Sue Bleiweiss started quilting after an injury put a stop to her weaving passion. But with traditional quilting, there is this “following directions” thing, and that just didn’t work for Sue. Her journey led her to art quilts, and she now revels in the limitless freedom of vibrant and whimsical art quilting.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I didn’t begin a career in art until 15 years ago. I had just decided to leave my corporate job for a slower less hectic lifestyle, so I signed up for a weaving class. From the first moment I held the shuttle in my hand I was hooked. I wove for a few years doing a lot of commission work. Then a shoulder injury forced me to hang up my shuttle. At that point I attempted to make traditional quilts. That didn’t go well because I hate following directions.
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Once I realized that I just didn’t have the patience or skill for traditional quilt making I started exploring mixed surface design and mixed media techniques. Then that led to becoming obsessed for quite a few years making books and journals. Something I still love to do. I started dabbling in art quilts as a way to explore creating art to hang on the walls. That led me to where I am today.
Why textiles? And art quilting? Why appliqué? And fusing?
Well there are a couple of reasons I like working with textiles – the tactile nature is definitely one of them. The other big reason for me is that I really enjoy dyeing my own fabrics to work with. It’s a very satisfying full circle process for me to start with plain white cloth, dye it and turn it into a vibrantly colored art quilt.
I use fusing as my primary construction method because it gives me the freedom to create anything I can imagine. With fusing no shape is off limits because I don’t have to worry about how seams or corners will line up. So anything that I can dream up in the pages of my sketchbook I can create in fabric.
You both teach and coach other artists. Do you see the teaching and coaching roles differently? How?
My workshops and coaching programs are two very different things.
In my workshops, I teach techniques specific to the way I work and create art quilts. My coaching program is more like an independent study process. I offer my help and expertise in a wide variety of subjects such as artistic development (design, critique, personal style development), business and marketing, and writing for print publications.
I have and am currently coaching a lot of artists each at a different stage of their artistic journey from beginner to advanced working in many different styles. Some are working towards developing a cohesive body of work and are primarily interested in artwork critique and feedback. Others are looking for guidance with business development topics such as marketing and publishing. Art coaching is for any artist at any stage of the journey that is seeking clarity, guidance or support with their studio practice or their artistic development.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
Well every artist has their own definition of success as it relates to them and their situation. For some it might be a robust exhibition schedule, publishing books or a packed teaching schedule and for others it may relate directly to the bottom line. For me personally, I define my success by my level of happiness. If what I am doing is making me happy that’s all I need, the rest is all just icing on the cake.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Modern Art Quilts: Design, Fuse & Quilt-As-You-Go?
My hope is that readers will realize that using fusing as a construction method is as valid for creating modern quilts as piecing is. I wanted this book to about more than just using fusing as a construction technique. I’ve included sections on the principles of elements and design, critique your own work, developing your own personal style, writing about your quilts and more. Of course there are also a few projects that readers can make and each of those projects include tips for customizing them to reflect the quilters own style.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Yes, I have a dry studio which is the attic in my home. It’s a nice big 500 square foot space and on one side is my office and the other is my production side where my cutting table, ironing surface and sewing machine are. I have a separate wet studio in the basement where I do all my dyeing. It’s a great space with a dedicated washing machine and a nice deep stainless steel sink.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Well, first and foremost, is my roll of Mistyfuse fusible web. My entire quiltmaking process is centered around applique. Because I build my quilts in layers, I can end up sewing through many layers of fused fabric. Mistyfuse allows me to do that with no issues at all. I also love my Kai Scissors. They are super sharp and allow me to do very intricate cuts which is really important when I am adding fine details to my pieces.
Who or what inspires and influences you? Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?
The process that I use to create my quilts inspires me. At each stage of creation starting from the conception of an idea, to researching and sketching, dyeing the fabric, assembling and quilting the tools, techniques and materials that I use inspire me. For me it’s all about taking that plain white fabric and turning it into something that will make the viewer smile.
Do you use a sketchbook? How does that help your work develop?
My sketchbook is where it all begins! Every single quilt I make starts on the pages of my sketchbook. I make several small sketches of the concept that I am thinking about. These are really rough black and white drawings. Doing this gives me freedom to explore combinations of the images that I am considering using. Then I start cutting into my fabrics.
I start with the black and white pencil sketches. Then I sometimes fill in with colored pencils once I feel I am close to a final sketch. My small sketches are redrawn into full sized cartoons which allows me to adjust the scale of the images before actual construction of the piece in fabric begins. I transfer the full sized drawings to tracing paper which is then used for my cutting templates. Then I begin building the quilt. This process can take anywhere from several days to several weeks and I may make changes to the design as I construct the quilt.
Techniques? What do you do differently? What is your signature?
I think that my work is most widely recognized by the use of the black lines. I outline every element in my pieces with a black line which is a strip of my hand dyed black fabric cut by hand. Then I fuse it in place and stitch it down the center. That’s my signature technique. It’s the number one thing that people ask me about when they look at my quilts – what are those black lines and how is it done?
Do you critique your own work? What is your process?
Being able to critique your own work is an incredibly important part of the creative process. As I create a quilt, I constantly evaluate it to make sure that it’s progressing as I want it to. I make changes and adjustments based on how well the overall design is coming together. I also evaluate a piece when it is completely finished. So I step back and evaluate what worked, what didn’t and what I will do differently on the next piece. I wrote a little about the subject of critique on my blog here: https://suebleiweiss.blog/2017/05/23/critique-vs-critism/ and where it falls in my definition of the 7 stages of art here: https://suebleiweiss.blog/2017/03/19/7-stages-of-art/ . My new book includes a section on the value of critiquing your own artwork, plus some guidelines on how to do it.
How can people connect with you to learn more about your work or schedule a workshop?
Interview with Sue Bleiweiss posted October 2018
Browse through more inspiring art quilts on Create Whimsy.