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Interview with Suzann Thompson, Fiber Artist

I've known Suzann for quite some time, through her books, articles on crochet and more recently from I class I took from her at a Crochet Guild conference in which she taught us to make bullion stitches the easy way. Recently I was delighted to receive a message from her through Ravelry, asking me if I would be interested in receiving mailings about her upcoming exhibit, "Celebrating Doilies."

Throughout my crochet life, it has always been a thrill to see or read about exhibits which include crochet. Of course, I wanted to be informed of the upcoming exhibit and I ask Suzann to tell me even more, thus resulting in this interview which I hope you will enjoy. Do consider attending the exhibit if you are anywhere nearby Stephenville or Granbury, Texas this summer.



Suzann Thompson
Suzann's Artist Statement:

“My work captures moments in everyday life–a memory, a dream, or a glimpse of nature, using media associated with home and homemaking. Yarn, fabric, buttons, and stitching seem insignificant in our culture of enormity. But great accomplishment is built from seemingly insignificant pieces, in small steps, by people who go to work every day and cook and clean, take care of themselves and others, and do many important things that will never make them famous. I record moments of everyday life, because everyday life is what most of us live, and it is honorable and worthy of remembering.”


Her artist statement says so much about the kind of person Suzann has become during a lifetime of passion for the fiber arts. Not all of us can be famous, but she sees great value in the seemingly mundane lives most of us live; and through her work and compassionate viewpoint elevates those lives to new heights of character and beauty.

Celebrate Doilies debuts July 1, 2017 at the Cross Timbers Fine Arts Council River North Gallery and runs through August 24. It can also be viewed at the Dora Lee Langdon Cultural & Educational Center in Granbury from August 26-Septembwer 27. 2017. For details on  gallery address and hours.


GBK: Are the galleries offering assistance to you for Celebrate Doilies?
ST: Yes, both galleries  are providing the venue, labels, and help and guidance for mounting the pieces in the show.  Both will host an opening reception and provide some publicity. Their staff will welcome visitors and tell them a little about the exhibit.

I created and curated the content of Celebrate Doilies over the last year or so.  I made wall hangings, interviewed people about their family crochet heritage, and created and printed the heritage posters. Sandi Horton and I worked together to incorporate her poetry and some family crochet into the show. Bobbie Matela of Coats & Clark provided pdfs for two posters about doilies past and present, along with some doilies to exhibit.  With my knowledge about the world of crochet and yarn, I have been able to generate a lot of publicity outside the normal reach of the galleries, as well.

My wonderful husband, Charles Frederick, is my financial sponsor for this exhibit.  As the Celebrate Doilies exhibit travels to future venues, my goal is to earn a good return on his investment through honoraria and wall hanging sales.  The exhibit is available to travel after September 2017.  Anyone who is interested in bringing the show to their area, please contact me for details. I'm on Patreon where people who like can support it with a small (or large) monthly donation. 

GBK:Have you had experience with curating exhibits in the past?
ST: In 2002, I arranged two exhibits for the Colour Museum in the city of Bradford, England.  The first was an exhibit of polymer clay work, mostly by the members of the British Polymer Clay Guild.  Part of the show was invitational and part was juried by another member and me.  We called the show "Feeling Colour," because polymer clay work can be so colorful and because it's such a hands-on craft.  I took polymer clay to a school, where second graders made all kinds of interesting pieces. Their work was featured in the exhibit, too.

The Colour Museum; Bradford, England
The other exhibit, "Treasure Textiles," was a show of my own knitted, embellished quilts.  Because the venue was the Colour Museum, I concentrated on creating a group of pieces that represented the primary and secondary hues of the color wheel. 

I had fun to doing these shows; and the big take-away for me was that a regular person can plan and create an exhibit. Organizing an exhibit around a particular theme is very helpful.  Within a week after the closing of "Treasure Textiles," our second daughter was born; and it took me a while to get back into exhibiting my artwork.

(Suzann lived in Sheffield, England from 1996-2003 with her husband and growing family. Both daughters were born there.)

Starting in 2013, I have had solo exhibits of my wall hangings in which I contacted and arranged the details with the gallery or exhibitor and being organized enough to meet delivery deadlines.  Exhibitors usually handle publicity.

I sent digital images of my knitted, embellished quilts to the exhibit coordinator at Quilts, Inc, and  a committee, which chose to show my work at three different festivals. Lion Brand Yarn sponsored my exhibit twice, and the third time, Quilts, Inc. footed the bill for the storage, shipping, labor, exhibit space, and so on.

Since the yarn business has done so well in the last couple of decades, and shows like the Knit & Crochet Show, STITCHES, and others are so well established, I've been wondering if it's time to expand and include sponsored art exhibits and special juried shows.

