Featured Designer - Sue Spargo March 01 2016 9 Comments

Sue Spargo

While I am personally new to stitching with wool, I have admired the work of this month's Featured Designer for years.  Sue Spargo is a self taught textile folk artist and designer whose lush and rich work with wool, a needle and thread inspires so many.

Her work has been shown in art museums and exhibitions around the world.  Sue also teaches her techniques and creative process at workshops and retreats and has authored several books including Creative Stitching and Creative Texturing.

Now, let's get to know Sue and learn about her stitching journey!

Jen:  Where were you born and raised?  How has this influenced your designs and use of color?

Sue:  I was born in Zambia, and at five, I moved to South Africa where I grew up and received my education.  In my early twenties, I moved to England, returned to South Africa three years later and finally moved to the US in my early thirties.  Southern Africa has had a considerate influence on my life and creativity.  I am influenced especially by the energy and color of traditional African designs.  All of these experiences combined to stir my love of primitive arts and crafts and drew into my focus on contemporary folk-art. 

Bird Dance

Jen:  How did you learn to quilt and embroider? Did you stitch as a girl? 

Sue:  Growing up my mom sewed, and I loved to sew with her from a very young age.  I was fortunate enough to be exposed to home economics throughout my elementary and high school education.  Making barbie doll clothes in the early years and then sewing clothing for myself and making my first hand pieced hexagon quilt in high school.  I was never exposed to embroidery growing up, and it didn't become part of my designing until about six years ago. 

Jen:  How and when did your passion for stitching begin?

Sue:  I spend a lot of time on the road teaching and am always looking for new techniques to teach my students.  My stitching began as two stitches on a pincushion and has evolved from there.  I was so taken by the response I received from the students in the class; they were so excited to learn the embroidery.  I also found a love for the dimension and texture that stitching added to my pieces that I became fascinated with the transformation of wool work. 

Jen:  How have you evolved over time?

Sue:  Gradually over time, I taught myself more stitches and played with more threads and fibers.  I became fascinated with trying different fibers such as silk, rayon, cotton, linen, chenille and wool threads and how each thread gave a different texture on hand dyed wool.  I also discovered that doing the same stitch in all these different fibers changed the appearance of the stitch.  By familiarizing myself with the different stitches, I began to realize which stitches to use to give my appliquéd images character.

Jen:  Tell us about your creative process for your patterns/designs.

Sue:  I have always started a project with an open mind allowing it to evolve as I work layer by layer.  I start out by doing an ink drawing of the basic layout and appliqué design.  I then enlarge my design to the appropriate size.  I take each block one at a time, starting by layering my background.  I then cut out the first layer of appliqué and appliqué it in place.  Once appliquéd I revisit the block to begin my layering.  I continue in this manor until the color and placement of images is pleasing to my eye.  I use a combination of hand dyed wool, cotton, linen, silk and velvet in my appliqué.  The very last part of my hand process is bringing my images alive by adding stitching using a multitude of textural fibers in different weights.   

Imperial Blooms Flower Play

Jen:  I've had the pleasure of meeting and working with Kelly and Jason.  Do the rest of your children also work with you on your business?

Sue:  I have four wonderful children - three who work in my business and a son who lives in New York City.  I am very lucky to have creative children who each have an interest in different sections of the business.  Kelly maintains the website and works with our wholesale customers, as well as, hand dyes one of our popular threads called ‘Dala’.  Jason hand dyes all our wools and velvets in our in-studio dye room and is in the process of taking over publishing of my books and patterns.  And Aimee keeps us all on track as she is in charge of our finances and social media.

Jen:  Complete this sentence, when I am not stitching, I am...

Sue:  Sleeping… or giving my children lots of jobs.

Jen:  Having taught thousands of students, what is the one piece of advice you would offer to both seasoned and budding stitchers alike?

Sue:  There are no rules in my classes.  My advice is to allow yourself to be creative and to not follow any rules.  The best pieces of art come when you allow yourself to take chances, try new techniques and become confident in your choices.  Planning inhibits your creativity so I encourage all of my students to let their pieces evolve from the beginning. 

Jen:  If you could only pick one stitch to use from now on, what would it be and why?

Sue:  The bullion knot.  It was one of the first stitches I taught myself.  It really enhances wool appliqué as it is more of a dimensional stitch.  I also love the variations I have come up with that totally change the appearance of the stitch.  Over the years I have realized it is not about learning many stitches it is about mastering one and the way you can manipulate that stitch to have many different appearances.  This is achieved by playing around with a stitch and using different types of fibers to make the stitch.

Jen:  I quite like the name Bossy Boots!  What inspired the thread color names for your Eleganza Perle Cotton lines?

Sue:  Kelly named each of the colors in my line of Eleganza.  She’s our word girl! We spent a long time formulating the colors for the line, and we wanted the names of threads to show our excitement for this new venture.

Eleganza Close Up 

Jen:  Late last year, we learned that you were diagnosed with breast cancer.  Like so many other fans, I follow your progress through your stitching journal that you’ve shared since receiving treatment.  I can imagine that this is a great outlet for you as you navigate through a difficult journey.  Did you also keep a stitch journal or a sketch journal prior to being diagnosed?

Sue:  I have always had a sketch journal that I use when designing.  I have never done a stitch journal but started my stitch journal because I felt as though it would give me a positive focus each day.  My stitch journal is done on a two yard piece of hand dyed wool that Jason specially dyed for me.  Each image is stitched from my heart and representing a moment from each day, it is my own therapy through this journey.  As a designer everything I create, others want to make which makes it hard to have the time to create personal pieces of art.  Some days this journal is enjoyable, and other days, I find it hard to stitch but the most important thing is that I keep a positive focus in my life.

Stitch Journal Collage - Sue Spargo

Jen:  With this new life experience, do you have a message you would like to share with other stitchers and quilters out there?

Sue:  I’ve always felt as though you should live life to the fullest whether that is spending time with family, traveling, being spontaneous, following your passion, be ever evolving or sharing your talents.  It is important to follow your heart and to do what you love.  This diagnosis has made me more aware of what is important to me.  I would remind my fellow stitchers that you have one life to live and it is important to reach for the stars! 

Sue Spargo

I am grateful to Sue for sharing her story with us.  Coincidentally, the fortune in my fortune cookie today said, "Big journeys begin with a single step."  Perhaps it should read, "Big journeys begin with a single stitch"!  I look forward to beginning my wool appliqué journey and to experimenting with new threads and textural fabrics.

You can find more inspiration and resources by Sue Spargo at Red Thread Studio and on Sue's website.

Sue Spargo Collection

UPDATED AUGUST 2016:

Sue is coming to Stuart in January 2017!  Register Now!