April 23, 2017

Gifted & Skilled — Susan Hoff

Who is Susan Hoff? First off, she hand makes beautiful bags. They are nothing short of stunning. Each detail is meticulous, and each bag carries a silhouette fit for display at the de Young. Visually reminiscent of the juxtaposition of land and sea, Susan creates her masterpieces from Sailcloth and horse bridle—finding a second chance at life for raw materials conceived to last forever.

The type of person you meet and instantly feel like you’ve grown up together, she is a world-class conversationalist and expert storyteller. Inside her workshop in the Mission, you get a sense for the purpose of placement and curation of comfort that, alongside her craftsmanship, illuminates her mastery of creating space.

Simply put, Susan exudes a confidence in her craft and bearing that could only be described as Zen. We had the chance to stop by this week and ask her a few questions. Here’s what she had to say.

So, let's kick things off. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do?
Good question. My name is Susan Hoff, and I design and make bags out of old sails and horse tack. I grew up in the Midwest, where I spent a lot of time romping around on our old family farm, riding horses through corn fields and participating in my family's decade-long farmhouse restoration project (aka super fun tween character building exercise). From there I went on to study art at Colorado College and then to lead sailing expeditions for Hurricane Island Outward Bound (read: 14 people on a 30' open boat for 28 days with no head, no motor) in Maine and Florida. So I've bounced around a fair bit but am happy to call the Bay home. And to have a boat with a head and a motor.

How did you pick up sewing and when did you start making bags?
My mom taught me to sew in high school, and I actually started making bags then. A lot of my art in college involved sewing and then when I was working at Outward Bound, a friend gave me a beautiful old cotton canvas sail, and I started making bags that more resemble my current work. And I discovered the wonders of working with old sails. When I was winding down my sailing career, I spent a brief year in NYC where I drove boats on the Hudson and worked to launch my first bag collection.

You make your bags out of used sailcloth and horse bridle. Is there something special about those materials? How did you come to use them?
Yes, both materials are special to me personally as they tie into parts of my formative past. That's also how I came to start using them — because they were around me, always being retired and readily available — but I've continued using them because they are excellent for bag making. The sailcloth is super durable and bright but also interesting, with each sail being totally unique. And the horse tack is exceptional for straps and handles as it's broken in and soft, very strong, and also provides a way of using leather without being part of the leather tanning industry.

How did you start sailing? And what is your connection with the pastime?
I very first learned to sail on lakes at a summer camp although it wasn't until college that I really got into it. I did a few trips — one in the Caribbean on a tall ship and one up the east coast on a classic cruiser — that really whet my whistle for the whole thing. I'm a total nester but also love adventure, so the idea that you can explore the planet from the comfort of your living room really appeals to me. I now dump love and money into a little old 1967 Sparkman & Stephens designed Columbia that I keep in Sausalito and sail under the bridge at slack tide.

What would one piece of advice you give to someone contemplating living on a boat?
Get rid of your things! You don't need as much as you think you do and there's no space for it anyway. Also be nice to your boyfriend as you may need to borrow his shower on a regular basis.