This Saturday, October 11th, we will be welcoming Portland author Susan Beal to the Pendleton Woolen Mill Store in Milwaukie, Oregon for a book signing. We are celebrating the release of her Pendleton wool crafts project book, Hand-Stitched Home.
Susan is the author of seven books, including Hand-Stitched Home, Modern Log Cabin Quilting, Sewing for all Seasons, Bead Simple, and Button It Up. She teaches sewing and quilting for Creativebug, CreativeLIVE, and (surprise!) the Pendleton Woolen Mill Store. She’s also the historian for the Portland Modern Quilt Guild, a contributing editor at Stitch magazine, and the mother of two little children, Pearl and Everett. See more of Susan’s work, sewing and quilts on her blog, westcoastcrafty.com. Order a signed copy of the book through Powell’s, or visit or call our Woolen Mill Store to order a copy over the phone.
Hi Susan! When did you start crafting, and what were your first projects?
I loved making yarn dolls when I was little, using lots of fabric scraps and lace to hand-sew clothes for them. I started making jewelry in high school, then learned silversmithing and casting after college. But when I was 25 my best friend from high school came to visit me here in Portland and taught me how to sew on a 1960s thrift-store Singer and it was like I suddenly had a new superpower.
I could alter a vintage dress, sew a skirt, or make pillows and curtains for my apartment ten times faster than hand-sewing… it was just thrilling. I made my first patchwork project, a super-simple log cabin block I turned into a pillow cover, eight years ago, and quilting has become a huge part of my life. I find it endlessly inspiring to put fabrics together and see what they become.
What was your first exposure to Pendleton wool? What was the first project you made with Pendleton wool?
I’ve always loved vintage Pendleton coats and womenswear, and dreamed about buying a blanket one day. My husband surprised me with the Oregon sesquicentennial blanket for my birthday in 2009 – the beautiful design with Mt. Hood reflected in the lake. I was writing Modern Log Cabin Quilting and thought, wow, I would love to make a quilt for the book in Pendleton wool. I went to the Woolen Mill Store and bought a big piece of sage green Harding and a couple of yards of a beautiful 49er plaid and mixed them into six simple oversized log cabin blocks, then sashed the whole thing with a graphic, understated striped jacquard.
I loved working with the wools, the different fabric colors, patterns, weights, and weaves blended together beautifully, and I realized how much magic and polish top-stitching adds to wool patchwork. Six more wool quilts (including the two I made for Hand-Stitched Home) and a whole Christmas list’s worth of blankets later, my most recent Pendleton sewing project was making myself my favorite version yet of Amy Butler’s Barcelona skirt, in the Beach Boys Surf plaid, just in time to wear it to my Powell’s event last week.
And you wore it down to meet with us at Pendleton last week! We loved the skirt, your Star Wars slip-ons, and getting a peek at your crafting journal.
How long have you been involved in the Portland craft scene? How has it changed?
I moved to Portland in 1997 to go to jewelry-making school and just loved it here, it felt like coming home. I met so many creative people doing cool things, but it was such a small, tight-knit community – there were only a few shops carrying handmade work, and collaborating or teaming up with friends to organize fashion shows or sublet studio space was a way of life. You saw the same people at the fabric store in the afternoon and then out at night, so new ideas just came to life after a couple of good conversations! My friends Kate Towers and Holly Stalder opened their shop, Seaplane, on Belmont and I brought in some of my skirts, handbags and jewelry on consignment. I got home a few hours later to the best message from Holly that someone had tried on one of my skirts and loved it so she bought it, and wore it out of the store! That was the best feeling ever.
I started selling my work at little neighborhood craft fairs with friends like Cathy Zwicker and Torie Nguyen, who now own the beautiful Crafty Wonderland flagship store downtown – and put on a huge event with hundreds of vendors and thousands of shoppers twice a year. It’s just kind of amazing to see how much the whole community has grown, and how much support there is from other craft artists, shops, and customers, whether you are just getting started or have been doing this for years.
Who are some crafters you love, and why?
-Rebecca Pearcy’s Queen Bee bags and hand-designed textile line – her work is beautiful.
-Cathy Zwicker and Torie Nguyen ,who co-own Crafty Wonderland, both make gorgeous jewelry and accessories.
-My Portland Modern Quilt Guild friends like Michelle Freedman, Petra Anderson, and Monica Solorio-Snow are so inspiring – their quilts, fabric design, and visual work are all lovely.
-Heather Davidson of PMQG and her husband Chris own a fantastic vintage furniture business, Remnant, and she does stellar upholstery using Pendleton fabric, too. I’m lucky to own a beautiful mid-century chair she redid in Rancho Arroyo in black!
What’s next for Susan Beal?
After the Woolen Mill Store party, I’m going to Quilt Market and very excited to do a couple of events there with my publisher for Hand-Stitched Home! Then I’m teaching both log cabin and wool quilting at the Menucha Retreat Center in the Columbia River Gorge, and speaking at Quiltcon in Austin, Texas, early next year, and I’m working on projects for a new craft book for 2016.
On a personal note, I also have some serious Halloween sewing to do – my daughter Pearl requested a cowgirl costume and my son, Everett, really wants to be Emmet (from the LEGO Movie), so I need to get on that before my daughter changes her mind for the third time! This is her sixth Halloween and I’ve learned that the trick is catching her in between costume ideas #2 and #3.
Susan is so much fun in person. We hope you’ll enjoy meeting her this Saturday, October 11th, and the Pendleton Woolen Mill Store. She’ll be hanging out there from 1 to 5 PM, and she’d love to chat and sign your books. You can see the crafts projects like those above, plus more, in person!