Stitches to savor; a celebration of designs by Sue Spargo

Spargo, Sue

 Bothell, Martingale, 2015, 143 pages ISBN: 978 1 60468 722 4 

There are several quilters who deserve to be better known in the embroidery world…Judith Baker Montano, Sharon Boggon and Michelle Mischkulnig, for instance. All these, and other quilters as well, use embroidery in innovative ways as an intrinsic part of their creations. Sue Spargo takes innovative hand embroidery stitching to another level. She uses composite stitches a lot. On the cover of this book is a brightly coloured cup and saucer. On it I can identify needlelace, bullions, cast on stitch, backstitch, French knots, chain stitch, coral stitch, spider web, fly stitch combined with lazy daisy – and others not so easily identified. The only text in this book is a foreword, written by the publisher, a brief introduction written by Sue, the names of the quilts and a little text on the quilts themselves. It doesn’t provide a good read! There are no project instructions. So why bother with it?  For those unfamiliar with Sue Spargo’s quilts, although she uses other fabrics, the predominant one is wool, dyed by her sister. Although there is the odd embellishment stitched on (check out the sweet little owl on page 16) and quite a few buttons, most of the detail is hand embroidered. It is this idiosyncratic needlework, her particular colour palette and multi-layered appliqué which distinguishes Sue’s unique work.  She has a breath taking mastery of so many stitches.  

This book is a visual look at twelve of Sue’s quilts – a very close and detailed look. Each section starts with a photo of a particular quilt followed with several close up photos of elements making up that quilt. These are so clear and show so much detail that you could, with careful examination, reproduce these as long as you have an excellent knowledge of how composite stitches ‘work’. Using the quilt ‘Coffee Cups’ as an example, fabrics are pieced for the background, then twelve coffee cups are appliquéd onto it. Some gorgeous little bees ladybirds and other elements are embroidered and a few pieces of rickrack stitched on. The coffee cups are heavily embroidered. There are close ups of eleven of them which reveal the exacting and innovative work involved. What really make Sue’s quilts pop are the strong colours she uses as well as the detailed needlework. I also like the way she takes an element – leaves, circles, birds, coffee cups – and plays with them. 

This book can be glanced through in no time. Close and careful scrutiny will be so much more rewarding though. It can be a source of inspiration for new ways to use unusual stitches. I find the range and strength of colours in some quilts a bit overwhelming. Others are just amazingly beautiful. There is one thing though which I find disappointing – Sue does not do the actual quilting herself. As someone who has made a few quilts and gritted my teeth to quilt them myself, I think this is cheating! How can you call yourself a quilter if you farm out that particular part of the process to someone else? Just asking! 

Erica Marsden