I am thrilled to share this post with you today about fiber artist Suzann Thompson who uses a technique called TextileFusion, which combines crochet with knitting, quilting, and embellishment. Her upcoming exhibit Celebrate Doilies! “honors doily crocheters through photos of family heirlooms, and stories about crocheters, past and present.” It includes truly beautiful art quilts by Suzann as well as works by Texas poet Sandi Horton. You can help support the exhibit through Kickstarter, which also allows you to get your own creative rewards to be part of the project! Let’s learn more …
Suzann Thompson and Friends Celebrate Doilies!
The orange and yellow granny square hat with the floppy brim in Woman’s Day magazine is what did it. Suzann Thompson, 13 years old at the time, wanted to make that hat, so she asked her mother to teach her to crochet. (You can see it online.)
It was the summer of 1972. The family lived in Austin, Texas, where yarn was available mostly at TG&Y, K-Mart, and sometimes at the supermarket. Amazingly, Suzann and her mom found the exact colors of Aunt Lydia’s rug yarn called for in the pattern.
Afternoon ©2015 by Suzann Thompson, captures the slanting light and shadows of late in the day. Crocheted flowers, a vintage doily, beads and buttons embellish a knitted, quilted background.
Anna Wirth Thompson, Suzann’s mother, showed her the basics of crochet. Suzann made the hat and after that, there was no turning back. She fondly remembers becoming obsessed pretty early on with making stuff, figuring out patterns, and discovering yarns.
By eighth grade, Suzann was making and selling granny square drawstring purses. The experience taught her that mass production was not for her. Another 16 years went by before she learned about selling her designs for publication in needlework and craft magazines.
Winterling © 2017 by Suzann Thompson, is a knitted quilt embellished with crochet, embroidery, beads, buttons, and a vintage doily. This detail of Winterling shows the vase which was inspired by the Zwiebelmuster china pattern.
From her first published design in Southwest Crafts magazine, Suzann went on to write three crochet books: Crochet Bouquet: Easy Designs for Dozens of Flowers, Crochet Garden: Bunches of Flowers, Leaves, and Other Delights, and Cute Crochet World: A Little Dictionary of Crocheted Critters, Folks, Food & More, all published by Lark, a division of Sterling Publishing. She loves being an author. “Publishing a book gives you instant credibility,” she said. “It opens doors to more opportunities.”
Suzann regularly uses her own crocheted flower designs in her artwork, which has evolved alongside her design career. Her signature TextileFusion art combines knitting, crochet, patchwork, quilting, and embellishment. Find out more at her website.
When creating crochet projects for publication, designers naturally concentrate on reaching crocheters. As a textile artist, Suzann realized she needed to reach out to other textile enthusiasts, but also beyond, in order to promote and sell her work. It was a paradigm shift for her.
One of the smallest pieces in the Celebrate Doilies! show, Green Buttons ©2016 by Suzann Thompson, features a vintage doily on a hand-pieced quilt top from an estate sale.
In the last few decades, artists have undergone a similar shift, seeking ways to include the broader community in the creation of projects. Suzann wondered how she could involve community in her own art. An answer began to form when a man from her community told her,
“I have all these doilies that my grandmother crocheted, but I don’t really know what to do with them.”
Suzann realized that many people have family heirloom doilies hidden away in drawers and linen closets. She asked herself, why not bring them out, photograph them, and learn about their makers?
The result was the collaborative Celebrate Doilies! exhibit, which opens in July 2017 at the Cross Timbers Fine Arts Council Gallery in Stephenville, Texas. The show will run through the end of August, and then it will travel to the Langdon Center in Granbury, Texas. (More information at Suzann’s website.)
Alongside Suzann’s doily-themed artwork, the Celebrate Doilies! exhibit features photos and stories of doily crocheters, past and present. Poet Sandi Horton’s work, also inspired by family heirloom crochet, will be on display.
Hope Chest © 2017 by Suzann Thompson, was created vintage patchwork, crochet, and buttons collected over a number of years.
Broadening the community even further, Suzann launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the remaining expenses of the Celebrate Doilies! exhibit. She encourages readers to visit her project, enjoy the video and updates, and contribute if they can. The Celebrate Doilies! project on Kickstarter runs through June 22, 2017.
Among the stories about crocheters featured in Celebrate Doilies! is a theme of hardworking people who crochet to unwind. The daughter of doily-crocheter Horace Wayne Callaway wrote: “He was a man who worked very hard to raise five children, but he would crochet to relax.”
Like Mr. Callaway, others in labor-intensive farming communities and small towns, crocheted or quilted after the day’s work was done. Needlework was a form of therapy for them, in a time when people would not have consulted a therapist even if one had been available. They undoubtedly went to church to talk to the preacher about big problems, but the strain and stress of everyday life could be soothed by handwork.
Suzann remembers her own craft therapy, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Her young family lived in England at the time. They didn’t have a television at home, but she and her husband each saw the news on television in different places. Suzann felt strange and helpless and sad, being away from her homeland when the shocking acts of terrorism took place. Knitting helped. If she had had a crochet project going, she says, crochet would have helped. The act of stitching a cardigan gave her the feeling of being able to do something, when there was nothing else she could do.
A friend gave Suzann a Fair Isle cardigan saying, “It’s too hot to wear in Texas!” Paired with a six-pointed doily, the sweater became a snowflake in Winter Blues, © 2017.
Another theme in the stories of Celebrate Doilies! is frugality. On her homestead in New Mexico, Orlena Candace Barbee Salyers saved the string from chicken feed sacks. When she had enough, she crocheted a good-sized doily.
Inspired by this story, Suzann has started saving the red string from cat food bags. She has crocheted with other unusual materials, like cut-up plastic bags. But the greatest adventure may still be to come. Her father, Alan Thompson doesn’t like to throw anything away that might be useful someday, like the rough, plastic-y, blue-and-white twine that is wrapped around large hay bales. For years, he has offered it to Suzann, saying, “You could knit or crochet something with this, Suzie.”
For years, Suzann has been saying, “Dad, no.” But now she’s actually considering it, because she would like to crochet a big yarn-bomb doily to display outside the gallery during the Celebrate Doilies exhibit.
The wall hangings of Celebrate Doilies! will be for sale. Suzann says that promoting and selling her artwork is exciting, but also one of the more difficult aspects of her business. She knows what to do – social media, blogging, keeping up a website, phoning people, writing letters – but as a self-described introvert, she says those activities take lot of energy. Suzann admires people who earn followers and commenters and involve others with apparent ease. She admits, “It’s up to me to improve my promotional game. I own it.”
When Celebrate Doilies! is up and running in July, Suzann will start planning her next community and crochet adventure. She already has a couple of ideas. But first, she says, “I’m going to make myself a sweater.”
Suzann lives in rural Texas, about a two-hour drive Fort Worth in a westerly direction. She loves how brilliantly the stars shine at night out in the country. She enjoys the quiet, which is only occasionally broken by the racket of coyotes at night and mooing during the day. Wildflowers bloom through much of the year, and some of them have inspired designs in her books. Her car is always dusty, because the driveway is a dirt road.
Speaking of dirt, Suzann’s house is made from compressed earth blocks. She and her family and friends laid most of the blocks that form the outside walls. It’s an unusual and interesting house and you can find lots of in-progress photos at her blog, Suzann’s TextileFusion. She lives with her husband Charles, daughter Ella, and three dogs. Ella’s big sister Eva is away at university.