By guest blogger Sue Spargo
—folk artist, author, quilter, author, speaker and teacher.
UNIONTOWN OH I feel fortunate to have experienced many different cultures in my life.
My parents gave me traveling shoes—in their early twenties they packed up their home in England and ventured to the bush in Zambia, Africa, where I was born. From there we moved to South Africa where I grew up and completed all of my schooling.
In my early twenties I spent a few years in England, followed by a return to South Africa for five additional years. My thirties brought a move to the USA where I lived in four different states and am now settled in Ohio. I love to travel and experience new cultures, and I feel very fortunate to have traveled the globe teaching others my passion of Folk Art.
I am drawn to the simplicity of Folk Art along with the naivety and quirkiness of Folk Art images. Having been surrounded by African Art from childhood, it’s in my soul.
I love color. It’s a huge part of my work. My favorites are saturated solid colors of wool and I enjoy pairing more unusual color combinations. As our team dyes all our wools in-house at Sue Spargo, we’re able to achieve a huge range of intense colors for me to use. The quality of the wool is also very important—I only work with 100% wool that’s milled in the USA.
As I work in a palette of brighter saturated colors and create layers using fabrics and embellishments, my quilts radiate with a contemporary feel. Many times Folk Art is confused with Primitive Art which is created using a much more subdued palette and less added texture.
I have been a quilter and sewer for most of my life—starting with dressmaking in my teens, followed with piecing, then appliqué. I made my first quilt when I was 15. It was a hand-pieced Grandmother’s Flower Garden using 2” hexagons.
Looking back I realize I was drawn to textural fabrics at an early age. Many of the fabric choices in my first quilt were too thin but ‘textural.’ They were really inappropriate for a quilt made for snuggling but it was a good learning experience!
As a teenager, I also loved small piecing which I incorporated into clothing. The challenge of integrating fabrics with different textural surfaces or prints of varying scales, and the tranquility I found when working at the sewing machine eventually drew me to quilting—and especially handwork.
I was introduced to hand-dyed wool 14 years ago and shortly after made my first pieced and hand-appliquéd wool quilt. I fell in love with the feel of the wool in my hands. Back then I would never have imagined how hand-dyed wool would have influenced my quilting journey so positively.
When I first began working with wool, I started appliquéing layers of fun cotton fabrics on top of my wool appliqué. I quickly noticed how these additions added texture—making the wool come alive. I then began playing with the addition of upholstery fabrics, silks, velvets and ribbons to my wool quilts. I became fascinated with how the added layers of fabric, then later the addition of embroidery, changed the image.
I am always looking for new ways to challenge myself which leads to new techniques. Ten years ago I added two embroidery stitches to a pincushion which ignited my passion for hand embroidery. Fascinated with the texture and dimension these stitches added to my pieces, I began teaching myself more and more embroidery stitches. Stitchery using threads of varying types and weights now create the final layer of my present work.
The development of my samplers, in particular Leaf Play 1, came during my first teaching trip to Australia. During this trip, I discovered myself drawn to Aboriginal Art—this art inspired the repetitive image now displayed on many of my samplers.
Previously in my classes, I demonstrated wool appliqué and stitchery on scraps of wool. I had accumulated bags of half-finished leaves when it suddenly dawned on me to appliqué the little pieces to a wool background so I could easily demonstrate layering and embroidery. It always amazes me how one small piece or technique can have such an influence on a body of work. Leaf Play 1 changed the whole direction of my art, as well as my hands-on classes.
All my quilts have meaning. Each one is a story of my life or travels. I think when you feel such attachment to a piece of art, you get so lost in it that it doesn’t matter how many hundreds of hours it takes you to feel a piece is complete. I have learnt over the years that the more I add, the more textural and interesting every piece becomes.
Creating is a journey for me and each piece I create is different from the last—with new techniques included to each quilt. This makes me so passionate about what I do, as each piece comes from my heart. I have never felt a need to create to please the market. Instead I continually invent new ways to do things to keep my students interested in creating meaningful pieces.
I think it’s the unpredictability and no-rule policy that my students really embrace. I use everyday images that I love in a simplistic style, adding character to my work through layering and thread. This is very freeing and makes for wonderfully individual creative pieces of art.
Sue uses an abundance of threads to add texture to her wool projects. To check out her appliqué threads +click here
Sue designs delightful ribbons for Renaissance Ribbons. To see Sue’s Ribbons +click here
To buy Sue’s book, Stitches To Savor +click here