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QUILTER PROFILE: Susan Druding

Susan DrudingSusan Druding, a self-described "tinkerer," in the early 1970s got interested in the inner workings of a loom, and it was all over.

"I was originally working on my Ph.D. in Marine Ecology at U.C. Berkeley and bought a used handweaving loom for 'fun' after seeing a friend with one. I was fascinated with the mechanical aspects of the loom. I wound up quitting Zoology grad school and switching to getting an M.A. in the Environmental Design College at UCB in textiles (emphasis on weaving, textile history and surface design). This was in the early '70s. I studied with a wonderful man as my major professor, Ed Rossbach, who was an inspiration to many art textile students in his career (he is now retired). I had planned to teach college level textile history with my degree.

These plans were waylaid when "in 1971 I started a spinning-dyeing retail business called Straw Into Gold in Berkeley (before I finished my M.A.). It is still going, and in about 1980 we added a wholesale branch, Crystal Palace Yarns, which wholesales yarn, fibers, Ashford spinning wheels and other fiber arts equipment. We have a Web page up at http://www.straw.com."

Susan's other tinkerer's passion, computers, began about 10 years later, and has combined with her textile interests to make her one of the most pervasive and knowledgeable voices on quilting and other textile arts on the internet.

"I got my first computer (an Osborne I) in about 1980, switched to PCs when the Osborne era ended and continued upgrading as faster and newer PCs became available. I held off getting a modem as I suspected I'd get 'hooked' pretty fast. Finally, in 1993, I couldn't stand it anymore, got a modem and chose Delphi for my service as they were the first ones to offer Internet access. (This was before the graphical Web was a presence. I learned to access the earlier Web pages in text-only mode from Delphi). Once there I looked around and realized there were no textile forums of any kind. Delphi was a place where you could start your own forums and so I began the Textile Arts Forum (TAF) and gradually gathered fiber and fabric people."

Through all of these years, Susan's focus was on weaving and yarns, and although quilters comprised an increasing presence on the Textile Arts Forum, her interest took a while to ripen:

"A good friend, Liza Prior Lucy (co-author of a book with Kaffe Fassett, 'Glorious Patchwork' published in September 1997) began quilting several years ago and I started getting intrigued. I've been a weaver, dyer, spinner, knitter, silk screen printer, but had never tried quilting. Several former weavers moved to quilting years ago (Yvonne Porcella is an old friend from weaving days) so I was aware of it, but my fiber interest was quite intense and since my business is in spinning, spinning wheels, knitting and weaving yarns I never had time to try it.

"When I hit 50 I decided it was time to go back to my 'roots' and get back into art textiles. I was thinking of weaving again. But TAF was beginning to draw a lot of quilters and I asked questions and began buying quilting books and reading everything I could. This, tied with the interest and encouragement from my friend Liza, and I was off and running. (and buying fabric like a mad woman to 'catch up' for all those years). I even found a Featherweight within a month of searching."

Because of her considerable background in textiles and her academic training, Susan entered quilting with an experimental mindset. "My 'art textile' background at Cal made me unafraid to do 'oddball quilts' from the start. My thesis at Berkeley had included knotted hanging chairs of poly tubing, a giant willow basket and other "textile body cocoons" (the title of my thesis show) so I sort of jumped in. I used to do a lot of sewing of clothes (on my treadle Singer!) so I wasn't too insecure about sewing. I'd never used a rotary cutter before though and that only took about 5 minutes to fall in love with! (Liza gave me a lesson on her dining room table along with my first paper-piecing lesson).

"Well, so far I've never made a 'real quilt' (ie. a full-sized one for a bed) although I've finished one quilt top as a test of one of the patterns from 'Glorious Patchwork.' I've not bordered it or layered it yet. I've done a baby quilt to give away, too. It was all rather wild African fabric with lots of animals in it.

"My first two pieces were a paper-pieced Pineapple block birthday wall hanging for my nephew - and a 45" x 45" Crazy Quilt (and I mean 'crazy') for my niece learning to use my new Pfaff 7550 stitches and lots of weird fabrics (sewn onto a muslin foundation). (I've since upgraded to the new 7570 Pfaff and am learning to do the computer programming of the embroidery hoop for use in art quilts.)

Silk Is Busting Out All Over"I was invited to join a small online quilting group which does group shows internationally and I finished an all-silk (fabric, batting, thread and silk cocoons) piece called 'Silk is Busting Out All Over.' It starts with traditional square-in-square blocks and then 'comes apart' to wind up with blocks with slits and embroidered silk cocoons spilling out."

