The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
Quilt Scout Interview with Susanne Jones (Part I)
Visitors to the Fall International Quilt Festival know that when they walk into the main doors of the George Brown Convention Center, to the left is shopping heaven and to the right are fabulous exhibits. I won’t presume to tell you what to shop for (buy everything you want!), but there’s an exhibit this fall not to be missed.
Susanne Jones“HERstory: A Celebration of Strong Women” is
a collection of dozens of art quilts created by women and curated by Susanne M. Jones, a teacher, curator, and award-winning fiber artist. This month, I’ll be talking to Susanne about her own work and the upcoming “HERstory” exhibit.
Quilt Scout: I understand you started
out making traditional quilts. What compelled you to try an art quilt and
when did this all begin for you?
Susanne Jones: I started quilting when I was getting ready to retire from teaching elementary school. Lisa Ellis, president of Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), is my friend and became my mentor. She taught me how to rotary cut, sew a quarter inch seam, press, and make sashing and borders. I took class after class. I wanted to learn it all — and bought every gadget in the book. I joined a guild and went to shows. One of the organizations that Lisa recommended I join was the Quilt Alliance.
QS: They’re great. And you entered a QA contest?
SJ: Yes. Their contest that year was to celebrate their 20th anniversary. I had taken Lisa's “Lazy Landscape” class and decided to try my first art quilt, called Seeing Our Stories Clearly with 20/20 Hindsight. I had a blast making it. I sent it to the contest, and was flabbergasted to discover that I had won a Judge's Choice from Marianne Fons.
Seeing Our Stories Clearly with 20/20 Hindsight, by Susanne Jones.
QS: Oh, cool! Well, Mom’s got good taste.
SJ: I was thrilled — but I still thought of myself as a traditional quilter. The following fall, I joined the committee for [fiber art show] Sacred Threads. The theme was “Transitions.” Each member is asked to make a committee quilt. I made That's Life, a piece showing the transitions my family and I had been through in the past 18 months. There were no rules, no patterns, just the ideas coming out of my head and onto fabric. It was great fun.
But the real hook happened at Sacred Threads. [Fiber artist] Donna Desoto was creating an Inspired by the Beatles collection. One Beatles song had been abandoned and my fellow committee members challenged me to take it on. Rain became my third art quilt. It went to Festival that year and was the first quilt I had published in a book. I was hooked! There was no turning back.
QS: “Studio quilt” or “art quilt”? Talk to me.
SJ: I’m a member of SAQA, and they define an art quilt as “a creative visual work that is layered and stitched or that references this form of stitched layered structure.” I am definitely an art quilter, an artist who works with fabric, thread, beads and embellishments, but I usually say that I am a fiber artist. It invites questions from those who don't understand the term, and it allows me to explain that I make pictures out of fabric and thread. My studio is where I work.
QS: I see. What does the art quilt offer or allow for that you can't get from, say, ceramics or paint? What does fiber give you that other media cannot?
SJ: I've been sewing all of my life. I am drawn to the colors, patterns and feel of fabric, as
are most quilters. We like to pet our fabrics. Stroking paint or clay doesn't give me the
SJ: I crochet, knit, make jewelry, do cross-stitch, and crewel, and I can use elements of all of these in my fiber art. They are all a part of my toolbox. My art is highly textural; I use a wide variety of fabrics. I love the hunt for the right fabric and puzzling out the right technique.
That being said, I do use traditional media; I’m diving into surface design and trying to learn to use other elements like inks, dyes, and paintstiks. I have much to learn, and I think that is why I love fiber art: The possibilities are limitless and ever-evolving.
QS: Who are your art quilt heroes?
SJ: I have to put Lisa Ellis on my list because she’s taught me so much and is always encouraging me to stretch myself and become a better artist. I am very grateful. Vikki Pignatelli created Sacred Threads — what a gift. Yvonne Porcella is another one of my heroes; she is the godmother of art quilting. She started SAQA and helped the world of textile art come into its own. And the artists in my three collections, Fly Me to the Moon, HERstory and OURstory are my heroes. The imaginative things they do with fabric, thread, paint, and embellishments take my breath away. The thrill I get when looking at their work is “a mountain-top experience.” My admiration for them knows no bounds.
QS: So far, what's your best quilt?
SJ: My best quilt or my favorite is often the one I just finished.
QS: That’s exactly how my mom and I always answer that question!
SJ: I really enjoyed the challenge of the What's for Dinner? exhibit in Houston, curated by Jamie Fingal and Leslie Tucker Jenison. For that exhibit, we had to make a 15’’ x 24’’ textile “dinner.” I recreated meals that my mama had made, duplicating the china, napkins, and silver as well as the food.
Susanne’s Birthday Dinner, by Susanne Jones.
QS: Okay, last question for now. If a person wanted to try an art quilt but doesn’t know the first thing about them, where should she start?
SJ: I can only tell you how I started. I took lots of classes and looked at fiber art to find out what I liked. I went to Sacred Threads. I tried. Sometimes they were great and sometimes they weren't. I asked for advice. And I took classes. I went to quilt shows. And I took classes. I surrounded myself with art quilters/fiber artists/textile artists. And I —
QS: Took classes?
SJ: — took classes! As a matter of fact, I took so many classes that I was advised that I should stop taking classes and just make my art. That’s really the only way to become a fiber artist. You have to do the work. You have to try and perhaps fail. You have to find your own style and play with all that's out there. Now I want to learn surface design. You know what that means…
QS/SJ: More classes!
In the next Quilt Scout, I’ll talk to Susanne about the “HERstory” exhibit itself and highlights from the show. In the meantime, why not play around with some fabric and paint? What’s the worst that could happen??