Sue Spooner: Tool kit -

Sue Spooner: Tool kit

Sue Spooner: Tool kit

Welcome to another edition of ‘Tool kit’, a series of articles where we take a look at some of the favourite tools used by professional textile artists. Each item includes a description of the tool itself.

Sue Spooner is a tapestry maker and weaver based in Cornwall, England. Her vivid designs draw their imagery from the built landscape, ancient and historic, where deserted buildings have undergone a process of decay, coloured with rust or corroded by the course of time.

In this article we delve into Sue’s tool kit and discover what essential items, often homemade and bespoke, help create her bold and striking woven tapestries

Item 1 - Photoshop for Mac

Item 1 – Photoshop for Mac

Item 1 – Photoshop for Mac

Brand: Adobe

Item: Adobe Photoshop

Year: 2007

How do you use this item in your practice?

For me essential design tools are my Imac and Adobe Photoshop.
I can scan in ideas drawings or photographs and manipulate them by adding line or form, or changing colour, position, proportion and texture infinitely until I am satisfied with the image.  I can work out the quantities of each colour needed for dying the yarn. The final image can be enlarged for printing out in sections which can be joined together for the full sized tapestry cartoon.

Why do you use this specific item?

It is a marvellous tool for play and experimentation. I don’t treat it as a substitute for drawing but as an extension, and to adapt the initial drawing for the process of tapestry weaving.

And where did you buy it from?

Item 2 - Dye Beakers & Syringes

Item 2 – Dye beakers & syringes

Item 2 – Dye beakers and syringes

I have quite a few of these which came with the acid dyes in solution I used to buy as part of Roy Russell’s Dye System. The beakers will measure up to 100ml and the syringes 10ml.

How do you use this item in your practice?

I use them for the yarn dyeing process, the syringes for measuring smaller quantities of liquid dyes and the beakers for larger.

Why do you use this specific item?

Acid dyes on wool and silk yarn are lovely to use and result in bright, even colours. I now make up stock solutions of these dyes from powder form.  Accuracy of measurement is essential for consistency and repeatability of colours. I am constantly experimenting with dye recipes, and document all my measurements and results so that I have a store of information of ranges of dye colour for future use.

And where did you buy it from? 

Handweavers Studio and Gallery

Item 3 - Loom

Item 3 – Loom

Item 3 – Loom

This is a horizontal frame loom homemade for me in the 1970s when I first planned to weave on a larger scale. It has four shafts, six foot pedals and the 42 inch reed is supported on a batten hung from above. It has been adapted in various ways over the years as my work has changed.

How do you use this item in your practice?

I weave tapestries on it.

First, I wind my warps on the pegs fitted at the back of the loom. The pegs hold the warp threads  in place in the right order while the lengths are being measured out. I usually find I can make a long enough warp on these pegs for about three pieces of work. I used to use a separate warping mill to make longer warps, but this item took up so much space in the workshop that it was always getting in the way and had to go.

After the warp is threaded, tied and stretched on to the loom I fix the cartoon under the warp so that I can see the design through the warp threads to keep me on track.

While weaving, I can operate the shafts easily with the foot pedals, leaving my hands free to manipulate the bobbins and beater, increasing the speed and rhythm of the process.

Why do you use this specific item?

This is my main piece of equipment. I feel at home in it and I have an affinity with it. I like to think it behaves (usually) like an extension of my body. It is a heavyweight piece of equipment which defines the nature of my work and makes it possible to work large scale pieces with good even tension.

I think it may be more unusual to weave tapestry on a horizontal rather than vertical frame, but I am accustomed to the versatility of this loom and over the years I have used it to weave cloth, rugs and tapestry.  Also, it provides a comfortable working position which doesn’t put too much strain on my back.

The main disadvantage of this loom for tapestry weaving is that only  a small section of the length of the work is visible at a time, because it is wound out of sight on to the front roller as the tapestry grows, but with the cartoon in place I have enough hope that the whole piece will usually work out to plan.

Item 4 - Swifts

Item 4 – Swifts

Item 4 – Swifts

I have several of these umbrella swifts – all gathered over a period of time.  I can’t remember when I first acquired them – perhaps in the 80s or 90s.

How do you use this item in your practice?

They are used for winding or unwinding skeins of yarn. They are easily adjustable to open out and hold any size of skein of yarn and great for clamping to a solid point to wind off the yarn onto a bobbin or shuttle.

Why do you use this specific item?

The yarn  has to be in skein form for dyeing, rather than supplied on spools. The swifts are  wonderful labour saving devices to save time and tangles. I find them also rather beautiful and ingenious.

And where did you buy it from?

The Handweavers Studio & Gallery and George Weil

Item 5 - Tapestry bobbins & beaters

Item 5 – Tapestry bobbins & beaters

Item 5 – Tapestry bobbins and beaters

I have grouped these together as they work in conjunction with each other for tapestry weaving.

The bobbins are hardwood and 18cm long.

The hardwood beaters in two sizes were homemade.  They are quite heavy and weighted with a plug of lead embedded in the centre.

How do you use this item in your practice?

I have a lot of these tapestry bobbins – one end is grooved for holding a length of yarn while weaving, the other end pointed for pushing the woven yarn into place before beating it down.

Working a tapestry means that I can’t use the full width batten to beat down the weaving. The width has to be worked and beaten down with the narrower beater in small sections as the design is built up.

Why do you use this specific item?

The bobbins are just the right size for holding a workable amount of heavyweight yarn at a time. They are smoothly finished and comfortable to handle.

I keep a beater tied on to a long leash on my loom so that it is always at hand. It gives a good hefty swing down onto the woven web, its weight giving it its own momentum without much effort on my part.

And where did you buy it from?

For the bobbins George Weil

For more information visit:

Got something to say about the techniques, materials and processes used by this artist – let us know by leaving a comment below.

Tuesday 20th, October 2020 / 00:15

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3 comments on “Sue Spooner: Tool kit”

  1. Betsy Meyer says:

    It’s such a delight to see that someone else does tapestry weaving on a floor loom! I am always surprised to see the finished work as I unroll it once it’s completed.

  2. Ann Smith says:

    Do you have any Russel Dye Blue left that you want to sell?? If not do you know anyone who has??

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