Designing Weavers: Suzanne Halvorson
Peace Tent design, woven and photographed by Suzanne Halvorson.
SN: I first met Suzanne while working on my MFA in studio art at Indiana University. In addition to weaving, we have many other things in common, knowing a lot of the same people and sharing a love for ecclesiastical art.
SH: I am Suzanne Halvorson. I live in Bloomington, IN. I have a BSFA with a major in Art History and Minor in Theology from Valparaiso University. My beloved first weaving teacher and mentor (to this day) is Nancy (Searles) Marsh. I have been a studio weaver since the late 70’s. I have taught weaving workshops around the country since the early 80’s including teaching twice at Penland School of Craft, NC, HGA’s Convergence, Irvine, CA, and Midwest Weavers Conference (multiple cities). I teach annually at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM, and the Grunewald Guild, Leavenworth, WA. I have taught as an Adjunct Lecturer at Earlham College and Purdue University. I am currently an Adjunct Professor in Textiles at Indiana University. My work has been published in Handwoven, SS & D, and Weaving For Worship. I have been a partner at By Hand Gallery in Bloomington, IN since 1979, and am represented by Columbus Visitors Center, Columbus, IN, Marigold Arts, Santa Fe, NM, and Artifacts, Indianapolis, IN.
SN: How long have you been weaving?
SH: Since 1971
SN: What looms do you own?
SH: Schacht Wolf Pup; Baby Wolf; Mighty Wolf; Schacht 36” Standard; Dorsett; Fireside; 60” Glimakra
SN: How many shafts do you use? What is the maximum number you own and what do you usually use?
SH: I use 4 shafts. I have looms with 8 shafts.
SN: Do you use weaving software?
SN: Do you design drafts on paper then? Do you take existing drafts and modify them for the width and sett you want?
SH: Yes, I design on paper and modify them. For the most part, I don’t use patterns…I make up my own.
SN: Where do you look for design inspiration?
SH: My biggest source of inspiration is from ethnographic textiles. Kente’ cloth from Ghana, Japanese textiles, and Guatemalan textiles are what I collect. I am a color texture weaver and enjoy the geometry of architecture. I recently completed a commission weaving 54 choir scarves for the Unitarian Church that meets at Frank Lloyd Wright’s (FLW) Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. The design was inspired by FLW’s architecture. I also enjoy travel (I have lead textile trips to Guatemala, New Mexico, and Scotland), and do color studies when I do so. I enjoy reading fashion and architecture magazines where I tear out color and striping images for inspiration.
SN: How do you approach designing?
SH: I do color windings on 3 x 5 cards. I travel with 5/2 purl cotton yarn and capture color ways on cards. I also photograph details of everything from fabrics, to nature, to architecture.
SN: Is the 5/2 cotton the yarn you use the most? Do you have “go to” yarns? Colors?
SH: I don’t use 5/2 cotton. I use Silk City Fiber’s Bamboo7 (2100 ypp), and Silk City Fiber’s rayon chenille (1450 ypp).
SN: What is important to you in your designing?
SH: I remain true to who I am in my color and design choices. I want my voice to be clear in my work. I know that if I listen and look and am patient with myself, I will create what I am intended to create that is unique to me. I am a production weaver, but mine is not a fast production. It seems that when I try to cut corners (such as for the Unity Temple commission to keep costs down) it doesn’t work. I chose not to compromise, and the project was successful all around.
Unity Temple choir stole designed, woven and photographed by Suzanne Halvorson.
SN: Do you work in series?
SH: Yes. I am known for my blocks of color up the center of double weave scarves and liturgical pieces. I also do a lot of warp and weft -faced structured scarves. I am currently using lots of hand- dyed ribbon from Wales as supplementary warp, and playing with linen double weave hangings. My newest work is using up some of the volumes of hand-dyed and natural Churro wool that I have collected when in New Mexico. I am doing double weave block tapestries with those delicious materials. I have not seen anyone do tapestry color blocks in double weave.
SN: I can’t wait to see those!
SN: If you work in series, what benefits do you get from this?
SH: My work is recognizable as my work. I also am proficient at weaving these structures. Muscle memory! It is amazing to me that by limiting myself to certain weave structures the possibilities are endless for new designs.
SN: That is one of the benefits of working in a series. It become easier to do the technical aspects and that frees you up to change other things.
SN: Do you have favorite things to weave?
SN: I love weaving scarves and wraps. Fashion is important to me and I have always wanted to make pieces that can be worn. I made my living for 15 year designing and creating hand woven clothing. I like that scarves are each unique statements, and that no further construction is necessary to enjoy hand woven cloth. I also am gratified designing and weaving vestments (clothing for ministers) and paraments (clothing for church furniture).
SN: Anything else you’d like to share?
SH: My current passion is teaching. I love teaching, especially at the college level. At age 65 I am finding that it feeds me like nothing else. I focus my teaching on the bones of weaving. Once my students are finished with my class they are proficient in weaving techniques, and they can take knowledge and skill to new heights. I learn so much from my students, and am ultimately gratified when a student continues weaving after they leave my classroom.
SN: They do say that you learn the most about a topic when you have to teach it. I have found that to be mostly true. Do you remember anything in particular, or recent, that you learned either from your students or as a result of preparing to teach?
SH: Color sequences are what come to mind. I am inspired by the way students take my assignments and make them their own by choosing their own color ways, sequencing, and finishing. The use of natural dyes has greatly inspired me.
SN: Thanks so much for the conversation Suzanne.
If you'd like to find out more about Suzanne's work you may visit her website.