Editor’s Note: Sue Bleiweiss is an active member of SAQA, including recently serving a term as Regional Representative for the Massachusetts/Rhode Island Region, and continuing to lead the SAQA Mentorship Program which is open to all members. Sue was awarded the inaugural Yvonne Porcella Volunteer of the Year Award in the Reps category at the 2016 SAQA Conference in Philadelphia.
Sue Bleiweiss – Pepperell, Massachusetts, USA
Working with my own hand dyed fabrics, my goal is to create vibrant colorful and whimsical fiber art collages that delight the eye of the viewer and draw them in for a closer look.
Each piece I create begins in the pages of my sketchbook where I make several rough sketches of the imagery that I want to work with. Beginning with a small sketch gives me the freedom to explore combinations of the images and colors before cutting into any fabrics. My small sketches are enlarged into full size cartoons that allow me to adjust the scale of the images and then the actual construction of the piece in fabric begins.
I work with professional fiber dyes using a process that uses a minimal amount of water to add color to the cloth I use in my fiber art collages. Dyeing my own fabric allows me to maintain a consistent color palette and I really enjoy that full circle feeling of starting with plain white cloth and using it to create something that vibrates with color and makes you smile when you look at it.
(Click images to enlarge)SAQA: When did you begin making art with fabric?
BLEIWEISS: My current body of work began in 2011 but before that I dabbled in a lot of different media. I started as a weaver and when shoulder surgery forced me to find something else to do I spent several years exploring bookmaking using traditional book making materials. Eventually I worked my way back to working with textiles and in 2011 started making art quilts.
SAQA: What inspires you?
BLEIWEISS: My inspiration comes from the processes and the techniques that I use. I enjoy starting with a plain white piece of cloth adding color and then using it to create imagery.
SAQA: Have any artists or art movements influenced your work?
BLEIWEISS: My first introduction to quilting was from watching Alex Anderson’s Simply Quilts show. I had always been a sewer with a focus mostly on home dec and wearable items and the idea of making bed quilts intrigued me. However, after attempting to make a couple and getting some very dismal results I realized that my desire and inability to follow directions was not working in my favor so I gave up on being a quilter and went back to home dec and wearable sewing for a while until I came across a video of Marci Tilton working with painted fusible web.
That was actually a pivotal moment in my artistic development for me, a definite light bulb moment, because suddenly I realized that just because a product was meant to be used on the inside didn’t mean you couldn’t use it on the outside. I ordered a package of Mistyfuse Fusible Web and some Jacquard Dye-na-Flow paint and I stepped into the world of surface design exploration.I was drawn to the work of Jan Beany, Jean Littlejohn, Jane Dunnewold, Maggie Grey, Janet Edmonds and Cas Holmes and I spent several years dabbling in all sorts of surface design techniques from fabric painting, screenprinting, and shibori to altering surfaces with metal, paper, fusible web, foils and stitch. Nothing was off limits and I experimented with every technique that I came across, along with some that I discovered on my own simply by asking myself “what if?”
I used the fabrics that I created to make books, journals and other 3D items like vases, boxes and vessels of all kinds and eventually I found myself wanting to explore working on flat surfaces and creating work that I could hang on my walls so I started dabbling in art quilting. Art quilting gave me a way to continue exploring surface design techniques like fabric dyeing and painting with the added challenge of adding stitching to the surface.
SAQA: What techniques and materials do you use?
BLEIWEISS: I really enjoy dyeing my own fabrics to work with. I love the idea of taking plain white fabric, dyeing it myself and then using it to create an art quilt with. It’s a very satisfying full circle process for me to start with pieces of plain white cloth and finish with something that vibrates with color and makes you smile when you look at it. All of my quilts are created using fused raw edge appliqué using Mistyfuse fusible web which gives me the freedom to work with any shape I want without having to worry about curved seams or points that don’t match up.
SAQA: Where do you create?BLEIWEISS: My studio is a little over 500 square feet and is located in the attic of my home. The room is divided into two sections, I use the smaller 16’ x 12’ side for my office which has lots of space for my desk, credenza and a vintage watchmakers cabinet that houses all my colored pencils, pens, markers and watercolor supplies. The other half of the room is a very generous 16’ x 20’ and that side of the room is reserved for all my quilt making supplies, my ironing station, cutting station, my sewing machine and my HQ16 sit down long arm machine.
I’ve lined one of the walls with bookcases and store my folded fabric by color family on them. I sort all my scraps by color into plastic bins (without the lids) and keep them lined up on top of the bookcases so they’re easy to grab and pick through. I like to have all my supplies out in view so that I can see what I have and be inspired by it all. I store my thread, sorted by color, on wall mounted thread racks.
Since I don’t have access to any water in my studio I have a separate dye studio, with a separate dedicated washing machine in the basement of my home which is where I do all my fabric dyeing.
SAQA: How do you reconcile the art-making and business sides of your creative life?
BLEIWEISS: One doesn’t exist without the other so I try to create a balance of each that allows me enough time to do the things I want to do instead of spending all my time on the things I have to do.
SAQA: What are you working on now?
BLEIWEISS: Right now I’m working on dyeing up some new fabrics to replenish my stash. Once that’s done I’ll start working on a new quilt.