Spotlight: Sue Beevers, Fabric and Quilt Pattern Designer
While most people are content with just one or two creative pursuits, a few people seem to create nonstop. Sue Beevers doesn’t think it’s unusual that she quilts, spins, weaves, designs fabric, creates patterns and more – because it’s all just part of who she is.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I think that I’ve always been this way. I’ve been told that I never scribbled as a child – but I just started drawing. I suspect that it’s true because one of my children never scribbled, and one of my grandkids is the same way.
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I learned to knit as a child: all of my teddy bears had scarves and vests (because I didn’t know how to do sleeves). An aunt taught me how to crochet and tat, and then I took off from there. By Junior High, I was designing my own sweaters and socks and hats, as well as Afghans. My mom and aunt taught me how to sew, so I made a lot of my own clothes.
This doesn’t seem odd to me. Many folks of my generation did the same thing.
Your creative work spans several mediums. Tell us about the work you do.
I knit a lot – I’m currently on a sock kick. It’s a great way to use up leftover yarn (both handspun and commercial). I’m particularly fond of color-stranded work, and cables and lattice designs. I usually knit in the evening when I watch TV with my husband.
I quilt a lot. When I first get up in the morning, I usually quilt for a couple of hours (then I eat breakfast, and get to work). I own a quilt pattern company (Trillium Ridge Quilt Patterns), and so spend a lot of time writing quilt patterns and taking care of the business side of things.
I weave whenever I have some spare time – and always have a project on one of my looms. I’m particularly into multishaft weave structures, and love to work with multiple layers.
I draw a lot – usually while I’m waiting for students, or in the evening when I’m not knitting. My drawings either find their way into quilts, mosaics, or paintings.
Spinning, Baskets, Fabric Painting and Dyeing are usually summer activities. So I love to sit out on the porch and listen to the birds and spin – or weave a basket.
Dyeing and Fabric Painting is best done on a sunny day when I can let the fabric dry outside.
What sparked your exploration of so many ways of working?
Making things is just a natural way of life for me. I don’t do the “just sit and relax” thing very well. So I can’t imagine not wanting to make something, or start working on something – I’ve done it all my life. And I love textiles and fibers.
When you begin a project, do you start with the medium or the subject matter? For example, do you wake up thinking, “I will weave today,” then look for something to make? Or do you think about an object or idea, then decide which medium will best express it?
Great question! It depends on many factors.
If I have an opportunity to design a quilt pattern using specific fabrics for Northcott or another fabric company or for a magazine, obviously, that’s what I’ll do first. This is often accompanied by a deadline, so it precludes other projects.
When I wake up in the middle of the night, I am often thinking of weaving techniques. I love to explore how to do a number of projects on one warp, and I love to figure out how to do different designs and weave structures without re-threading.
Often my doodling or drawing will make me realize that it would best evolve in a collage – or a paper mosaic – or a painting.
Do you have separate studios for all the work you do: quilting, pattern writing, spinning, weaving, painting, dyeing, music, etc.?
I have a paint studio. This is mainly because paint makes a mess, and so it pretty much needs a separate room. My spinning wheels share a corner of the room, and I used to teach cello there because it was easily accessible to students. (I now teach cello entirely at Hamilton College. I miss not having a dog around to listen to the music, but it’s nice not to have to clean up the mess because a student is coming.)
My weaving looms and weaving fibres share the basement with my husband’s woodworking tools. Believe it or not, it works! I have a bookcase and 2 walls of cubbies. Needless to say, they’re all filled with fibres.
I do not have a quilting studio. My sewing machine is in our bedroom, on a table that is between the closets and our bed. It’s a tight space – the chair almost touches the bed when I’m sitting on it. The iron is down the hall in a “spare” bedroom. Fabric is pretty much in every room, including the bathroom. We have a chest for towels – but it is pretty much filled with fabric. Just my husband, pup, and I live here now, so, how many towels do two people need? At least that’s my excuse ☺
The hall closet and a large closet in our bedroom are filled with fabrics that I have designed and sell on my website. I do not have a design wall. But I can see in my head how the quilt will look, and I’m always open to changing fabrics and some design elements as the quilt progresses.
If I need to, I can place it on the living room floor (tell the pup not to sit on it), and then run halfway up the stairs and look at it over the railing. I know that this wouldn’t work for many people, but it works for me.
