Exploring the versatility of Indigo dyeing, textile artist Suzanne Connors stitches, binds and clamps fabric, then dips it in natural Indigo to achieve an endless variety of textiles full of depth, pattern and movement. The techniques are centuries old, but Suzanne’s work has a contemporary flair. Her studio also serves as an education center for fiber artists.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I’ve always had a passion for art. I’ve always been a maker.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners. Your purchases via these links may benefit Create Whimsy. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.
When I was a little girl, I was making things and drawing all the time. In school I was on a college prep program, calculus, drafting, as well as a lot of art classes. I enjoyed 3D art and craft. I have always liked working with my hands. A lover of sewing, I have made my own clothing since I was in junior high. I thought I would go to art school after high school, but my father was an engineer and wanted me to go to engineering school. So I ended up going to study architecture. Then I switched to interior design and finally construction management.
I have pretty much always worked for myself. I was an interior designer and I also hung wallpaper for years. When my father passed away, I got my 1st job in the corporate world. I was an Interiors Project Manager and an Estimator on a resort project in the Caribbean. In 2008, construction took a turn and I lost my job, so I opened an art gallery and built my 1st art studio. I ran the gallery for a few years and in 2013, I relocated it from North Carolina to South Florida. The new location was in a shady area, and I was broken into several times. In 2014 I closed the gallery and decided to be a full-time artist. So I opened the studio in an old fishhouse on the Florida waterfront. I have been a full time artist ever since.
Who or what motivates you artistically?
The Arts and Craft Movement and Japanese Textiles inspire me. Textures and the colors of nature draw me in. Due to my architectural training, I am technique driven.
I love to lay my projects out. Creating a body of detail design, establishing order, combining simple techniques, textures and design repetitions are the foundations of my work
How does your environment influence your creativity?
My environment does influence my creativity. Outdoors, the sea and the sky and all the various shades of blue inspire me. I am inspired when I travel to Japan. I find that Japanese craft is so like craft from the American Arts and Craft Movement. Spending time at my mountain studio or visiting areas where fine craft is predominant inspires me.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
Shibori is my primary medium and I tend to do a lot of stitched patterns. I find that I also use circles in my work quite a bit. I can create patterns by repeating circles or make every circle a bit different just by changing the fabric resist technique (stitched, tied, folded and clamped), or I can use sheer fabrics and overlay my designs to create designs within designs. There are so many different shibori patterns and I am always learning new patterns or combining patterns to create new designs.
Tell us about indigo. Why does working with it appeal to you? What styles of indigo dyeing do you practice most? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Indigo has a huge range of blue colors. It is the truest blue and the blue seen in the sky and the sea. If you’ve ever gone offshore in the ocean, the water looks a deeper blue the deeper it gets. Indigo is a deeper blue the longer the fabric is dipped into the vat. I think my signature work is shibori that I create by a lot of stitching, overlaying patterns, and trying to achieve the deepest blue.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I am both: I typically plan and layout my shibori patterns, but once I create the fabric, I improvise to come up with the best way to use it. Especially when creating art-to-wear. The way the fabric drapes, the patterns and colors all affect the final design. Sometimes I just start with the fabric and see where it goes, pulling out old scraps to add here and there. Nothing goes to waste or gets thrown away – it might just be the accent needed on something.
What do you do to develop your skills? How do you get better at what you do?
Workshops, travel to Japan, practice. I get better when I work daily.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
Organization is critical to my process. Since my studio is also a teaching studio, I spend more time doing administrative work than I really want to. Organization in a teaching studio is critical because I need to know where everything is and what the current inventory is at all times. So when I do have the opportunity to create for myself it is also critical that the studio is clean and well organized; otherwise I feel like I should be organizing and cleaning.
This is not to say that I am a neat worker. When I am creating, I can make the biggest mess in the world. I continuously pull things out and then have visual ideas on every table. Then when it is time for a class, I must put it all away. I must stay organized so I can find what I was working on and return to creating.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Fabrics (I’m a hoarder) dyes, Indigo, large pots, lots of buckets, long gloves, needles, threads, clamps, PVC piping, string, threads, large worktables, natural lighting, ventilation, my sewing machine. Everything listed is necessary for me to produce my work.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
Yes, I am always drawing new patterns and ideas. I keep pictures of things that inspire me.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Pandora, Blues or Van Morrison mix. I use music to time my indigo dips. 1 dip is as long as a song. When I’m in a groove the music is much louder. Sometimes when stitching, I listen to traditional Japanese Music.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
Usually as a deadline for a show or event.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
COVID was a challenge, just financially keeping the studio afloat. After maintaining the studio all during shutdowns, I looked forward to reopening and having students back in the studio only to find out that my landlord had sold my studio location and I needed to move immediately.
