Susan Sanders has always been an artist. Ever since she was old enough to think about such things, she knew that one day her job would be to make things, with her own hands, and sell them. She was right. Susan Sanders is now the experienced and accomplished designer of three distinctive jewelry lines: one in gold and precious stones, one in stone inlay, and one in fabric. Being a sewer and a hoarder of fabric, I couldn’t help but be drawn to her fiber work.
I visited with Susan in her Torpedo Factory studio while she was in the middle of creating one of her “silkworm” necklaces. She starts out with narrow strips of hand-painted silk that she sews into tubes, and fills with a certain kind of cording. Then, depending on the look of the final necklace, she gathers the silken cords together unadorned, or first embellishes them with ribbon, yarn, or anything pretty and colorful from her stash of notions.
Her collection includes all kinds of fabric trims from fiber artist friends of hers, shiny and textured bits she finds at local fabric stores, and a treasury of unique velvet and satin trims she found during a trip to Korea.
The result is a soft, lightweight, textured piece that can be worn a number of ways. The cords can be twisted or worn flat. The necklace can be left long, wrapped double around the neck like a choker, or tied into a knot. Susan also makes the unique magnetic clasps out of cast resin, and paints them to match each necklace individually. Every single necklace is one-of-a-kind; it would be impossible to replicate any of them exactly.
Susan’s fiber jewelry is an evolving line among her jewelry collections. The latest incarnation utilizes hand-cut ultrasuede in rich, saturated color. The unusual texture and three demensional quality of these necklaces speak for themselves! When I asked if she planned on adding embellishment to the ultrasuede necklaces as well, Susan merely shrugged and said: “Who knows?” Considering the idea for her fiber necklaces came to her in a dream, who can say what she will dream up next?
As the daughter of an accomplished seamstress and a graphic designer, Susan has been making things her whole life. Her mother passed on her sewing skills to her at a young age, and her father gave her an appreciation and an eye for architectural lines. She ended up studying architectural design in college, knowing she wanted to end up making something three demensional with her hands, but not knowing exactly what that would be. Upon graduation, she was offered a job designing refrigeration components in a remote town in Kentucky. At the same time, the Torpedo Factory was just opening in Alexandria, Virginia as a newly renovated haven for artists, complete with studio and gallery space. Susan was faced with an interesting (if not difficult…) choice: move to the middle of nowhere and make refrigerator parts, or move to Washington, DC and make jewelry?
Her fellow graduates had found jobs that utilized their design skills very well, but hardly engaged their imaginations: diagramming linoleum floors; constructing the weave of plastic chairs; designing tire tread. Nobody was terribly excited about entering the professional world, except for Susan. She knew she was lucky to have found the Torpedo Factory, and jumped at the chance! She has maintained her studio there since the Art Center opened in September 1974.
You can find all of Susan’s jewelry (not just her fiber work) at her Torpedo Factory studio, at local galleries, and at juried craft shows in the DC area.