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Published: 17 February 2023

By Andy Ross

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Susan Holmes

This new book has been added to the textile library.

Susan Holmes is a fabric artist who, largely self-taught, has had a long career that takes in fashion, costume and art.

In the 1960s Susan Holmes, an Aucklander, studied for a Bachelor's Degree in Home Science at Dunedin's University of Otago, learning about fibres and fabric as part of the course. Susan was married to a poet, David, and the couple became part of the art scene in the city, while Susan continued to paint and exhibit her art. In 1969 the pair left New Zealand and went over to London for two years on Overseas Experience where Susan was a relief teacher, returning overland via Europe and Asia. That is where a significant collection of textiles began with Susan returning home with Indian, Greek, Afghan and Iranian fabrics.

That year, 1970, Susan discovered fabric printing.

"My friend Dene Illingworth came around because she had been given some print pastes for screen-printing. She knew I had had a bit of training... I never thought I was any good at it because I make quite messy prints... I thought it was too hard, too fussy, too dependent on technique to get your result, too rigid... I got a book on screen-printing, read it and said to Dene: 'I can't be bothered doing it, it's too hard'. But then I thought... let's just improvise. I have heard of doing potato blocks. I had never made one, so I got a potato, cut it in half, cut out a bird with the veggie knife, improvised a pad of foam on a plate, made a print on some material I had, and my career was started! Six weeks after that I was supporting myself entirely making scarves out of potato blocks."

Since that serendipitous encounter Susan has worked with fabrics, first in fashion and latterly with costume. Her creations are in the national collection at Te Papa and she is very much part of the World of Wearable Art show, with flamboyant and exuberant costumes winning awards. 

A book exploring the artist and her work has been added to the library: Susan Holmes Fabric Artist, part of the Objectspace Masters of Craft series.