It was difficult to find a new location that had everything I needed.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Both. I think most people are naturally creative but people can learn creativity. Many view creativity as a vague, unattainable trait that only the most artistic, innovative people receive at birth. The truth is that everyone has creativity; enhancing it only takes a bit of time and practice. The more one creates, the more creative they become. Just show up daily!
What do you learn about who you are through your creative endeavors?
That I can usually do just about anything I put my mind to and challenges are learning experiences.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
https://www.ayafiberstudio.com is my website. On it, people can learn more about me and my work. It is also the website for the studio and people can learn more about the studio workshops offered by renowned fiber artists and those I teach. Students register for workshops online and there is a commerce link selling items I have made as well as studio supplies.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I do lecture and teach. During the Florida season from October-May I teach locally and in the studio. During summer months, (June-September) I close the Florida studio to spend time in the NC Mountains, I am building a new studio near Murphy, NC. I travel to teach at several venues during the summer and welcome invitations to teach. People can contact me via email at [email protected].
More about Suzanne Connors and her studio
Blue like the Sea and the Sky
Just like the hands of an indigo artisan, the color of blue that comes from the tade Japanese indigo plant shows its own variety. “Japan Blue” is the term a 19th century British chemist coined to describe the 48 different hues the sukumo dye produces. It is a remarkably versatile medium to work with, and I would like to introduce you to our fiber workshop studio in Stuart, Florida.
The Aya Fiber Studio is a cozy fiber studio located in Stuart, Florida. The owner, Suzanne Connors, has been practicing the art of aizome indigo dyeing over the last 13 years and she opened the first dyeing workshop at the Fish House Art Center in Port Salerno back in 2014. The studio has recently moved to North Stuart and is currently located at 170 NW Dixie Hwy. Suzanne produces stunning textiles, but the studio serves a secondary purpose as well. This goal is to educate locals and travelers alike in the ways of traditional Japanese craft and other fiber art genres via LIVE studio workshops presented by renowned artists.
There are several common ways of performing the aizome dyeing process. One method uses hand cut katagami stencils to apply a thick rice dye-resistant paste to the fabric and then cover it with sawdust. Dipping this in dye leaves behind a design that maintains a high level of detail. This is called katazome. Another way to leave a design on the textile is to paint it on freehand using wax. This Japanese method of batik is rozome
The most popular process for visitors at the Aya fiber Studio is shibori and is remarkably like the tie-dyeing we have all seen. Strings or rubber bands bind a folded cloth. Patterns are hand stitched. Some are even folded and clamped with wood blocks. Artists can apply the binding in evenly spaced intervals or in a more random approach with creative overlaps. All these methods will produce patterns on the cloth. An inexperienced dyer may not be able to correctly read the pattern that results as they bind the fabric, so part of the fun is the element of surprise. Another is experiencing the magic of indigo!
Visitors to The Aya Fiber Studio Workshop can experience 1-to-5-day fiber art workshops. The studio offers shibori and indigo workshops monthly. After binding their cloth as they please, the dipping process begins. Submerging the bundle into a vat of indigo and kneading and squeezing it is a highly satisfying tactile experience. The first dip will turn the cloth a rich green color, but successive plunges push the color to a much darker hue. When the desired shade is achieved, the finishing process occurs. The dye is neutralized with a vinegar solution and then the textile is dried to take home.
Taking an aizome workshop at The Aya Fiber Studio is a great way to gain a hands-on appreciation for a unique Japanese craft. The studio also hosts natural dyeing, surface design, stitching and other textile workshops throughout the year and features a boutique gallery where you can buy all sorts of indigo dyed and art-to wear items in a large selection of hues. The Aya Fiber Studio Workshop remains one of most popular hands-on activities in Stuart as it appeals to students of all ages.
Interview posted September 2022
Browse through more inspiring interviews on Create Whimsy.