This month I’m acutely aware that my letter to you each month is turning into an obituary column. However, I can’t ignore the fact that one of our greatest fibre artists and machine knitters, certainly in my lifetime, has died and I can find almost no record of her passing. My friend Susan Guagliumi gave me the sad news that Susanna Lewis has died. It seems Susanna had surgery for an aneurism that was apparently successful, but heart complications followed and she died on 15th July. Susanna was born on 1st November 1938, lived and worked in New York, but she was an extremely private person so that’s one possible reason why I can find no obituary elsewhere.
I met Susanna at a Metropolitan Show in Bournemouth, back in 1986. Machine knitting was on the crest of a wave and I’d just started to publish and edit MKM. Susanna was a guest speaker and in the UK to promote her new and now legendary book. It was published by Lark Books, together with co-author Julia Weissman. She signed my copy of ‘A Machine Knitters Guide To Creating Fabrics’ and I’ve lasting memories of a softly spoken, but amazingly talented fibre artist. It had taken over five years to develop and write this important book and I don’t know of a knitted fabric that’s not included.
Susanna’s work is displayed in many museums and galleries in America and she was one of that country’s first generation of machine knitters. Already well-known in 1971, she wanted to settle into one technique to create fabric and bought her first knitting machine. She spent four years learning to knit, because she went through the machine manual very methodically. She often said that almost everything she knew and taught was in the owner’s manual. At the end of four years, she could make a domestic knitting machine do anything she wanted.
By 1993, Metropolitan had a new home with Carol and Mark Hocknell and I took over publishing To & Fro, with masses of help and support from Hazel Ratcliffe as Editor. Susanna guarded her copyright fiercely, but most graciously gave To & Fro an exclusive two-part article to publish on Split Mitres, incorporating techniques she’d included in her book. In the world of domestic machine knitting, she was way ahead of her time and the work she created is simply without equal. Susanna and Julia included the following dedication at the start of their book and it’s written for all of us.
“For all knitters and fiberists of the past and present, whose love for their craft has inspired the continual evolution of skills and techniques, and whose use of the craft helps us see beauty and meaning in the continual evolution of life. They provide the heritage and legacy for the knitters and fiberists of the future, so that they too may experience the thrill and joy of discovery, understanding and creation; in turn to promote communication and understanding in oneself, and between people and cultures worldwide.”
“My self-concept is as an artist,” she said, “and I use the knitting machine as a tool in creating art.” May your work live on Susanna, to bring joy and inspiration to future machine knitters all over the world. Thank you for your immense legacy and we’ll always remember you.
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