What is the most surprising tool you use? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
Actually, I’m very lucky. I used to have a large weaving studio where I taught and worked before I moved to this house, and so have a very nice array of weaving equipment. (I kept 2 large looms: a 24-shaft computer interfaced loom, as well as a 20-shaft dobby drawloom.)
In addition, I have lots of paint, paper and canvas.
And, I have a very old treadle machine that belonged to my mother’s aunt. Its warranty ran out in 1903 (or it might have been 1907), but it’s in perfect condition. Actually, the quilts that I made for the first book that I wrote (Off the Shelf Fabric Painting – C&T Publishing) were sewn on that machine. (I didn’t have another machine, and as I mentioned, it works perfectly. So it’s true that sometimes it’s not the sewing machine that you have, it’s what you do with it.) Actually, I still use it when we lose electricity, which happens a fair amount. Thus said, I’m lucky. I have a very nice modern machine that has lots of decorative stitches which I use a lot.
How do you keep multiple mediums and projects organized?
Organized? What’s organized?
How many projects do you have going at once? Or do you focus on one creative project at a time?
I work on multiple projects all at the same time. Currently, I’m working on a pair of socks, I’m threading the loom so that I can make some runners, and I have 3 quilts in various stages of “done-ness”. I’m also working on 3 different quilt patterns for various sources. I also have a new quilt idea that I want to work on and a painted collage that I want to start.
And how do you do all of these things with a 24-hour day? (Unless you have stumbled onto a time warp, and, if so, please share!)
Personally, I think that having to sleep is totally unfair – but unfortunately, I need to sleep. I think that I just have the kind of personality that if I didn’t have 250 things to do, then I’d find a way to have 250 things to do.
As long as I get my deadlines in on time, I don’t feel pressured by having lots of projects. Actually, it makes me happy.
Who or what are your main influences and inspirations? Does your environment influence your creativity?
I love to be outdoors, and have a very deep interest in the natural cycles of growing things. So I’m very lucky that we live in a rural area, and have a nice field, and a beautiful woods with a creek at the bottom of the ravine. There are lots of wild flowers, which I love. Actually, my ambition is to someday draw or paint all of the indigenous wildflowers in the woods.
Much of my work is about the inextricable link between people and the natural world, and the sheer joy of existing in such a fascinating environment. I never get tired of watching the growing cycles of plants and trees.
But I’m also fascinated by geometric constructions, and love the process of integrating geometry and fabric to create an interesting visual statement. At first glance, my work may appear to be eclectic, but I don’t see these genres as incompatible. Instead, they are all a form of self expression.
When engaged in a creative activity, do you usually have specific goals?
Not really. I do start with sketches and a general idea of where a piece is going, but I always listen to what it is telling me as it progresses. If I started with a specific goal, I think that it would constrain the result, and then I wouldn’t like the piece.
As a creative individual, do you believe that you perceive the world differently from other people? Do you think that any unique thought processes are involved when you create something?
I think that everyone perceives the world in their own unique way – that’s what makes life interesting. I love to listen to other people’s ideas, and am often surprised by their thought processes.
Who is the most creative person that you have ever known?
Wow! I have been a very lucky person, and have met many successful, fascinating, and talented people – in both art and music. So I can’t say that one person stands out from all of the rest. Instead, I would say that I’ve been lucky to meet many individuals that have introduced me to new ways of thinking and perceiving things.
What do you learn about yourself through your creative endeavors?
Life, and the way that I think about life is an ever-evolving experience. Creativity doesn’t change the way that I think about myself. Instead, it helps me expand my view the world. In other words, life is never about me: it’s about the experience.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website contains a lot of quilt patterns (I’m currently working on pattern #150), and a couple of fabrics that I have designed for RJR (years ago) and quite a few that I’ve designed for Northcott. I hope people will visit and be inspired by the patterns and fabrics. I love it when a quilter chooses a pattern, and then makes it their own by choosing different fabrics and colors when they make the quilt.
Best of all, I love when someone sends me a pix of a quilt that they’ve made using some of my fabrics or patterns from Dancing Dragonfly Quilts – C&T Publishing. How cool is that?
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I love teaching both art and music. I love to be able to explore an idea with someone and show them how to implement it. And I love showing someone a new idea and ways to expand it. But mostly, I love it when a student takes an idea that they already know, and starts to think about it differently.
How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule a workshop?
Interview posted April 2020
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