Who first introduced you to a fiber art? Did your Granny teach you to sew or knit? Did a favorite aunt teach you to spin when you were very young? Were you inspired when you visited an historical reenactment with a weaving demonstration?
As a knitter, crocheter, spinner, needle felter, and seamstress, SueAnn DeVito’s love of the fiber arts has flourished since her mom taught her to knit when she was a young girl. SueAnn will be teaching how to make “Needle Felted Bobble Earrings” from 11:30 – 1:30 on Saturday, September 9th. Let’s meet SueAnn and then you can sign up for her class here.
Fiber College chooses a new theme each year. For 2017, it’s Re-Use, Re-Design, Re-Create. How do you incorporate any part of this theme into an important part of your life?
Right now I am working on re-creating myself from my corporate 9-5 job into my dream life as a fiber artist. All my life I have loved working with various materials to make unique items as gifts or to sell. As time goes on, I realize that I want to spend more and more of my time on creating beautiful and useful items. I have also found that my experience in teaching adults in the corporate world transfers directly into teaching fiber arts. It’s incredibly rewarding to help people gain a new skill while making something to cherish or give to a friend or loved one.
Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts.
I have been interested in fiber arts all my life. My mother started to teach me to sew, knit, embroider, and crochet before I ever started kindergarten. As a child, my family visited Upper Canada Village near Ottawa where we saw people spinning and weaving. I also visited the Victorian woolen mill there and was given a piece of wool roving, which I kept for many years. In middle school I made plush mice that I sold to my friends. I sewed many of my own clothes in middle school and I made my own prom dress from the Folkwear Gibson Girl blouse pattern that I adapted myself.
I have always been drawn to spinning, but was actually afraid to try it because I couldn’t imagine what I would do with all that yarn. I would occasionally crochet a hat or a scarf, but I never did much with crochet or knitting until quite recently.
As an adult, working full-time and caring for children meant that my fiber art endeavors were limited to making interesting Halloween costumes or Christmas crafts. But as my children grew up and left home, I found I had more time for fiber arts. I started by making felt flowers and hearts from crocheted wool, and then a friend suggested I try needle-felting. I started making and selling felted pins which I embellished with silk threads, beads and other objects, as well as mini, fuzzy pumpkins, embellished bags, shawl pins, and felted bowls.
A few years ago, I tried drop-spindling at the Common Ground Fair. I played with that off and on, but somehow never got going at it until I revisited Upper Canada Village again with my husband. We went to the same Victorian woolen mill that I had visited as a child and I was given another piece of roving. I bought an entire cone of roving from the gift store and pulled out a different drop-spindle. Suddenly, it clicked! That was when I knew I needed to get a wheel!
How/What have you re-used as an artist?
I am always on the lookout for old items to repurpose into new art. I especially love to make felt from old wool sweaters that I find at thrift stores and then cut them up to make cases, bags, and the bases for shawl pins. In addition to old sweaters, I love to use old buttons, keys, and other small items to embellish my work. I love the steampunk aesthetic, and I love to incorporate Victorian gadgetry whenever possible.
What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?
I think the best advice I have ever received as an artist is “It’s your project.” Several people have said this to me in one way or another. When one is learning something new, it’s tempting to ask “Am I doing this right?” The thing to remember is that it should make you happy. There is nothing wrong with trying something different. If nothing else, you will learn a lesson.
If you could re-design your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?
I don’t think I would change anything about my life as a fiber artist. I was fortunate to learn many of the basic skills when I was very young. Now I am expanding on those skills and learning new things just when I am ready to reinvent myself. Having the basic skills means that I can expand very quickly in whatever direction I choose.
What or who has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?
Certainly my mother has had the greatest impact on my abilities as a fiber artist. I have laughed with her at times about how she probably never imagined the kinds of things I would go on to make when she was teaching me as a child. She is now in her 90s and no longer knits, but she loves that I have picked up knitting and is always interested in my projects.
How does your art recreate YOU? What does that feel like?
My art re-creates me by helping me open up to my own feelings. My work life up to now has been very corporate. I have tended to focus on what is expected of me, how to do things the ‘right’ way (the company way). My work with fiber opens me up to imagine how I want things to be. It is very freeing to me to be able to let my imagination run wild. The more I work with fiber, especially wool, I find I feel very connected to the earth, the animals, and the people who have worked in this medium down the centuries. I love that I can make something that is both beautiful and useful.
What’s the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?
One thing I would like students to know about me is that I love to teach. I am a problem-solver, so I enjoy watching someone try to learn something new, and if they run into problems, it makes me really happy when I can make a suggestion that helps them move ahead in their own journey. I feel that it weaves our lives together in a small way.
Now that you’ve become acquainted with SueAnn, you can go sign up for her Fiber College class here.