My mother taught me to knit when I was in second grade, and I sat on the couch, sliding down and down with each row until my back was on the seat of the couch and my neck bent at a ninety-degree angle. When this became too uncomfortable, I’d heave myself up, get back to knitting, and start the slow descent again.
I mastered knitting and purling and fell in love with variegated yarn. I made yards of I-cord on a German “Strick-liesl” or spool knitter. In sixth grade or so, I knitted my dad a cable sweater. It was easy. I just followed the instructions. Couldn’t everyone do that?
In college during the late 1970s and early ’80s, I took up knitting and crochet again with great enthusiasm, most likely to avoid doing homework. The University of Texas library had a sad lack of knitting books. I found “the art of weaving” books, and “the fabulous craft of quilting” books, but where were the sections of “the incredible art and craft of knitting” books? Where were the stacks of “crochet is a wonderful art and craft” books? Didn’t everyone know that knitting and crochet were art media, just like weaving, quilting, painting, sculpture, and embroidery? And why was a biology major looking for books about textiles? My gut knew my true calling, even if my brain tried to ignore it.
Among the hundreds of thousands of books at UT, I found two that supported my intuition and understanding. Angela Jeffs’ Wild Knitting, and Elyse Sommer’s A New Look at Crochet served me as heralds of an age to come: a world where lots of people knit and crochet for the undeniable fun of it, where skillful knitters and crocheters knit fine garments, and where fine artists use knitting or crochet as one of many possible media.
I worked for a while at a now-defunct yarn store in Austin, and saw the need for knitters and crocheters to get together and share techniques and ideas. In 1983, I founded The Knitter’s and Crocheter’s Guild of Texas, later scaled back to “of Austin.” People joined, learned, enjoyed visiting, and volunteered. The Guild is still active today after several cycles of popularity and doldrums in knitting and crochet. I made lifelong friends through the Guild, who joined in my happiness at my wedding and at the birth of my first daughter.
One of our Guild members was a crochet designer who published her work in magazines. Pam introduced me to the Society of Craft Designers. At my first SCD conference, I sold a sweater pattern to Southwest Crafts magazine. It was the first of about 150 designs I have published in the crafts of knitting, crochet, jewelry-making, and polymer clay.
Through the events I went to and the contacts I made in the SCD, I was invited to be a Fairfield Fashion Show designer (1994 and 1997). My friend Michelle Crawford said, “Suzann, I didn’t know you were a quilter.””I’m not,” I said. “The rules for designing a Fairfield Fashion Show garment don’t say that you have to be a quilter.” At the time, the most important rules were: you must use a significant amount of Fairfield quilt batting, and the garment must be size 10. I could do that! My coats were knitted and quilted.
In 1996, we moved far away to Sheffield, England. Aside from the occasional special issue, and two machine knitting mags, Rowan Knitting was the only knitting magazine published in Britain. The latter was out of reach for an unknown knitting designer, who was also the mother of a small child. I worked only after my little girl was in bed, so I couldn’t produce designs very quickly.
Through the internet, I met Sue Heaser and other polymer clay enthusiasts. Sue founded the British Polymer Clay Guild. I was a member of the first committee, which is like a board of directors. Thanks to Sue, I landed a contract to write The Polymer Clay Sourcebook, which is sold in the U. S. as Polymer Clay for Everyone.
I had lots of time to think during those first few years when we didn’t know very many people. It was time, I thought, to make that knitted art that I longed to find all those years ago in college.
A Hopeful Glimpse into the Twenty-first Century was one of my first knitted wall hangings. It toured with Madeira’s Fireworks 2000 exhibition. Aside from being a knitted quilt, the piece is unusual in that it has two surfaces. I sliced the quilt top, bound the cut edges, and sewed buttonholes in the resulting flaps.
One of my American friends in Sheffield took me to a meeting of the Hallamshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers. Once again I met people who will be friends for life. They inspired me to learn to spin. What a wonderful way to add to the enjoyment of knitting and crochet: making your own yarn!
The Hallamshire Guild invited Sarah Burge from The Colour Museum in Bradford to give a talk. I asked about exhibiting at the Museum, and she said that the staff would soon be reviewing proposals for the next two years’ exhibitions. I quickly put together two proposals. Both were accepted for 2002: Feeling Colour, a group exhibition of polymer clay work, and Treasure Textiles, a show of 14 of my knitted, embellished quilts (see the Art Gallery).
Shortly after Treasure Textiles finished its run, our second daughter was born in England. She was six months old when we moved back across the Atlantic to our home state of Texas. In 2004, I was able to start working again with some regularity (at night, mostly).
With the support of people like Diane Piwko, publisher of INKnitters magazine (which is no longer published), companies like Husqvarna Viking and others, I developed the concept of TextileFusion. The idea of combining crafts and materials is not new: you’ve heard of ‘mixed media.’ And yet many textile enthusiasts and other crafters are discovering this possibility for the first time.
I continue to collect wonderful materials, to make, and to write. My fourth book, Cute Crochet World, was published in May 2014 by Lark Crafts.
Textile Fusion is my way of combining the crafts I love, and of using the many supplies and treasures I have accumulated over the years. I hope you will find something here that inspires you to start a new project, learn a new skill, or stretch your creativity and technical ability.