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Suzanne di Francia – Seeing Noro in a New Way

Noro Magazine CoverNoro Magazine di FranciaNoro Magazine published Suzanne di Francia’s InterLace technique in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue. Here is a copy of the article.

Suzanne di Francia – Seeing Noro in a New Way

By Daryl Brower

In the hands of Alaska-based textile artist Suzanne di Francia, scraps of silk, lace and Noro yarns are transformed into one-of-a-kind works of wearable art.

From the knitting and macrame she explored as a child to the paint­ing and pottery she did in her 20s, making things has always been at the center of fiber artist Suzanne di Francia’s universe. It runs in the family. Her mother taught her to knit at a young age, and a trip to Italy when she just 9 years old opened her eyes to the “beautiful way Italians create life,” something that inspires her to this day.

“My Aunt Franca, who lives on the Isle of Capri, designed and made cou­ture clothing for French haute houses,” di Francia explains, “and my mother’s knitwear designs were an inspiration to me from early childhood.” No creative slouch herself, di Francia was sewing her own clothes in sixth grade; by the time she was 15, she had a business designing and selling custom T-shirts. Explorations in paint and clay followed. “I tried all sorts of mediums,” she says. Marketing jobs paid the bills until 1987, when she settled down in San Fran­cisco and began designing a bridal accessories line. She soon had a long
list of clients, including an up-and-coming lingerie chain called Victoria’s Secret. She spent the next fourteen years designing a private-label line for the chain, first working on her tabletop sewing machine and gradually expanding to a full­on manufacturing business. “It was an amazing experience,” di Francia says. The work for Victoria’s Secret was lucrative but stressful. As the years rolled along, it became difficult to compete with offshore suppliers, and di Francia found herself “working harder for less.” And it wasn’t just a shrinking profit margin that was causing the stress. “I
felt as though I was losing touch with the process,” she says. “When you are mass-producing something, the natural flow of creativity becomes less flexible.”

Recognizing that she was close to creative burnout, di Francia did what she calls a “complete l 80” and turned her attention back to smaller accounts, smaller collections and private clients. “It was freeing, she says. “I was back to getting to know my customers and creating on a more intimate level.”

She also started playing with new techniques that incorporated the scraps of lace and silk that ended up on the production floor when she was turning out her line for Victoria’s Secret. “I couldn’t throw anything away,” she says. So she started dying the pieces and turning them into collages, using them to create wearable ornaments. Taken with felting, she went to the School of Hatmaking in Zurich, learning the old-world techniques of hand-blocking felt hats. She returned to Alaska, her home since 1989-she’d accompanied a friend on back-country ski trip, and by the end of the weekend had signed a lease on an apartment in Anchorage-and began designing exquisite millinery pieces, trimming them with handmade silk tulle flowers. She sold the pieces at artisan markets and craft fairs throughout the state, reveling in the opportunity to once again explore different art mediums and techniques. The small market there meant she had to constantly develop new pieces and diversify her collections. Gloves, brooches, scarves and hair accessories were added to the mix, and di Francia soon found herself experimenting with embroidery, hand weaving, beading and different fibers. It all evolved organically. “I just found my creative flow,” she says. “And it kept growing.”

In 2012 di Francia was surfing the web in search of fibers for her dyeing experiments when came across the Noro yarn collection. “I immediately felt an affinity with it,” she says. “The colors were just so incredible. So I ordered a few skeins.” When they arrived, di Francia was overwhelmed. “I got this in­stinctive energy flow from the yarn,” she says. “It was like falling in love.” She spent several days just looking at the yarn, afraid to touch it. “I kept thinking, ‘It’s just so nice. What if I ruin it?’ I finally gave myself permission to ‘destroy’ just one skein.”
She didn’t ruin it. Instead she came up with a novel way to use the fibers. Di Francia doesn’t knit with Noro. Instead, she creates gorgeous fabrics with it using a technique she calls Interlace. She lays the yarns out on self-adhesive, water-soluble stabilizer. She then interweaves yarn strands under and over each other, creating intricate patterns. The yarns are stitched in place and the stabi­lizer is washed away. The results are stunning. “Once I started, I couldn’t stop,” she says. “The colors, the textures all just came together.” She found that people were fascinated with the way the pieces were made. “They wanted to know about the process,” she says. “And I thought, Why not share it?”

Di Francia spent the better part of a year fine-tuning her technique and translating it into kits that allow others to give the Interlace technique a try. The kits-Style 1-151: Spirals & Loop­d-loops (scarf), in ten Silk Garden colorways; 1-153: Triangle Motifs and 1-159 Color Fusion Motifs (head­bands), in eight Janome and twelve Silk Garden Lite colorways, respec­tively; and 1-155 Dancing Yoyo’s (infinity scarf), in twelve Silk Garden Lite colorways-which are hitting the market as this issue goes to press, include Noro yarns, stabilizer and a template that provides a starting point for the fiber design. “They’re not paint-by-numbers-kits,” di Francia ex­plains. “They’re a creative starting point for something that will become a one-of-a-kind wearable work of art.”

She points out that the process of creating is as rewarding as the finished product itself. Working with the yarns is like color therapy, she says: “The way in which the fibers are spun to blend the colors together is over-the-top amazing.” Di Francia hopes that her kits-she plans to introduce one new de­sign per month-will inspire others to tap into their own creative energy. “There’s just something so wonderful and exciting when creativity flows naturally,” she says. “There’s so much benefit in that energy. And I want to help nurture that.” Learn more about the artist and the kits at www.diFranciaFiberArt.com. The Interlace Yarn Kit Designs are available for purchase at www.etsy. com/shop/diFranciaFiberArt. You can also find her on Facebook at diFranciaFiberArt.