Knitted Journeys

Extreme Knitting
Suntop's Knitted Journeys collection is on display at Palmetto Library

One Librarian's Scrapbook of Beautiful Travel Spots

Most people take photos during their vacations, and some get them into an album or scrapbook eventually. Manatee Libraries’ librarian and art workshop facilitator, Rachel Suntop, has gone one big step beyond this by creating knitted artwork pieces that showcase her world travels. 

Traditionally seen as a craft to make wearable items, knitting has been used by Suntop to represent the landscapes and other scenic spots she has photographed during her world travel. In these pieces, yarn has been used the way a painter uses color to paint pictures.

Several of Suntop’s pieces are on display at Palmetto Library through the first Saturday of August. 

Since first traveling at nine months of age to the Virgin Islands, Suntop has been to 20 countries and 45 states. Suntop loves traveling so much, she even travels alone.

“I do enjoy traveling by myself quite a bit, particularly out in nature. I like the sense of freedom and independence, as well as the ability to go on my own schedule,” said Suntop.

Suntop's pieces include Kerid Crater, a volcanic crater lake in the Grímsnes area in south Iceland, along the Golden Circle.[1] Iceland is one of Suntop’s favorite places, having been there three times, including a two-month period as a visiting artist. She cites its uniqueness, beautiful landscapes and interesting culture as some of the reasons.

“The landscapes are otherworldly and haunting. This inverted crater has striking red iron deposits among the more usual grays, greens, blues and muted colors of the Icelandic landscape,” said Rachel.

One of Suntop's favorite places domestically is western Carolina, including Asheville and the Penland School of Crafts, where she has taken workshops in the past. 

“The nature there is so beautiful, and there is a great crafts and arts scene,” said Suntop.

Suntop's collection includes places she would like to visit. Some of the pieces are complete works, whereas others have an unfinished look which represent sketches. There are many places that she has been to that she’d like to add to her collection, including Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Amsterdam and some more parts of Florida.

She would like to travel somewhere in Asia or Australia next.

Suntop stands in front of Iceland’s Kerid Crater with her mother Bea Nettles
Suntop learned how to knit when she was only six from a babysitter. Then a year later, she learned how to crochet from a neighbor. She later earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Ceramics at the University of Illinois and a Master’s Degree in Textile Design at the University of Nebraska.

Suntop’s mom, Bea Nettles, a successful artist who has art shows around the world, featuring her photography and handmade books, is her biggest inspiration. Among Nettles’ various creations was the design of a tarot card deck in the 1970s. One of her images was featured on the sleeve of a Bruce Springsteen album.

Besides clay and knitting/crochet, Suntop does spinning, felting, beadwork, mixed media sculpture, sewing, paper making, bookbinding and collage. She recently learned a new technique, Cricut, which is a machine available in Downtown’s Area 52 that allows you to cut all types of materials into various shapes.

Suntop shows customers how to use the  Cricut machine at a summer evening workshop  in Downtown Library’s Area 52 Suntop offers classes at Manatee Libraries in sewing, Cricut, T-shirt design, crochet, beadwork, knitting, weaving, collage, mixed media/recycled material assemblage, bookbinding and recycled book sculpture.
She’s always open to new classes and ideas. She regularly holds classes on select Monday evenings and Saturday afternoons in Downtown Library’s Area 52, as well as other library locations and conducts outreach at schools.