite discovery has been Inktense dye pastels by Derwent-can be drawn straight onto wet cotton fabric and ironed to set or painted happily onto canvas , paper and mixed fabrics. Lovely used in sketchbook with inks and watercolours and I sometimes use it on fabric and confine the colours with a Pebeo glass outliner to sketch e.g landscape planes and can run or contain the colours in areas, adding collage or stitch later.

    • Thanks Ellen…thanks for your tips about the Inktense dye pastels. It’s great when you find a tool that really suits your work and be able to share it on this great website.

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