Meet the Maker – Sue Trevor
Sue Trevor always knew she would be an artist. Before starting school, she had decided she wanted to spend all her days making and creating. Sustained by her determination, a supportive family and an art teacher who guided her, she was able to find a path to her ambitions, and has spent the last 36 years making a living as an artist, particularly loved for her spectacular stitched sculptures of ordinary domestic objects like the teapot, telephone and Kenwood Chef. Sue talks to fellow Folksy seller and artist Mani Parkes from Mani Annie Art about her hand-dyed textile sculptures, her beautiful collection of embroidered sewing tools, the botanical inspirations behind all her pieces and her favourite stitch.
To celebrate being our featured maker on Folksy, Sue Trevor is offering free shipping within the UK during January and 15% off all her work with the code ‘Happy’. Shop Sue Trevor on Folksy – folksy.com/shops/SueTrevor
My relatives were all knitters, very high speed, clickety clack and plenty of tea. I was the complete opposite, a sewing coffee drinker!Sue Trevor
Hello Sue. Please could you tell us a little bit about yourself and tell us what you do?
Hello, my name is Sue and I’m an art textile designer. I hand dye the finest Egyptian cottons and silks using excellent quality Procion dyes (a brand of fibre-reactive dyes). I also used some hand-dyed threads, although these aren’t dyed by me. I then design and create both textile art and practical, more affordable, items, many of which can be used in the sewing world. The rest are mainly to decorate the body. All my items are one-off pieces – they can be similar, but no two are ever the same.
My art teacher was a wonderful help and made sure I went to art college and my parents were really positive about my decision too. I heard so many sad stories about people not allowed to study what they really wanted to.Sue Trevor
How did you begin your career and what attracted you to textiles?
I already knew what I wanted to do before I started school. I simply wanted to paint and draw all day. Later, possibly about the age of six, I was given the most beautiful sewing kit, sewing felt together with embroidery floss. Later still my Granny gave me a delightful mini sewing machine, which I loved and used to create many small items for my toys. My relatives were all knitters, very high speed, clickety clack and plenty of tea. I was the complete opposite, a sewing coffee drinker!
By 14, my mother, for whom sewing was a necessary chore, realised it was a true love of mine. She bought me my first proper sewing machine for us to share. I never looked back. I had to learn all the basics at school, from the manual or from sewing patterns, but I was never happier than when I was dissecting a favourite garment and trying to make my own design, working out why shapes of patterns were made the way they were. In my teens I often bought a new fabric on a Saturday morning and was wearing a finished garment to go out in on a Saturday night. Back then, clothes were actually cheaper to make than to buy.
After a childhood immersed in painting, sewing, baking, gardens and allotments I progressed on to Loughborough College of Art & Design, where I studied graphic design and I’ve been self employed since 1984. I’ve tried out many crafts along the way, but always returned to textiles, ultimately deciding to specialise in free machine embroidery some time ago and I haven’t looked back since.
In my teens I often bought a new fabric on a Saturday morning and was wearing a finished garment to go out in on a Saturday night. Back then, clothes were actually cheaper to make than to buy.Sue Trevor
Did you ever doubt that you would become an artist?
Although there was never any question that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, I did wonder at times in my secondary school whether I should do something different. I went to quite a competitive school. Most girls went on to university. Fortunately my art teacher was a wonderful help and made sure I went to art college and my parents were really positive about my decision too. I heard so many sad stories about people not allowed to study what they really wanted to.
Your work is extremely beautiful. Where does your inspiration come from?
It comes almost exclusively from the botanical world and, with a bit artistic licence, I see if I can create iconic objects in my method and style, yet still using the botanical element. I have a large garden that I spend a lot of time in. I take many photos of my plants and other people’s. I have a personal Instagram account and many of my favourite photos turn up on there, whereas, my business Instagram account is purely about my textiles.
I’m always amazed at how nature puts together colours that work incredibly well.Sue Trevor
The jewel-like colours you use are divine. Are you influenced by other customs and cultures? Which is the most inspirational place you’ve visited?
The jewel-like colours are down to the fantastic quality fabrics and dyes I use. I’m not aware of being influenced by other customs or cultures apart from gravitating to a particular brand of Swedish clothing and I had never travelled outside of Europe until very recently. I’m always amazed at how nature puts together colours that work incredibly well. One of my strong points as an artist is knowing the value of colours and being able to put them together in a way that pleases so many people, especially as I dye my own fabrics and choose silks and threads to go with them.
The most inspirational places are all of the gardens I have lived in. I was fortunate to have been brought up by gardening enthusiasts and have continued that not only with my own gardens but in my work too. I’m a sucker for botanical gardens, parks, woodland walks, anything to do with flora basically.
Could you describe you typical working day?
Coffee first, then I check my emails and list an item on the daily listing challenge in the Folksy Forum. Then, I do any other computer work. I have Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and a blog. I only use my most used accounts a couple of times a week, if that – they can get very time consuming and I’d rather be making. After than I start creating on my machine. If the weather is kind I’ll photograph the finished piece or pieces to put into my Folksy shop, ready to list the next morning. I check my emails as late as I can to see if anything needs to be parcelled up and popped in the post, and whizz it down to the Post Office before last post. I tend to sew late into the afternoon, unless I’m out in my garden, but that’s mostly during the summer months. I usually plan a quieter activity for the evening. Hand sewing, designing or listing my work on Folksy.
