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Featured Artist: Susan Glinert Stevens of Fleegle’s Blog and The Gossamer Web

by The SpinArtiste on May 10, 2012

 

Publisher’s Notes:  I’m not sure how Susan Glinert Stevens of Fleegle’s Blog and The Gossamer Web first caught my attention.  When “Fleegle Spins Supported” came out, I quickly ordered a copy.  Susan is a woman of many talents:  supported spinning, lace knitting, and dyeing to name just a few.  I thought my Spin Artiste friends would enjoy getting to know more about Susan.

Spin Artiste (SA):  Hello, Susan. I saw the amazing sweater you created when you were only 8 years old; you truly have a gift. Tell us about your fiber journey.

Susan Glinert (SG):  My mother taught me to knit when I was two as a distraction on the subway, which I hated as only a quiet two-year-old could. I made all my own sweaters while I was growing up and stocked a hope chest with a depressing assortment of doilies and tablecloths, none of which I ever actually used. I do still have this sweater and even wear it occasionally. Mother made me make it in a medium size, so it still fits.

I first learned to spin in 1969 and put myself through graduate school spinning dog hair and selling the fleeces of my non-white sheep. In those days, colored fleece was a rarity. I’ve never stopped knitting or spinning for more than a few months at a time. I knit in the morning and spin in the evening. Both are relaxing and soothing.

My preferences haven’t changed much over the years. I still dislike brown and adore gradient colorations. I know for a fact that I still see my fiber and color worlds the same as I did in my twenties. I wrote a blog post about a knitted shawl last year, and one of the commenters remarked that I reminded him of his ex-wife, who had the same unique perspective on design that I did. Sure enough, the writer turned out to be my ex-husband, after 40 years of silence. For reasons that were never clear to me, he was browsing knitting blogs and stumbled on mine.

My design constancy still startles me, because we are always told our tastes change as we get older. Well, I made this macramé hanging around 1972…and inadvertently bought a matching batt around 2009!

 

 

I don’t consider myself a designer—I am more of an improviser. I like to invent new, more efficient ways of knitting, such as the fleegle heel (No holes! No short rows!), no-purl garter stitch in the round, slipless directional decreases, and seamless methods of garment design because I hate sewing. I also like tool improvement, for example, adapting flexible cables to interchangeable needles that weren’t designed for them and grinding down the shafts of crochet hooks to accommodate more beads:

If I can make a process simpler and make my readers laugh at the same time, that’s candy for me!

 

 

 

 

SA:  Oh, my gosh!  You already have me laughing!!   Who or what would you consider to be your artistic muse?

SG:  Heh. I would have to point to Photoshop as my artistic muse. This software lets me experiment with ideas, colors, and designs in a non-destructive fashion and I can happily play for hours with the program’s incredible toolbox. I mean, how else can you put hair on a frog when you need to?

For Japanese embroidery, I can point to a painter named Kawanabe Kyōsai, whose humorous prints not only make me laugh, but inspire me to re-create them in silks and gold thread. I have no specific knitting muse other than Ravelry, whose wealth of projects is itself a fabulous inspiration.

SA:  You are, without a doubt, the first person in the (short) history of Spinartiste.com to point to software as an inspiration!  But, I see your point.  Let’s shift from software to other equipment — tell us a little about the equipment you use and what is your personal favorite?

SG:  My favorite knitting needles are bamboo or wooden circulars, in particular, the ebony lace needles my husband made for me. They are exceptionally pointy and have perfectly smooth joins.

 

 

 

I don’t care for fancy accoutrements—my preferred stitch markers are handmade out of cotton thread and I store my projects in plastic bags. I own very few gizmos and gadgets, but admit that I am fond of KnitPicks multi-color knitting thimble and adore my little Folca box, which holds markers, snips, and yarn needles in a compact, convenient little package.

 

 

As for spinning, I prefer the sharply pointed, well-balanced Tibetans made by Neal Brand, Malcolm Fielding, and The Spanish Peacock. I don’t really have a favorite one—all of them are equally lovely to use. I admit that I have millions a fair number of spindles, but hey, I needed them for the book, or so I keep telling myself. I ply only with my Hansen electric spinner, Plying, like sewing, is a task that I try to avoid or finish as quickly as possible.

My favorite blend to spin is merino/angora/silk, or merino/cashmere or merino/silk, or, um, superfine merino, camel/silk, qiviut, vicuna, huarizo, um…Well, let’s move on to say that my least favorite fiber is carbonized bamboo. I get to quote from my book here!

“A very special Double Plus Ungood award goes to the Carbonized Bamboo fiber. It’s gritty, unpleasant feel and lugubrious color puts it in a class by itself.”

 

We recently bought a Fancy Kitty Little Tom carder to make batts for the shop—it’s a terrific piece of equipment and makes lovely, smooth batts in gradients, rainbows, and could probably make brown ones if I could bear to run such a color through it.

 

 

 

 

SA:  I guess I will forego asking for that special brown batt I was wondering about… Congratulations on the release of your new book, Fleegle Spins Supported. What inspired you to write your book?