Asked about the origins of this highly original quilt, Susan says:

"I'm a longtime silk fancier. I once did a fat issue of a newsletter I published in the late '70s-early '80s all on silk and called it The Silk Issue. I still get occasional mail asking for a copy (long out of print, but I hope to get it all scanned in and online someday from one of the 3 copies I kept).

"I got the silk batting for the quilt from a mill in Italy from whom we buy our silk yarn, but he doesn't make it anymore, I've been hoarding it. The Silk Cocoons came from a man from Egypt who is raising silk in the Nile Valley for super-$$ hand-knotted pile rugs. He has revitalized his grandfather's silk throwing business, he planted 5 acres of mulberry in the Nile Valley for his worms! I quilted it with 3 strands at once through the needle of very, very fine 'weaving' weight silk on my Pfaff.

"I just kept thinking of how silk can look so many different ways and still behave 'as silk' and got the idea of a wall quilt which starts out 'traditional' and turns into 'wild worms' at the bottom."

Susan's other quilts tend to be equally unconventional:

"I entered the '96 Hoffman Challenge (the one with the Flag fabric) and did a piece called 'Berkeley in the Sixties, A Protest Quilt' - it's made of paper-pieced 'picket signs' with lots of slogans from the '60s : 'Free Huey,' 'Impeach Nixon,' 'Make Quilts Not Bombs' (well, OK, I made that one up!), etc. I was pretty shocked that it was accepted and it's now touring with the exhibit until end of fall '97.

"I recently sent off another quilt for a show for the online group - it's called 'Women Commemorated.' It's a 'stamp' quilt. I decided I wanted to learn about ink jet transfer printing (using the Canon transfer papers) and I pulled 100% of the images from the Web - first I searched and found lots of real postage stamp images (using the newsgroup for stamp collectors to find the Web pages with stamps on them), then of images of women I wanted to honor on these stamps (by searching all over women's pages and archive photos sites). By manipulating the images in my computer graphics program I took the original face (usually a man) off the stamp and put the women on the stamps. My quilt has 'stamps' on it for a wide range of women in arts, sports, politics, science, 'fable': Eleanor Roosevelt, Anita Hill, Whoopie Goldberg, Xena, Margaret Sanger, Minnie Mouse, Billie Holiday, Eartha Kitt, Jane Addams Hull, Wonder Woman, Emma Peel, etc etc. I did a 'take off' of a 9-patch quilt, but the patches are 9-patches of stamps. I'll be putting some images of this up on my Web pages soon.

"I'm working on the 1997 Hoffman Challenge now (doing circular piecing) and also I'm just starting on a small wall quilt for a group of quilts that is to go to Japan for the Yokohama show. This one is going to be on a SUSHI theme. I've photographed Sushi with my new digital camera and plan to do transfer printing and quilting and beading (beads added to look like fish roe) on it with a three dimensional surface. I think I'm going to call it 'Sushi Jewels.'"

Susan's interest in computers and the internet has led her to her current online interest as host for the quilting portion of "The Mining Company" website. She cut her teeth at Delphi:

"I really credit Delphi and some of the wonderful support I got there technically when I first arrived in 'cyberspace' to my 'success' in other areas online. There is a guru on Delphi named Walt Howe who ran a forum filled with technical know-how. He wrote one of the first books on how to use the Internet (in the days when you went to a computer book area in a bookstore and there were maybe 6 titles to do with the Internet!) He is one of the most patient and knowledgeable people I've met online and helped many people understand the Structure of the Net and then the Web. He still has forums called Navigating and Publishing on the Web on Delphi (which are now open free to the public, I highly recommend visiting him at http://www.delphi.com).

"With the huge surge on the Web of graphics all the services made major adjustments - I was briefly on Compuserve and saw how large and busy the textile arts areas could be! Changes at Delphi resulted in my original TAF forum being divided into 3 parts to allow for greater access to topic categories and expansion. My original Textile Arts Forum became the purely 'fiber' area for yarns and fiber, two new forums were opened - one for Quilting under the able leadership of Judy Smith (the forum is called Quilting Arts Forum, or QAF, to 'partner' TAF) and one for Sewing, also hosted by Judy. These 3 are all open on Delphi for free now.