What I love about being self employed is being free to have coffee with friends whenever they’re available, taking holidays at cheap times, travelling when it’s quiet, not rush hour. My whole life is wrapped up in art. So even when I’m on holiday I’ll be working, collecting inspiration, seeking out art galleries and museums, fabric shops, haberdashery shops and shows, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I really try not to think about how many hours my larger work takes. I tend to work on them for several weeks, continuing to make smaller, more manageable pieces at the same time. But even sewing up all the separate pieces can take a day or so to do.Sue Trevor
Your designs are extraordinarily intricate. How long does it take you to finish a piece of work?
My smaller pieces of work are relatively quick to produce these days. I really try not to think about how many hours my larger work takes. They go through many different processes, from sourcing the fabrics and dyes, dyeing the fabrics, washing, drying, designing, cutting, layering, stitching, stitching and more stitching, hand sewing and finishing off. I tend to work on them for several weeks, continuing to make smaller more manageable pieces at the same time. But even sewing up all the separate pieces can take a day or so to do. It also takes a while to plan all the pattern pieces before machine stitching them. I try to dye the fabrics for a bigger project all in the same batch just to make sure I don’t run out towards the end. If it’s a new item I haven’t made before, a prototype, this can actually take longer than it should, so I have to bare that in mind when I’m costing things out.
There’s very little wastage in my fabrics. Small pieces of leftover fabrics can be used to make smaller items such as buttons and badges. I am very conscious of waste and the effect it’s having on our planet, so I try to utilise every last possible scrap I can.
When I start on an art piece, I know it’s going to take a long time because they are so labour intensive, which can lead to a lot of back ache if I sit at the sewing machine for too long. I use vast amounts of thread, so when I stop to thread the bobbin, I might walk around my garden or make myself a coffee, perhaps have a quick look on the internet too.
The darning stitch or ‘free motion embroidery stitch’ as it’s more commonly known now is my favourite stitch. Like me, it’s free, not confined to anything.Sue Trevor
Do you have a favourite stitch?
The darning stitch or ‘free motion embroidery stitch’ as it’s more commonly known now. Like me, it is free, not confined to anything. I move the fabric under the needle of the machine and I have put in many hours of practice to achieve the look I’m after.
When my business Facebook page was relatively new, I posted a picture of my teapot and that became incredibly popular, with over 700 shares! I’m always amazed by the popularity of my business Facebook page – everyone is very enthusiastic about my new work.Sue Trevor
I’m head over heels in love with your textile telephone. What is the most best-loved object you’ve ever made?
Back in 2016 when my business Facebook page was relatively new, I posted a picture of my teapot and that became incredibly popular, with over 700 shares. It sold quite quickly. My next photo was of a teacup and that achieved over 500 shares. I’m always amazed by the popularity of my business Facebook page – everyone is very enthusiastic about my new work. Personally, I’m very fond of my pomegranate and often use it to showcase what I do.
I’m very fond of my pomegranate and often use it to showcase what I do.Sue Trevor
Do you have a studio?
I don’t have a studio – my living room is my studio. As a mother of four, the only way to work and bring up my children was to work where I could keep an eye on them. Now they’re all grown up it hasn’t changed, except I don’t need to watch them anymore. There’s a possibility that when they all leave home I may use one of the rooms as my workroom so I can have a tidy lounge.
I hand sew if the television is on in the evening, as I think that sewing with my machine at night would drive my family crazy.Sue Trevor
Do you listen to music or the radio while you sew?
The radio is frequently on, usually on Radio 4, if I can hear it above the sound of the sewing machine. Sometimes, my sewing stops to listen to something interesting! We also have a musician in the family. l love hearing him practice, so again I stop sewing to listen to that. I hand sew in the evening if the television is on, as I think that sewing with my machine at night would drive my family crazy.
I sell mostly through Folksy. How wonderful to have a site specifically aimed at British craftspeople, and with some absolutely stunning items for sale on it. It’s such a friendly site too, so welcoming. I love the fact that my work is now sent and seen worldwide as well as the UK.Sue Trevor
Do you have any New Year resolutions or creative projects that you would like to attempt in 2020?
I always like to make at least one new large exhibition item a year and this year will be no different. Although I have ideas in my head, I don’t have anything specific in mind yet. I’m also teaching again this year, with a particularly skilled set of designer-makers. It’s quite daunting, trying to keep one step ahead of everyone else.
I would like to develop my skills, colourways, techniques and art too. I have also chosen to do a contemporary textile fair in London at the Landmark Arts Centre. I’m really excited about this. I used to do an enormous amount of fairs each year, but have gradually cut down and spent more time concentrating on selling via the internet and mostly through Folksy. How wonderful to have a site specifically aimed at British craftspeople, and with some absolutely stunning items for sale on it. It’s such a friendly site too, so welcoming. I love the fact that my work is now sent and seen worldwide as well as the UK.
I have a book with about 100 ideas for the year. This can be business or personal. I’ve found that this really focuses my mind on what I want to achieve each year. If an idea isn’t crossed off by the end of the year I either didn’t really want to do it or it gets carried over to the next year and has a second chance.Sue Trevor
My New Year’s resolutions never last, so these days I have a book with about 100 ideas for the year. This can be business or personal. I’ve found that this really focuses my mind on what I want to achieve each year. If an idea isn’t crossed off by the end of the year I either didn’t really want to do it or it gets carried over to the next year and has a second chance.
I’m very excited to see what a new decade will bring.
Get 15% off all textile art and embroidery by Sue Trevor with the code ‘Happy’ (only valid for a limited time).