April 6, 2016
Susan Brubaker Knapp started quilting as a hobby which turned into a passion and a business. Susan teaches nationally and internationally, hosts “Quilting Arts TV,” and has produced numerous patterns, two books, and five video workshops.
Susan began with traditional hand quilting and needle turn appliqué, but embraced innovative machine techniques and started making art quilts in 2005. Her quilts have won national as well as local awards, and have been exhibited at national and international venues. Susan has won seven Best of Show awards at three different quilting guilds, with six different quilts.
Her work has been featured in several national magazines, and in the 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 Quilting Arts Calendars and the 2012 Quilt Art Engagement Calendar. It has graced the covers of four issues of Quilting Arts magazine.
How long have you been teaching and what got you started teaching?
I started teaching about 2005, at a local quilt shop. At the time, I was making mostly traditional quilts, both pieced and needle turn appliquéd. I had left my full time job as a page designer at The Charlotte Observer in 1999 to be at home with my first child, and was working as a freelance graphic designer. I was also designing quilts, and people started asking me to share the patterns. I have experience as a writer, editor, and graphic designer, so I thought, “Why not?” Then shops and guilds started asking me to teach from my patterns. I found that I loved teaching, and before long I was teaching nationally and internationally.
What is your favorite part about teaching?
It’s a thrill when I can help students find a new technique or skill that they love, and that they can adapt to use in their own work. I have come to realize that a large part of teaching, or of being a good teacher, is helping students get over their artistic or psychological “hangups.”
Many people have little demons in their heads (often echoes of old home economic teachers, art teachers, mothers or grandmothers) telling them that they aren’t doing it right. When they stop listening to those demons and start listening to their own instincts, desires and ideas, they can tap into their innate creativity and make art that comes from the heart.
Learning the skills and techniques is actually a pretty small part of making art. Learning how to tap into your creativity – and facing your fears about doing that – is the most important part.
What would you tell your prospective students are the best reasons for taking a workshop?
It might change your life in a big way. In 2006, I took a class with Bonnie McCaffery. To be honest, I took the class primarily as a 6-hour break from my young children! Going in, I had no interest in the subject or technique, but ended up loving the class, and it led to my first major art quilt, which was accepted into a exhibition shown at International Quilt Festival. The last art classes I took were in high school; I have an English undergraduate degree and a journalism masters degree. If you take a workshop with your mind open to the possibilities, you will always learn something, and you will grow artistically. And you never know just where it will take you!
I take classes whenever I can. I think it is really healthy for your brain to try new things, step out of your comfort zone, and challenge yourself.
What are you currently working on in your own art?
For the past three years, I’ve been working (off and on, between other pieces) on a large piece (it will probably be 80-90” square) that features all sorts of fish. It is called “We All Swim Together,” and is a wholecloth painted piece, and I think I have about 20 realistic fish painted on it so far. It documents mostly endangered fish species – those that are overfished, or at risk due to climate change or pollution. I have at least six other art quilts in progress and at least that many more in my head. My major techniques right now are wholecloth painting, fusible applique, and thread sketching. I’m also doing a lot of sketching, water color painting, and photography. Photos are the basis of nearly all of my work.
Where is your art currently being exhibited? I have work coming back from the “Insects to Elephants” exhibition at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts. And I’ll have two pieces going out to the exhibition “The Art of Native Plants” at The Blowing Rock (NC) Art & History Museum this spring.
What is your favorite art quote?
“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” – Francis Bacon
The art I create is my way of celebrating and documenting the deep mysteries of the world that are to be experienced only by close inspection of the miraculous details of nature.
Describe your studio.
My studio is a 14×14 foot guest room in my 100-year-old home. It houses all my fabric and supplies, plus all my teaching supplies. I’ve outgrown it, and I would love to have a larger studio where I could do messier stuff, and store all my supplies. But it is a dedicated space, and I’m really grateful for that.
Name some of your “can’t do without” tools/products.
My Bernina sewing machines
Aurifil 50-weight cotton thread
ProChemical & Dyes transparent acrylic textile paints
Lite Steam-a-Seam 2 (for fusible appliqué).
My website: www.bluemoonriver.com