Friday, January 13, 2012

Women Who Inspire Me ~ Sue Spargo

Pin Wheel Pin Keeper

I really can't remember if I first spoke with Sue in 2005 or 2006 after we opened Yellow Bird Art.  I owned a couple of her patterns prior to opening our shop, and found them utterly charming.  I loved the reference to traditional quilts, but there was something new going on with the pieced backgrounds and whimsical compositions, as well as the fabrics she selected.  Her work was a perfect fit for the style of our shop.  One of our goals with opening Yellow Bird Art was to provide inspirational teaching for our patrons, and Amy and I both thought Sue's work was the best way we could think of to begin the mission.  I was so surprised when Sue answered her phone (being sort of a star in our eyes).  She has a very soft, calm voice, and after a bit of discussion we decided on Crimson Clove for the class project.
Crimson Clove
 I was incredibly nervous when I drove to the airport to pick Sue up for that first workshop.  She had graciously agreed to stay at our home (after I assured her that we weren't weird people who'd put her on a cot in a damp basement) to save some money since we were a new shop.  The woman I picked up at the airport was quiet and unassuming.  I thought she was probably shy, but I discovered that she isn't. She's a quiet person and always seemed so calm to me.  I can hardly tell you how delightful it was to get to know Sue - she's very interested in things going on around her and in the world.  She has a keen sense of observation - she notices the small stuff and it shows up in her work.   She's one of those people who really listens when you have a conversation.
Urban Sac
Flower Bed

Our first class was small, but the second year the group was larger.  Those who came the first year came the second year and brought others along and that continued each year until we had to set limits on how many could take the workshops.  Sue and I would always spend time discussing the project she'd share with our quilters.  We wanted to provide a platform to allow Sue to expand her ideas with our very enthusiastic quilters and provide challenging but not overwhelming learning opportunities. Quilters admired Sue's teaching style - laid back, attentive, informative - time spent with her just feels comfortable.  Sue is one of those teachers who really connects with her students.  She'd always bring along a selection of her quilts, including whatever new project she had going to inspire students.  Although some of her techniques could look daunting at first view, she would thoroughly explain and demonstrate so that even our least confident quilter felt like she could master the work by the end of the workshop.  That takes a lot of teaching talent.  Although some quilters are most comfortable duplicating work (and there is nothing wrong with that - you're still going to make it your own) Sue always encourages those who want to follow their own muse.  Sue's belief in the students' inherent creativity gave them a new view of their own creativity, and we witnessed amazingly original designs unfold as quilters learned new techniques.

The Last Sue Spargo Class at Yellow Bird Art

Altered Textures

When you take a class with Sue it always looks like these photos with  Sue bent over a project with a group of students clustering around her.  We found Sue to be incredibly kind, generous and patient.  As her own style and method of working developed she encouraged others to expand their own creative "vocabulary".

We were always so thrilled to see Sue's work starting to appear in magazines like American Patchwork & Quilting, Australian Homespun Magazine, and Quiltmania.  Electric quilt produced a stand alone CD of Sue's quilt designs.  She appeared on The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims.
Pat Sloan interviewed her on Creative Talk Show.  She traveled to Vietnam with DellaQ to teach Vietnam quilters at Vietnam Quilts embellishment techniques.  She leads travel/quilt groups to Italy, she's working on a book that will be published by Quiltmania.  Renaissance Ribbons is producing delicious ribbons Sue and her sister have designed.  These are just highlights!
Sue is experiencing great success with her art!  Now, here's the thing.....some people are changed (negatively) by this sort of attention and success.  Yet Sue remains the same grounded, kind, sincere person she was when we first met her.

But, wait there's more.....  and it's the most important part.

Sue was married - a stay at home mom with four children who had a hobby she loved - quilting.  One day, out of the blue, Sue became a single parent - divorced.  She suddenly became THE financial support of her family.  She had been trained as a nurse in South Africa, but not licensed in the US, so that wasn't an option.