GBK: What was your inspiration for this exhibit?
ST: I didn't realize it at the time, but the seed for this exhibit was planted when Mac McKinnon, then our small-town newspaper publisher, told me about his beloved grandmother's doilies.  He wanted to keep them because she made them, but he didn't really know what to do with them. I developed a workshop/lecture called "What to Do with Grandmother's Doilies" inspired by Mac's comments to me.

Later, when Julie Crouch of the Cross Timbers Fine Arts Council in Stephenville, TX, offered me the opportunity to exhibit again at the Council's gallery, doily-themed artwork seemed like a good starting point. Obviously, doilies are an integral part of the history of crochet and an art form in themselves that deserve to be celebrated.

I had been reading about art practices, and learned about the importance of public participation in art projects. Was it possible to expand the doily idea to include public participation?  Mac McKinnon's comment came back to me.  He appreciates his family's crochet heritage, even though he doesn't crochet himself.  I was convinced that other people felt the same. That's how the idea of including photos and stories about family heirloom crochet developed.

Most of the participants have found out about the exhibit by word-of-mouth—people telling their friends, and me talking about it non-stop for months. 

GBK: Celebrate Doilies is a collaboration between Suzann and Texas poet, Sandi Horton. How did you connect with her?
ST: Sandi and I met at the Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas Weekend in 2016, where both of us were presenters.  She writes ekphrastic poetry, which describes a piece of art or architecture.  "Ode to a Grecian Urn," by John Keats is probably the most famous example of ekphrastic poetry. 

During my presentation about TextileFusion, I mentioned Celebrate Doilies, which I was just starting to work on, inviting people to share their family crochet stories for the exhibit. Sandi told me of her family's doilies and how she wanted to write poems about them  Sandi wrote fifteen poems for the show.  Some are about her family's crochet and some are about my wall hangings. I plan to make a wall hanging about one of her poems for a future show.

GBK: Explain the mix of poetry and fiber art and what it means to both of you to collaborate.
ST: Both of us strongly feel the family bond that needlework can create.  We are both inspired by doilies, but our creative paths go in very different directions.  Sandi is insightful and her words capture the memory and the dream, like I try to do with my visual art.

Our collaboration added another dimension to the Celebrate Doilies exhibit.  It is much richer and deeper with Sandi's contribution; we both have been challenged and we will benefit by reaching a wider audience.  I am glad that we met and that our collaboration has been so harmonious.

I've learned a little about how the poetry world works.  "Chapbook" was a new word for me.  It's a small booklet with poems in it, often written for a specific occasion.  Sandi created a colorful 24-page chapbook for Celebrate Doilies, with poems she wrote for the show and several pictures of my wall hangings.  It is the size of a regular sheet of paper, folded in half.  She will be accepting orders for the chapbook.  It will cost $6.00, including postage.

GBK: When did you develop the brand, TextileFusion??
ST: I love to knit, crochet, sew, and embellish. TextileFusion was born because I couldn't choose just one craft and leave the others behind. My website launched  in 2005 and it needed a name.  Since I use different textile techniques and associated materials, I went to Roget's Thesaurus to search for a term that meant "putting things together" or something similar.  That's where "fusion" came from, and it was a short leap to TextileFusion. It is my way of combining the crafts I love, and of using the many supplies and treasures I have accumulated over the years.

GBK: What inspires your designs?
ST: About a third are inspired by materials—yarns, doilies, motifs from my books, or even flint spear points made by my husband. They were the perfect match for an old basket I crocheted, which needed to be recycled.  

The rest are inspired by the things I talked about in the artist's statement:  a memory, a dream, a glimpse of nature.  My work draws from the cultural memory of legions of folk painters, embroiderers, knitters, quilters, and crocheters. Their crafts have comforted us and beautified our surroundings for generations.   

I would love to see national recognition of crafters.  Everyday crafters delight us (like amigurumi crocheters), comfort us (afghan crocheters), and make our lives more beautiful (all crocheters, as far as I'm concerned). A National Endowment for the Crafts is needed, which would support craft and needlework education and appreciation across the country.  I think people who make stuff are part of our national treasure!

GBK: What is your educational background?
ST: I earned a BA in Biology with Honors, University of Texas, Austin. I never worked in the field of biology, but the general education helped me pursue this craft and art career, which I really didn't know was possible when I was in college.

I learned to knit in 2nd grade and took up crochet and knitting with great enthusiasm again in college. My gut knew my true calling, even if my biology-major-brain was ignoring it. Suzann’s curiosity and creativity have led her down many needlework paths.  In England I wrote my first book and it was about polymer clay crafting.  While there, I was exposed to spinning, weaving and dying and exhibited my knitted, embellished quilts. It was here that I came to the decision to pursue my longing for making knitted art.

GBK: Is fusing textiles a full-time career for you?
ST: Yes, it is pretty much full time for me.  I work a few hours a week for my husband and our younger daughter is starting high school in the fall. Once school starts, I'll be doing a lot of driving to school and other activities. I still enjoy designing for publication.  After Celebrate Doilies is up and running, I will probably go back to that until my next big project starts.

