Susie Nicholson has found her superpower, and she summons it with a crochet hook. An avid yarnbomber, Susie brings color and whimsy to her Los Angeles neighborhood. Meanwhile, her alter-ego, “The Heart Lady”, crochets small hearts by the thousands and gives them to people who need a little light in their days.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I’ve never thought of myself as an artist. But I have always been an organizer and an observer of patterns (perhaps why I’m an anthropologist).
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When people call me an artist, I am surprised. But I guess what happened is that I got creative about my organizing skills. I’m just doing it in yarn now, instead of business.
Tell us about yarn bombing. What is it and how did you get involved?
In 2013, a groups of knitters and crocheters were at the Craft Contemporary Museum in L.A. talking about yarn bombing the front of the building. The whole building!
They were asking people to make granny squares. The whole idea intrigued me, so I went home and learned to crochet watching YouTube videos so I could be part of this wonderful project. Then I practiced and practiced and made 300 granny squares for the project and I got hooked. I almost immediately started little yarn bombs on my own. Yarn bombing is crocheting things in public spaces, like bike racks, parking meters, trees, benches, etc.
What is your largest yarn bombing project? Your smallest?
My largest yarn bomb was an 8’x8’ eye copied from a Peter Max print for an optical boutique in L.A. My smallest was my first, a tiny piece on a piece of furniture in a restaurant.
Does your work have stories to tell?
My work does not always tell a story. Mostly, it’s just something bright and whimsical to cheer up the neighborhood.
However, I do custom made pieces that tell you about the place, like Ethiopian flag colors at a restaurant in Little Ethiopia or polka dots for a thrift store that sells fun stuff. I sometimes match menus, business cards. Then I stitch the place name on them sometimes.
Where can people see your work?
Most of my work is in the mid-city area of L.A., just east of Beverly Hills. I have done a lot of yarn bombs in St. Louis over the years but only a few remain there.
What is the most challenging part about being a yarn bomber?
The most challenging part is the installation, which is tedious and I stand on a stool on the curb while doing the top, which I attached most securely and that can be a little unnerving. After all, I’m stretching up, on a stool, very close to the street. I’m a little old for that.
Other than that, probably words are the most challenging. I once copied a woman’s signature on a yarnbomb for her boutique, and it took many hours. By far the most challenging was when I was trying to crochet a smooth eye curve on a gigantic eye. I pulled out 45 yards of yarn and did it over several times.
Did you have a “gateway craft” as a kid? What led you to the kind of work you do today?
I did not have a gateway craft. It was my love of art and color and hanging out in museums that inspired me.
How did you become known as “the heart lady” at Cedars-Sinai Hospital? How many hearts have you made?
I became known as the heart lady at Cedars because I volunteer visiting heart transplant patients, and I got the idea to give a patient a substitute heart while waiting for a real one. The patient was so moved I was stunned, so I started bringing a few hearts with me. Then nurses wanted them, then others.
Then I started giving them to the invisible people: cleaners, food service people, checkers in the cafeteria and in a short time I was giving away 50 hearts a week on my rounds. Later, after the 2016 election, I started passing them out in public, to the dogs I meet on my walks, Starbucks baristas, Trader Joe’s staff, I put them on top of the tip in restaurants, etc. I now give away about 100 hearts a week. So I have made thousands of hearts. But I lost count long ago.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
I crochet every day. I always naturally finish my daily chores, errands and walks by 3:00 PM, then I crochet for the rest of the day. If I’m really not in the mood, I make a few hearts to feel productive then take a break. I stop when my arms get sore or I’m tired.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I do most of my work on my bed – you know, propped up like an early queen – except I’m working. It’s the most comfortable place for my back. But I recently started working in the daytime on my couch. Because it’s filled with color, books and art, my living room is a good place to work. So I’ve been working there during the day and on my bed at night. And that is why I walk 2-6 miles a day.
If you could have just 5 items in your studio, what would they be and why?
Five items: A massive bookcase for yarn, a very comfy chair with footstool, a rolling cart for current projects, a really good light and a TV. Crocheting can be very vegetative, so you need some entertainment.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
While doing a big project, I binge on Masterpiece or other BBC shows, preferably with lots of seasons. Or I listen to podcasts, like This American Life or Physical Anthropology lectures or music like Carole King, Cat Stevens, Leonard Cohen, Lucius. But I really love working to Harry Belafonte and Willie Nelson.
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
I am retired, so my main activities are walking and crocheting. I walk for several hours a day, taking photos of flowers. Living in Los Angeles, beauty surrounds me. I take hundreds of photos a week. Or day.
Do you feel that you chose your “passion,” or did it choose you?
I don’t feel I chose this passion or that it chose me. I just stumbled across it and it clicked. Big time.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think creativity comes natural to people. I just think we don’t always recognize it. As I said, I am an organizer, which I always considered the opposite of creative until I realized that WAS my creativity. When I organized in business, I made games out of whatever the task was. I’d switch processes, I’d find patterns then manipulate them, I’d turn things upside down and do them differently. At the time I never realized that was creativity. I kind of still do that very thing with yarn.
What (or who) has been your biggest inspiration in keeping your creative energy going?
My biggest inspiration is simple. Smiles and gratitude. When I give someone a heart and see how much it means to them, I can’t stop.
It’s such a simple thing for me but the reaction from people is stunning. I’ve had people burst into tears, more than once. They say you have no idea how much I needed this. Their faces light up. It’s such a beautiful thing to see and such a simple gesture that transcends any hardship, bad mood, etc. I can be in the worst mood in the world, but when I open that first patient’s door on my rounds, I transform and I start beaming. That alone cheers them up.
Then I pull out a heart and all is right with the world. Same with yarn bombs. When I install a yarn bomb, people yell thank you from their cars, they start smiling, they thank me for cheering up the neighborhood. How could I stop?
When you have time to create for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?
Create for myself? Um. Well, I think about it sometimes. Then someone says I love your yarnbombs or your heart made my day. And I put any ideas for myself on the shelf. I do think of someday making bags or backpacks for myself.
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