Silk Road
Crimson Tweed

I can't image the emotional upheaval and sorrow that must have enveloped this family.  What do you do to provide for your children?  How do you take care of your own needs?  This situation could create a bitter heart in the most resolute of us.  Yet, Sue and her four children have risen above all of it and what a fantastic story it is.  Sue's family - her parents, her sister, Wendy , and her four children all bonded together to tap into Sue's natural artistic talents and began a business called Sue Spargo Folk Art Quilts. Sue designed quilt patterns, self published books with her father's assistance, Wendy dyes the wool, velvet and silk fabrics and designs jewelry, together Sue and Wendy designed a line of fabric for P & B and they collaborate designing color lines, and all her children have worked in the business whether helping design items with Sue, or assisting with the packing and mailing of purchases to customers.  Together they overcame what could have been a huge catastrophe and created success on many levels.
Hand Dyed Wools & Velvets
Unique Embellishments

Sue has inspired me in so many ways ~
  • She trusted her own talent (passion) to bring success - with loads of hard work!
  • She didn't give up when it would have been easy to do so.
  • She remained a kind-hearted, generous person.
  • I've never heard her say an unkind thing about anyone.
  • She remains positive about all the good things this life can hold for us.
  • She stayed steady as a mom.  Her children's success in life is a testimony to a loving family.
  • She is receptive to new experiences in life - she's a woman who rises to the challenge.
  • She's not afraid to take risks.
  • She perseveres.
  • Her faith is steady.
  • She continually pushes her artistic boundaries and is always exploring new avenues of creativity.

Amelia Pillow
Circle of Friends Pillow

Yellow Bird Pincushion & Needle Keep Sue designed for our shop!
I'd bet that most of us can easily identify with that fear that accompanies change in our lives.  What should you do?  Is what you want to do good enough?  Will people like your work and respond favorably?  Then there's the really big question - do I really have any original talent or creativity?  Amy and I often referred to our "talentless boob" moments of doubt.  Finding admirable qualities in someone else can - at least I believe this - help us to find our own bearings.  They become a sort of reality touchstone.  When you witness someone face a dramatic challenge and not only overcome it, but use it as a springboard to something more meaningful in life it gives hope.  Of course we have to find our own authentic voice and that takes dedication, a willingness to take chances (some of which may fail), the determination to persevere when things don't come out right and plain old roll up your sleeves hard work.

Thanks Sue, for the inspiration!  You've touched my life (and I bet many others') with your gentle and optimistic approach to life.
Oh, she has a sense of humor too!

You're the best!



  1. I came to your blog today from Sue's, and I'm really glad I did. I'm now lucky #7 of your Followers.

    You write really well and are fun to read. I LOVE hearing about the pic of your new roof it looks to me like rustic red, not orange, and once the trim is painted will look great.

    Anyway - I agree with you about Sue as a person and designer. Triple A, huh?

    PS...I'm the visitor from Chicago on your list over there.

  2. Get out! I have loved Sue and her work for years now! She wouldn't remember me but I took a class in Arkansas from her several years ago but knew about her before that but now I can't remember how! LOL! I was into wool though and hooked wool rugs from wool clothing I would get at Good Will stores etc. Then I got into wool applique and now I'm crocheting and knitting (just learning this one) and felting the wool afterwards. It's a great way to hide those "mistakes"! Ha! Ha!
    Thanks you for such a great post about Sue and the pictures are SO inspiring! I'll be following you from now on!

  3. That's my mom! Thank you for putting in words what a wonderful, caring, passionate, inspiring, selfless woman she is! I love her so much and am inspired by her everyday.

    1. Kelly, I know she loves you right back! She is one of the most amazing women I've ever known!

  4. I could not have described her better, you have written a beautiful post about a most admirable woman. I am pleased to call her my friend too.

  5. I love Sue too! I am taking a worshop from her at the end of March.
    I am so excited!!!!!
    This is a beautiful tribute.
    Lovely, just lovely.