Susan Taber Avila

18" x 8" x 5"
Thread, constructed by machine stitching


Thread, hand printed silk remnants, machine stitching
60" x 42" x 1"
Alameda County, CA, Public Art Collection


Susan Taber Avila has been making and exhibiting fiber influenced artwork since receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA in 1982. After UCLA she was mentored by John Garrett who hired her as a studio assistant and encouraged her interest in Fiber Art. Her early organic sculptures involved stitching wire to fabrics. A fascination with stitching led her to a postgraduate degree program at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London (1985-86). In London she learned a variety of machine embroidery techniques. The post Goldsmith sculptures were extremely dense vessels made entirely of thread.

In 1994 she entered graduate school at UC Davis where she had the opportunity to work with Gyöngy Laky, Victoria Rivers and JoAnn Stabb among other prestigious artists. At Davis her work was influenced by environmental issues and ethnographic textiles. She received two research grants for study in Guatemala and published her research on the use of machine embroidery on indigenous clothing in Ornament magazine.

Since receiving her MFA in 1996 she has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally. Her artwork has been published in Fiberarts, Surface Design Journal, American Craft, Artweek, Art Business News and was included in Fiberarts Design Book Six and Fiberarts Design Book Seven.

Her strong commitment to fiber art inspired her to co-found with Myra Goodall Block in 1999. This dynamic website promotes and sells FiberArt with an emphasis on San Francisco Bay Area artists. In addition to a calendar and resource page includes a virtual gallery with rotating exhibits co-curated by Susan and Myra.

Susan Taber Avila lives in Oakland, California and maintains a studio in Emeryville. She is currently an assistant professor in Textile Arts and Fashion Design at UC Davis.

View more of Susan Taber Avila's work at


My art, based on personal experience and the cultural environment, describes a world which balances security with vulnerability. I create pieces to investigate issues of containment. I am curious about how clothes or skin contain the body, how language contains thought, how environment or packaging contains identity. My work allows me to play with the contradiction of accessible and inaccessible spaces. It is inviting yet deliberately mysterious.

Each piece is influenced by my desire to share and withhold. An extremely personal poem may be rendered illegible by irregular stitches while a nagging thought or word is clearly spelled out. I invent a dialect combining illusion and reality. I am inspired by textiles created by other cultures and the powerful meanings attached to them. The textile medium replaces language for describing an event, a place, or a memory.

As I work, my environment becomes transformed into a fantasy landscape. I lose myself in its territory of abstract thought; the power of my industrial sewing machine grounds me in reality. The machine becomes a drawing tool. Patterns often derive out of allegories I write to myself in thread. I slip into the reverie of the process, like a long train journey with intriguing scenery. I strive to make something aesthetically beautiful yet meaningful and contemplative.

Creating art gives me space and time to gather my thoughts, enabling me to express what I can't articulate with words. Threads transform into colored pencil lines of ethereal writing or compact blocks of textured color. In this way, threads metaphorically mimic life's simple, linear qualities which in abundance are transformed into fabrics dense or delicate, supportive or fragile.


When fiber materials or techniques are the primary medium in content-based artwork the result is fiber art.

As with any art medium there are a number of different genres within the fiber field including the personal, political, environmental, aesthetic, abstract, figurative, etc. Artwork may be grouped by medium, technique or concept. Most fiber artists exhibit in a wide arena of museums, galleries and corporate settings. Some artists use fiber as their medium of choice but prefer not to use the "F" word to label their work. With or without the label, fiber is gaining in popularity, possibly because the seductive, tactile materials respond nicely to ostensibly impersonal modern technology.

The medium of fiber appeals to a broader audience because it uses familiar materials and techniques and thus provides a more accessible and understandable art form. How many people sleep between paintings or put on metal pants in the morning? The familiarity of the materials themselves usually suggest a meaningful reading even without necessarily revealing the artist's own conception. The audience can take something from the visual encounter and relate it to their own experience. Using fiber as a vehicle for visualizing a personal statement makes sense for artists who want the viewers to trust their own interpretation, even for an audience untrained in art appreciation or critical theory.

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