An Interview with Deborah Toner

A couple of weeks ago we visited St. George’s Sunday Market in Belfast and had the wonderful fortune of discovering the talented lady that is Deborah Toner.

Such attention to beautiful detail. We fell in love.

Today, she joins us on Handsome and Pretty to answer our seven questions …

“My work came about while studying architecture at the Art College in Belfast. I began to study maps of Belfast and as part of my thesis made a series of machine stitched maps showing the changing of the city pattern throughout history. The original copy of these maps sits in permanent display at the Ulster Folk Museum.

I enjoy the idea of distinguishable patterns, especially when something like a map or a skyline which is very structured and architectural, can be made into something soft and tactile.

All of my work is individually designed, machine stitched and handmade using unbleached Irish Linen.

I am continually exploring different ideas and methods to add to my collection of works.”

How and where are you today?

I am very well, after a much needed relaxing weekend away. I’m sitting in my studio working away on a few lovely commissions. I hope to get them finished by the end of the week. It’s such a great thing for people to be inspired by your work and ask you to create something specific and special for them.

How would you describe the journey that has brought you to this place? And were these the roads you expected to take?

I studied Architecture at University. That maybe explains the obsession with maps! It was only while studying for my Masters that I discovered that I could use different media to express my ideas. I have always had a big interest in textiles and just decided I would do something different. I began by making a series of maps which went along with my Thesis. The Ulster Museum bought these from me and I think that’s when I realised I could maybe take my methods and ideas further.

I think when studying a creative discipline your roads never run smoothly or to plan. There are always twists and turns and great opportunities. I suppose while studying I expected to leave and practice as an Architect. I’m glad certain other things have got in my way a bit. I love what I’m doing now!!!

Do you have a process to ensure you are in the right frame of mind to create?

I love when I get the time to just be in my studio and work. I just lock myself away and love to work in silence with no distractions. This helps me to think!! I’m always thinking of new ideas so I carry a note book everywhere with me to write everything down.

How do you think your background and culture influences your creations?

All of my work includes maps or images of Belfast. And I only work on Irish Linen which I source locally. So I think my background and culture influences me massively. I love Belfast and I love that we are a city steeped in culture. I think my work is a subtle reference to that.

What does beauty mean to you?

I think beauty is very subjective. I believe that it comes in many forms. In my work I use old maps and I draw buildings that most people wouldn’t even look twice at. But once stitched these images take on a completely different character. They become subtle and delicate. I enjoy when people realise what a certain thing or place is and find it beautiful.

If we had interviewed you when you were 11, what would you have told us you wanted to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to be creative. I think I would have said an Interior Designer.

I used to get cardboard boxes and decorate them with wallpaper and make furniture with them and turn them into little rooms. I was one of those children who wanted to be everything at one stage, but always in some way creative! I’m still a little bit like that!!

What advice have you received that you want everyone to benefit from?

Never give up!! As I said before the creative path never runs smoothly. There are always unexpected twists and turns. Sometimes you can’t always see that theses may be good things. I was and still am always told by those close to me not to give up and its true…you get there in the end!!!


Thank you so very much Deborah, what a treat it has been to have you here with us.

Welcome to the handsome and pretty family!



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