GBK: What are you plans for the near future?
ST: When Celebrate Doilies opens on July 1, I'm going to breathe a big sigh relief and do something else for a little while.  Maybe I'll do some designing for publication.  I have several projects I would like to publish on Ravelry.  They were put on a back burner when Celebrate Doilies started to gain momentum.

I will also be working a little bit every week to find new venues for Celebrate Doilies. Two new exhibit ideas are winding their way through my brain.  Both will encourage participation from the public. To help Suzann achieve her goals, consider a donation through Kickstarter. For one of them, I'm hoping to collaborate with a local power company.  The details are still forming in my mind.  I want to have everything ready in time to apply for a grant early next year. 

GBK: Where can we see some of your designs?
ST: Galleries of my artwork with  links to purchase my crochet books, Crochet Bouquet, Crochet Garden, and Cute Crochet World.






At my blog "Curious and CraftyReaders," I often post about upcoming events or publications.  That's also the place to find tutorials for some of the designs in my books; in-progress photos and descriptions for many of my wall hangings; are at

Find frequent updates on Instagram and also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/suzannthompsonauthor



GBK: How long have you been designing?
ST: My very first design for publication was a knitted sweater with motifs from Paint Rock, Texas: ”Ancient Indian Pictures in a Knitted Sweater,” Southwest Crafts, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 7 ff., January/February 1991.   I sold that design at a conference of the Society of Craft Designers in 1990.  Mop dolls were all the rage.  Interestingly, at that conference I heard several people say, "Knitting is dead."  It didn't stay dead for long!  In contrast, crochet designs were very much in demand that summer, and the yarns favored by editors were whatever a crocheter could buy at Walmart.  We have come a long way since then, thanks in large part to the internet.



I wrote about the Paint Rock sweater here: http://www.textilefusion.com/blog/poets-and-paint-rock/.

GBK: Are you a current CGOA member?  Has the membership been helpful in furthering your career?
ST: Yes, I am a member. CGOA has given me the opportunity to teach, which helped further my career and gave me a chance to travel and meet other crochet lovers like me. Teaching at CGOA was good for book sales! Celebrate Doilies has filled my existence for a year and I haven't really thought about teaching for a while.  I do enjoy it, so I will probably apply to teach again within the next couple of years.

GBK: Do you know about the Center for Knit & Crochet in Minneapolis?
ST: Not until you just asked me, and I'm glad you did.  I joined.

GBK: Tell me more about the Knitters’ & Crocheters’ Guild of Texas (Austin). Has it affiliated with CGOA as a chapter?
ST: The Guild was founded in 1983 by me and a group of people who later became dear friends.  I believe the guild has dropped "of Texas" and maybe added "of Austin."  I haven't been a member since we moved to England in 1996. They may have affiliated with CGOA since then, but I don't know for sure. 

(Ed. note: Hook up & Unwind Chapter in Austin affiliated with CGOA in 2013.)



GBK: What have you discovered about crochet that is unique to you or your life?
ST: When I saw Irish crochet lace for the first time, I fell in love. The first book I bought about Irish crochet is worn and dog-eared from use.  I'm surprised that my eyes didn't slurp the pictures and words right off the page. 

Eventually I crocheted a couple of Irish lace collars. Crocheting the mesh between the flowers and leaves of Irish crochet is a challenging technique. One of the collars was easier, because it was made of motifs that were simply sewn together.

From a pattern designer's perspective, Irish crochet lace has a limited market. Quite a few people might love to wear an Irish crochet collar, but making one can be worrisome!  The technique of crocheting mesh between motifs is not cut-and-dried.  You have to make decisions on the fly.  Help!!

Skipping ahead a couple of decades, I wrote three books about crocheted motifs for applique.  Irish crochet motifs were absolutely inspirational.  The collar made of motifs came to mind, and gave me a moment of clarity!  I could sew my yarn flowers and leaves and ice cream cones to make lacy creations like table mats and scarves!

I called the technique Crochet Charm Lace.  Probably the most well-known example of it is the Dogwood Scarf that was on the cover of Interweave Crochet, Spring 2015.  What a thrill it was to see that issue for the first time!

So Crochet Charm Lace was sort of unique to me for a while.  I've blogged about it a lot: http://www.textilefusion.com/bookblog/?cat=220

GBK: What about crochet interests you the most
ST: Crochet is incredibly versatile and satisfying. I like how a small set of stitches can be combined in endless ways to make projects that range from practical to sublime. Crochet has given people a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure.  It is a force for good on this planet.










Comments

Suzann Thompson said…
Thank you for posting this, Gwen!

My daughter and I are hanging the Celebrate Doilies exhibit on Saturday morning--exciting times!

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