Art, fiber art, Key West, making things, quilts

Susan Lenz, Fiber Whisperer

Susan Lenz is a prolific fiber artist. I first encountered her work in Quilting Arts and was struck by the feeling that this was not just ‘same old, same old’ all over again. This was work I had never seen before.

When I heard that Susan Lenz was a March artist-in-residence at The Studios Key West my muse tapped me on the shoulder.  Lured,  I could not resist taking a break from the writing and working with something substantial, tactile, visual.

It starts off so simply


Susan was generous with knowledge and materials, inviting us to take whatever we needed for our pieces. Much of her stash is recycled, bits of this and that, a milliners veil, old sequins, a sleeve from an old silk blouse, a gift from a friend . . .

Susan is a framer by trade – an artist by temperament and calling-  and brought these so we could leave with finished pieces. By days end, the table had been savaged – nothing remained! I have taken many classes and rarely leave with something finished.

Here’s an example of the kind of work we produced in class. This piece uses WonderUnder, Angelina fibers, silk fiber, beads, polyester velvet (because it melts easily).

Here are two finished pieces – in the brown frame by Diane Savicky and mine framed in black.

Much of what Susan creates has a cathedral-like feel to it.

. . . like stained-glass windows – incredible that this came from fabric, stitches, beads. It is stiff, has morphed into something  beyond the scope of its components. Susan uses whatever works,  totally open to innovation. When asked how a particular material works, she says “try it” then stands back to take in the effects of the technique.

Later I visited her on the back porch of her Ashe street residency – serendipitously (is that a word?) enough, in the same space my sister occupied the month before. I found her on the porch, sewing buttons onto a large piece of canvas.

Which turned out to be the back of an extraordinary whole cloth quilt in cream Dupioni silk – grave rubbings. I lifted this image (with permission) from Susan’s blogpost after I realized that I hadn’t taken an image of this remarkable piece in its entirety.

Here are some close-ups. Susan uses silk and Crayola Jumbos then layers with felt, machine quilts around the images, finally attaching the canvas backing by stitching buttons on the back by hand through all three layers.

Although she does not consider her work to be particularly political, Susan has strong opinions which I was happy to hear.  I share her anger as quoted in a piece by Susan Levi Wallach for Jasper magazine .  “It still makes me mad that women are often still considered second-class artists,” she says, “especially those working in fibers.”

Susan Lenz’s work is rich in cultural significance – either deliberately playful or profoundly respectful of the subjects they embrace. The buttons were from a closed mental health facility.  Here they are again, embellishing an outfit.

Neck detail.

Here’s a bag that looks like leather – made from paper and stitch to be modeled with the outfit.


Just before leaving her digs, I snapped this image – all work she created in her monthlong residency. Prolific & inspired, her output all the more impressive when I discovered that she helped at TSKW in many ways, volunteering for whatever was needed, including posing for a life drawing class when the model was a no-show!

In her spare time Susan worked on wrapping and embroidering vintage and antique spools of thread – eye candy for fabric artists.

A little birdy told me that she may be back next year to teach.  I sure hope so. In the meantime her work continues to morph and astound – reaching a larger and larger audience, transcending the narrow definition of what it once meant to work in fiber.


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