I think I was born with fabric and thread woven into my DNA. Sewing has been my passion for as long as I can remember. I have a little bib that I embroidered for my baby sister before I was five years old.
I made many of my own clothes while still in elementary school.
I have been fascinated with sewing for as long as I can remember. I love the “figuring things out” part of stitching! I took a sewing machine to my dorm room in college, where I continued to sew while earning a degree in chemistry (yeah, go figure!). After I graduated and got a job, a new sewing machine was my first major purchase, and I participated in the only class I ever took, a tailoring class in which I made a man’s suit coat. In 1988, I happened to come across a copy of one of the first issues of Sew Beautiful magazine, an heirloom sewing publication, and was enchanted with the delicate lace confections in its pages. I grew up on a Missouri farm, and I had never seen such dresses! I got my hands on some of the lovely batistes and laces, a book or two, and was on my way! Because I knew how to sew, I had no trouble at all teaching myself how to make these frothy, lacy little designs. Within a little over a year, I was sewing for the magazine and Martha Pullen Co. I designed and taught and wrote and made countless projects, honing my skills and allowing my imagination to soar.
I had previously taught only a handful of sewing classes when I was asked to teach at a Martha Pullen School of Art Fashion event. These were 7-day events, attended by about 350 students. Talk about jumping straight into the frying pan! The first time I taught at this, I couldn’t sleep, and my stomach hurt. Could I handle it? Most of the students were decades older than I was. But handle it I did, and I guess I did all right, because I taught at these bi-annual events over 35 times!
At one of those first week-long events, I met Sue Hausmann (who is also a Craftsy instructor.) Home sewing machines with digitized machine embroidery capabilities were just coming out on the market, and she arranged for me to get a machine so I could teach on it at the next event. That’s how I was introduced to machine embroidery! The first time I taught a machine embroidery class was truly memorable. I had designed a project that was waaaaay too ambitious, and I had 37 students in my class, none of whom had ever touched an embroidery sewing machine before! Thirty-seven noisy machines, 37 complete novices, and no microphone! Talk about exhausted and hoarse…
I started quilting in 2004. When I entered my first quilt in the Houston Quilt Festival contest and won a blue ribbon in my category, I was hooked! I’ve been designing and making quilts incorporating machine embroidery as an integral part of the design ever since, and I’ve been fortunate to win some very nice awards!
During all these years of sewing and teaching, I have met many lovely people. Here is an example: Five years ago, on May 22, 2011, a devastating F-5 tornado destroyed about one-third of Joplin, MO. I live just 25 miles north of Joplin, and watched the news reports in horror. I realized that I could not do much to help with the clean-up and rebuilding. I thought of all the families and children who had lost everything.
I had always been excited about having a new first-day-of-school dress for each year of school.
School would start in the fall. So I had this idea of asking my sewing friends from around the country to make first-day-of-school garments to give to these kids. I sent out a newsletter with my idea. Within minutes it went viral! I spent hours each day answering questions and trying to keep up with the response. I knew I had a lot of generous sewing friends; I just didn’t know how many!
I asked the makers to include little notes of love and encouragement to the unknown recipients of their stitching.
I had thought that I might receive two or three hundred garments. Instead, I received almost 1500!
Distributing the clothes was another challenge, but that was figured out at the last minute. Then, the media descended! The project was featured on local media, and also Good Morning America. I was interviewed by ABC World News Radio, and was on CBS Evening News. A magazine article followed.
That was a summer to remember. The outpouring of generosity was mind-blowing! And this all happened because these people were my contacts from years and years of teaching and writing. They knew and trusted me. I was humbled.
I kept teaching and sewing and embroidering and writing and quilting. Making beautiful things with fabric and thread is my refuge. Sewing has helped me survive the darkest days of my life, the years after my son died. Sewing makes me feel good. I can actually feel myself relax and calm when I sit at my machine and sew. I suppose it’s a drug, of sorts, but a good drug. Everyone needs that place where they feel good, and for many it is in making. Making, creating, is good for the soul. I hope with my teaching that I can help others find that place where they feel good, where they can work at something and challenge themselves, accomplish goals, and create beauty.
So many events and experiences in my life are tied inextricably to garments, quilts, or other items I have stitched. Come along with me as I re-visit projects old and new!
Susan, I’m enjoying reading about your creations and hope to sign up for the machine embroidery class. Can you tell me a little more about the creation on the top page of your blog? It’s sensational. Are these your designs? From someone else? And the quilt pattern…where could I find that?
I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog! The quilt at the top of my blog is “Radiance.” The embroidery designs are from http://www.zundtdesign.com, but the design of the quilt is all mine. I made it as a show quilt in 2011, and it won the best machine workmanship award at both Houston and Paducah.
You can see full and detail images of it on my website http://www.susanstewartdesigns.com/gallery-detail.php?ID=29. There is no pattern for this quilt.
Hi Susan.. Your work is just beautiful! I’m wondering.Do you make the fabric top something like a whole quilt then put the embroidery on or is it made in segments and then sewed together? Also, what fabric do you use ? Thank you.
Thank you, Sandra! Most of my quilts are either whole cloth, or the piecing is done first, and then the embroidery added. I like to have my embroidery flow over the seamlines. So most of the embroidery is done on the full quilt top, not segments. What fabric? It depends on the quilt! I like shimmery fabrics, like Robert Kaufman Radiance, and cotton sateen, because it shows the quilting so beautifully. I also like Cherrywood fabrics, and pretty much all things woven! 🙂
Your work is incredible! I also starting sewing at a young age (age 9 making bibs for my new baby sister…she’s now 61) and also made my clothes by watching my incredibly talented Mother sew all our clothes! She was so talented and patient as a teacher. I know she would be thrilled if she had been able to have one of these great quilting ad embroidery machines. I still have her original Singer and use it along with my Destiny 2 , my Brother Serger. and two Kemores I inherited. It’s great to carry on traditions, share talents and honor those of the previous generation who took the time to teach us. Way back then, I was learning on a machine that was a trendle and sewed as I planted my feet on the base in a see-saw motion. Now with my Brother Destiny 2, my computer sets up my designs, But Heirlooms are priceless and my Brother machine helps me make Heirlooms for the next generation.