"I turned TAF over to Rita Levine, who had been one of the original co-hosts on TAF. While still active (I also help Rita do the TAF Web pages) I was beginning to feel that the narrowing of the focus of TAF was getting a bit close to what my real-life fiber business was and I felt it very important to keep TAF completely non-commercial. With the possiblity of having advertising sponsors it seemed inappropriate for me to host it any longer. I guess I think of myself as the 'emeritus' ex-host?

"But, I was getting more and more into quilting. I read in the New York Times last Feb. '97 about the Mining Company startup (I'd been involved with the startup iGuide site -along with some other Delphi hosts- that had been terminated in a rather messy way by MCI and Rupert Murdoch. I was to have been the Arts & Crafts Host there) and I saw that The Mining Co. was being organized by Scott Kurnit, the original idea-man behind iGuide. I went to look it over and saw, to my surprise, that no one had been accepted yet for the Quilting Guide slot. (The way one applies for a Guide position on the Mining Company is by doing a sample template Web Page - it's a test page which shows your HTML skills and your knowledge of your area of interest at the same time. I was accepted in 48 hours! I was impressed with the organization I saw there. I continue to be very favorably impressed after my 5+ months there. There are still many interesting areas open - going to http://www.miningco.com will show what is available.)

"I'm a real 'data nut.' I've always loved to collect facts and figures and examples of things. I guess this is one of my fascinations with the Web. This Quilting Guide thing has really been a blast to do. Each week I write and post a new feature article and a new series of NetFinds (5-6 links of interest). All the links I find are annotated by me to tell a bit about them, warn of image sizes, point out strengths and weaknesses. I've started a little 'Quilter's Nuggets' newsletter to let people know what they'll find each week at my site at http://quilting.miningco.com. I pick topics in a wide range of interests: history, technique, dyeing, ethnic and design inspirations and so on. All the Guides are pledged not to 'play favorites' or do anything commercial themselves so it's really like being a writer for a quilt magazine, but with no editor telling me what to write!"

Susan uses computers directly in her quilt design as well. "I own both EQ3 and QuiltPro," she says. "I use several different graphics programs and recently bought a Wacom digitizing tablet with Fractal PAINTER program - I have a lot to learn on that! I mostly use EQ3 for playing with quilt designs. I would like to master QuiltPro too, but haven't had the time. I love paper-piecing and think in terms of that first before I think of other techniques. I have really learned to love rotary cutters, too. The idea of tracing with a pencil and cutting out a lot of pieces from templates isn't appealing to me. I am working on rotary cutting from templates now for a circular piece.

"I've just upgraded to a Pfaff 7570 and am learning to digitize larger image areas in the hoops - it has a lot of potential for quilters!"

One of the aspects Susan finds most gratifying about "computer quilting" is the contact it brings her with quilters all over the world. Asked if she thinks the increasing electronic connections among quilters will "homogenize" quilting worldwide, she says:

"I don't think international idea exchange will homogenize Art Quilting as that makes use of what each person does as an individual artist and seems to cross borders wonderfully. I love seeing, for example, the Art Quilts of Japanese quilters - no matter how much Japanese fabric an American quilter might put into a quilt it'll never look the same as one done by a Japanese quilter.

"I am a bit concerned that the USA-Quilt 'look' is so omnipresent. I love our domestic quilts, but seeing windows full of Debby Mumm country-style projects and patterns in the shop I visited in Paris was a bit off-putting. 4/5 of the shop was all USA-derived fabrics. Almost no French influence at all! But, I suspect that as quilting 'matures' in the newer markets that are getting involved in Europe and elsewhere that the local personality and culture will start to emerge more strongly. The Australians and the New Zealand quilters already seem to have a 'voice' in many of their quilts.

"I do see the Net as a wonderful opportunity for sharing with each other. One of my first fabric swaps was with a quilter in France I met on Compuserve - she wanted Hoffman and I wanted Toiles de Jouy. We were both happy with the trade and I was able to meet her a year later when she was in the USA.

"The group with whom I did the Silk is Busting piece and the Women Commemorated has members in Europe, New Zealand, Israel and Canada as well as in the USA. It's a thrill to see their work appear in magazines and feel a real connection with people I've never met.

"The Quilting site I'm doing on the Mining Company is bringing me regular mail from quilters all over the world and that's one of the things I love the most about doing this!"

From her early tinkerings with a loom, to early online pioneering, to international quilting webmaster and successful business owner, Susan Druding has blazed her own very unique trail in fiber arts and cyberspace. Zoology's loss has been all of our gain.

 


 

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