SG:  I have a dear friend who decided to take up supported spinning, and every morning, my Ravelry inbox would be overflowing with her questions. I’d spend hours answering them, and quickly realized that the things that puzzled her were the things that mystify all beginning supported spinners. So I copied my answers into an outline, and within a few months, I had a good slice of the book written. Now when she asks a question, I can direct her to page such-and-such and drink my coffee in peace.

SA:  What are you hoping that your audience will take away from your book?

SG:  I want people to realize that using supported spindles isn’t difficult. It just requires a bit of practice before it becomes an addictive habit. I also want them to laugh as much as possible, which is why I included such obscure, but gripping topics, as the truth about Polyester Quintapeds, the origins of genuine frog hair, and detailed directions for spinning straw into gold (including how to make a philosopher’s stone in your own kitchen!).

SA:  Those little extras are one of the things that hooked me on the book. I’d love to write a book someday but I am a bit overwhelmed at the prospect, tell us, what was your biggest challenge in writing your book?

SG:  I didn’t have any difficulties actually writing the book. The biggest challenge was finding all the typos and editing the videos. Fortunately, I had sharp-eyed copy editors and a sophisticated video editor that became mostly user-friendly after I spent a week figuring out what all the little buttons were for. The trickiest part of the text, though, was being tactful about Truly Dreadful spindles. My circumspect Japanese persona came in handy while writing about them.

SA:   What did you learn about yourself and your art from writing this book?

SG:  At the expense of seeming like an insensitive clod, I am afraid I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t know prior to writing the book. I’ve been in publishing for 35 years and am an expert in every facet—writing, editing, and layout—so the book presented no special challenge to me. I have to say that I enjoyed the process immensely and didn’t consider it work because I could determine every aspect of the final product.

 

 

I especially enjoyed playing with my muse, Photoshop:

 

 

 

Well, wait. I did learn one valuable life lesson: If you are huddled protectively over a pile of milkweed that you just carefully and neatly teased out of the pods, don’t let your husband turn on the ceiling fan unless you find milkweed wallpaper appealing.

SA:  So, in this case, you were perfectly poised to step into writing your own work…just as the milkweed was perfectly poised to take a trip to your ceiling.   I also noticed that you use a lot of colored batts and also mixed colors in your pieces; what inspires you to use such a variety of colors, and what is your favorite color combination?

SG:  I am inspired by sunsets, because they are a myriad of colors shading into one another. Sunsets are not only the traditional red and orange, but have lovely and unusual variations—green/yellow, blue/purple, varieties of mauve…if I need inspiration, I just have to look out the window every evening.

I have no favorite color combination—all colors are beautiful, except for brown, a color I refuse to use, dye, or look at except for tree bark.

 

 

SA:  Poor brown…aside from our difference about brown, we share a passion for lace knitting.   You seem to knit so many elegant laces; what inspired you to branch out into lace-knitting?

SG:  I’ve been knitting lace since I was eight years old, so I didn’t really branch out into it. I keep knitting it because it’s pretty and a bit of a challenge.  I am fascinated by the idea that you can make stunning patterns out of holes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SA:   What can you tell us about your studio/workspace?

SG:  I have a studio where I do my Japanese embroidery, for which I prefer a peaceful, uncluttered workspace. It features white walls, a neutral gray carpet against which I can choose color schemes, and two walls of windows, one of which displays the mountains and the other a small Japanese garden. The room is utterly stark otherwise. I am not inspired by jumbles of yarn and fiber all over the place—all materials remain inside drawers until I need them. I see designs and colors inside my head and external piles of stuff are distracting. I do my knitting and spinning in the kitchen, though, because I am usually simultaneously reading a book on a small laptop in front of me.

SA:  Tell us about one of your recent pieces of which you are most proud?

SG:  I’d have to say my Percy shawl. I spun the yarn and the colors blended together so well! Nobody was more surprise than I was when I saw the finished piece. I love the big, faceted glass beads (although I am sure that real emeralds would look even prettier). They weight the shawl and give it a lovely drape. And unlike mostly-invisible-until-you-zoom-in teeny, tiny beads, the ones I used are large enough to be seen as part of the design.

 

 

SA:   What are your other artistic interests, when you’re not working with fibers?

SG:  I have been doing Japanese embroidery for 35 years, ten of them in a traditional Japanese studio in Japan, where I earned professional status. I have students from all over the world who come to study with me. Japanese embroidery requires an intense commitment, as the skill set is complex, and I usually find it more immersive than knitting. It is however, both physically and mentally challenging, but the final result can be spectacular.

 

 

 

SA:  What fiber that you work with best describes your personality?

SG:  Well, I personally would describe myself as a luxurious blend of superfine merino, angora, and silk. However, I consulted a few, um, friends and the votes were: 1 for kapok, 1 for horsehair, 2 for nettle, and 1 for bran muffin. Your readers can draw their own conclusions.

 

 

 

SA:  Susan, so somewhere between merino/angora/silk and bran muffin…got it.  Seriously though, thanks so much — you know I love the book and you are a delight.  We look forward to seeing more of your wonderful creations over at http://fleeglesblog.blogspot.com/ and The Gossamer Web!! 

 

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