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Susan Hill pillow
By Lauren Young
Many of the colorful wall tapestries created by Susan Hill have a story behind them. She often turns to her garden for inspiration, and one day she observed a pair of cardinals frantically flitting around. Susan quickly realized that one of the pair’s chicks had fallen out of the nest. “They were just going crazy,” she says. The Kansas City artist went outside and picked up the tiny baby bird and placed it back in its nest. This experience inspired one of her works, Parenting.
It’s not a surprise that Susan is an artist. “As a child, I was always coloring and drawing,” Susan says.
Susan’s career as an artist began during her high school years. Her parents converted their utility room into a painting studio for her. Susan recalls that whenever her family needed to get into the freezer, they would always have to move her painting supplies out of the way. But her “very serious hobby” earned Susan a bit of extra cash while in high school when she sold her paintings to friends.
She attended Kansas State University originally to study painting but graduated instead with a bachelor’s degree in interior design because she needed a way to make a living. “It turns out I didn’t do that for too long , and I’ve made a living as an artist,” she says.
Susan transitioned from interior designer to fiber artist in 1970 when she and her husband at the time, Steven Hill, decided to try their hand at being completely self-sufficient. Inspired by the book, Living the Good Life, Susan started to spin her own yarn and taught herself how to weave on a small Navajo loom Steven built for her. Soon, she graduated to a larger loom. Susan is predisposed to love fiber arts—her grandmother was a tailor and a milliner, her mother was a seamstress, and other family members sew.
Today Susan makes beautiful wall tapestries, pillows, and table runners. The bold, cheerful colors of her work light up any room. Thanks to her training as a painter, she approaches her work as a fiber artist much as she would with a canvas and paint. Her inspiration often comes from nature. Color is a driving force behind Susan’s pieces, and she finds many colors in nature, including her own garden. Her favorite colors to work with are reds, oranges, and greens.
Fifty percent of the fabric Susan uses in her artwork she weaves herself. She weaves each piece specifically to fit perfectly in her artwork. “The magic happens when I gather all the yarns around me,” she says.
Besides weaving fabric and using other readily available fabrics made from natural fibers, Susan uses multiple sewing techniques to add dimension to her creations. She uses machine stitching to draw on the material. Hand embroidery is used for shadowing and defining spaces. “If I need an area to have more interest, I might take a thread of the same color and do lots of stitches on top of it to give it an interesting shadowy effect,” Susan says.
Susan sells her artwork on her website and at five or six art fairs throughout the year. Her pieces range from $200 to $3,000.