Interview with yarn artist Suzanne Tidwell

 

Posted on December 12, 2011

I first heard of Suzanne Tidwell when she and Beth Newfeld clad a set of trees in yarn in Sammamish, WA. Then over the summer, I lost count of the number of people who wanted to talk about her fun, unexpected, colorful yarn-bombing of Occidental Park. So I caught up with Suzanne to learn a bit more about her installations and her knitting.

Suzanne Tidwell installing yarn in Occidental Park, Seattle

Name: Suzanne Tidwell
Location: Sammamish, WA
URL: http://www.facebook.com/tidwellarthttp://suzannetidwell.com/

Introduce yourself! What do you do with yarn?
I’m a fiber artist who loves to work LARGE! I enjoy the challenge, scale and pure craziness of BIG projects.  While I’m becoming known for my recent yarnstorming installations, I also work smaller with sewn paper napkins and knitted/felted environments. I think of myself as a serial fiber artist, callously dropping one technique in favor of another as my ideas evolve. My other work can be seen in local galleries and art shows.

Sammamish yarn bombing installation - spring trees
Sammamish trees, spring 2011

How did you get started with fiber art and yarn bombing?
Though I’ve always been active sewing, weaving and working on anything fiber-related, it wasn’t until I moved to Seattle seven years ago that I felt compelled to learn to knit and later spin.  I realized these were the components missing from my repertoire. I love the portability of knitting and always have a project on the go. My compulsive nature never has to stop creating!

The act of yarn bombing is a very recent pastime.  Since jumping back into the art world, I’ve answered tons of calls for artists to get my work into galleries, venues, and shows.  In the beginning, the responses were mostly rejections, but I persevered and slowly rejections began to slow and acceptance gained. In the meantime, knit graffiti filled my urge to get my work out there in more subtle ways.  It fueled my rebellious streak to put my newly acquired knitting talents on display and gave me the opportunity to show my work in an unconventional gallery. I encourage everyone to tag something!  Just try it once… even if no one else notices it, you’ll know it’s out there!

You mention “jumping into the art world”—can you tell us more?
I credit my leap into the art world to the UW Certificate in Fiber Arts program. I participated in the 2009-10 class.  The year-long study gave me the opportunity to re-think the argument of craft vs. art, helped me tremendously with idea generation, and gave me the tools to move forward as a professional artist. They gave me a list of local organizations both seeking art and interested in funding it. It’s all about the connections we make and I’m finding that one project leads to the next. In the past year, I’ve done projects with CoCA (Center on Contemporary Art), artEAST, 4Culture, and Seattle Parks & Recreation.

The Sammamish Trees were the project that began my foray into large scale public art, and it took nearly a year to get permission. While I’ve had the support of the City Council and Arts Commission, it’s been a challenge to convince certain members of my community of the validity of this type of art. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve started a conversation within my community. My friend Beth Newfeld and I funded the Winter installation ourselves.  The Spring installation was funded by a grant from 4Culture Site-Specific. The Indian Summer/Fall installation was sponsored by Lion Brand Yarn—they donated all the yarn for the project. Love the trees or hate them, they are temporary reminders not to take everything so seriously.

Artificial Light - yarn installation in Seattle
Occidental Park, Seattle, summer 2011

Your pieces are much larger than most yarn bombs I’ve seen; do you knit them all by hand, or by machine, or a combination?
I use a manual knitting machine, but pieces are hand sewn and often have hand knit details.  Without this essential tool, how else could I crank out miles of knitting in less than a month?!  I realize there’s a certain cachet to the idea of small, individually handknit projects dotting local landmarks. But out of these random acts springs forth a community of knitters and crocheters united in the joy of yarn bombing… sharing their love of fiber, softness and creative spirit!

Some people use terms like “yarn bombing,” “guerrilla knitting,” or “knit graffiti” interchangeably, but your work seems to be more on the commissioned art end of the spectrum. Do you only do yarnbombs that you have permission for? Do you take offense if people refer to your work as graffiti?
I don’t mind the terms yarn bombing or knit graffiti to describe my work.  All work needs to be categorized.  I feel my work sort of stretches the envelope of this particular medium and might be changing the nature of the field a little bit. My recent goals have been to create environments that not only draw you in by their unexpected nature, but fill your entire visual field with color. Working on the scale I’ve recently adopted means you have to ask for permission.  There’s so much work, time and money involved in these projects—it’s a necessity. That said, I’ve seen the argument on blogs that having permission sanctions my projects and therefore they cannot be categorized as graffiti.

Anything exciting coming up in your future?
My new project-based work has led me to the entirely new-to-me field of metal fabrication and welding.  The one downside to fiber work is that it lacks structure. I used to feel like I would forever be wrapping existing structures with fiber.  Learning to weld gives me the opportunity to create my own weatherproof structures to form and wrap and incorporate with fiber. I’m really excited to see where this new experiment will lead!

The final installation of the Sammamish trees will be taken down later this week on December 16—grab this chance to see them if you haven’t yet! Here’s the location.

Is there a fiber artist in the Pacific Northwest that you’d like to learn more about? Let me know who, and I’ll see if I can interview them. You can read my other interviews with designers, dyers and fiber artists here.

2

Comments

 

Vanessa

January 18, 2012

Hi Susan,

It’s Vanessa from the NorthEnd Knitters. I just wanted to say that I really like your blog & sock patterns, so much in fact that I linked to your blog from mine the other day.

I was also excited to see, from your site, that there’s a West Seattle knitting group! I joined their Ravelry group & hope to make it to one of their meetings soon.

Cheers,
V!

Reply

    Susan M.

    January 18, 2012

    Wooo, good to hear from you! I hope you stop by our group sometime, it’s fun!

    Reply

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