A needleworker all her life, Linda Seward has fed her passion for needlework on two continents. When she discovered quilting, she found her creative passion and not only created for herself, but also worked for quilting publications to spread her enthusiasm with a world of fiber artists. Linda’s expertise spans everything from traditional quilts to art quilting, with many books to her credit.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I have been creative since I was a small child, doing many forms of needlework that were taught to me by my mother and grandmothers. They were all needlewomen, so it was natural for me to do it too and I never stopped creating in some form all my life. When I was 17, I got a job running a yarn shop that also sold embroidery and needlepoint kits and materials. I was expected to teach customers and give advice, so I quickly learned about everything I didn’t already know how to do. I also loved hard crafts such as making images from natural materials like seeds and dried vegetables (peas, rice, beans, lentils etc), painting stones, creating hangings from wood and shells, doing macramé and other rope projects, etc.
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There were 5 children in my family and we didn’t have much money, so I learned to sew at aged 10 and made all my own clothes after that for about the next 15 years, until I discovered quilting. After that I bought clothes because I would always rather quilt than anything else. It became a complete obsession.
By the time I discovered quilting I was working for McCall’s Needlework and Crafts Magazine in New York City. My job was to write instructions for every type of craft except knitting, crochet and quilting—those departments had their own specialised editors. However, I saw the quilts that were coming in and loved them. I then moved to another job with Dover Publications as their Needlework, Crafts and Hobbies Editor. At that point I was finally able to meet the quilters and edit their books, thereby learning everything about quilting that I didn’t already know.
How does your formal sewing and design education help your work develop?
My formal sewing and design education helps in that all of what I do is second nature to me. I don’t even have to think about it—my hands just know what to do. And my training as a needlework and crafts editor helps me to write instructions, so it’s a good combination. Does it ever get in the way? Never, I’m very grateful that I have such a wide and diverse background in needlework and crafts as well as editorial skills.
Drawing on your experience living in both places, do you think there is a difference between quilting in the United States and Great Britain?
This is a bit difficult to answer, as I have lived in the UK for more than half my life and wasn’t really into quilting until I moved here. I do know that quilting in the States is a huge competitive business and am glad that in the beginning of my career I was swimming in a small pond, so I was able to make my name here more easily than if I had lived in the States.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I don’t know if my own work is recognisable, but I would say that I’m not afraid to use colour, texture and embellishments on my quilts. Most of my quilts are quite bright, shall we say, unless they are white! And I absolutely love to add beads to my quilts so they sparkle!
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, including The Ultimate Guide to Art Quilting and your upcoming title, The Complete Book of Patchwork, Quilting and Appliqué?
I want quilters to feel that they can tackle anything and everything. That nothing is too difficult and that the only thing holding them back is a fear of trying something new. I love the fact that so many quilters say my books are their “bibles”—their “go-to” reference books. I like to think that my words are helping to give confidence to quilters in order to develop their own capabilities.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I am definitely an improviser, although I usually have a vision in my mind about what I want to achieve. I rarely draw patterns (unless I’m writing a book!) and I like to create my pieces intuitively. Sometimes that works, and sometimes I put the result in a drawer.
Do you focus on one piece exclusively from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
I usually have a few projects on the go at one time, as I like to maintain my interest and enthusiasm by putting projects aside for a few days, then coming back to them with a fresh eye.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have an incredible studio space that used to be my kitchen before we put an addition on the house. So all the cupboards that used to store dishes and cans of food now hold my fabrics and quilt supplies. There are shelves holding quilts where the oven used to be. The drawers that held cutlery now hold threads, ribbons, cutting tools, etc. I put up a design wall which is very useful, and I have a large bookshelf for all my quilt books and magazines. I have a special cutting table as well, built specially for that purpose. I’m very lucky.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I couldn’t be without my rotary cutter, rulers and cutting mat. The ironing board and iron are also indispensable. Natural light is important. And, how could I forget my Bernina sewing machine?
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I have tried, but I am not a sketchbook or journal person. I am inspired by photographs and spend a huge amount of time on photography now, mainly of nature in all its forms.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
If I know I’m going to be spending a lot of time at the machine, I’ll find a good story on BBC Radio 4 (usually a book if possible) and I listen to that. I also like to listen to science and nature podcasts. In the early days, I would listen to music and sing along which usually cleared the house!
Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
I get past challenges by tackling them straight away rather than letting them fester and worry me. Usually the challenge is not as difficult as I’ve made it out to be in my mind, and once I’ve mastered it I can relax.
As an experienced quilt judge, what advice on entering shows do you have for hopeful fiber artists?
My advice is to make a quilt that pleases you. Choose the colours and fabrics you love and make something of which you are totally proud. Enter it in a show, by all means, so that everyone can see it. If that piece wins a prize, great, but making a quilt just to win prizes takes something away from it—it loses its soul. And of course you can never ever tell what the judges are thinking at the time of judging on that particular day . Why does one piece win and another is overlooked? You can never predict, so it’s not worth trying to second guess the judges.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website needs a good overhaul and that is on my list of things to do. I try to keep it up to date, but life always seems to intervene. However, it does show a lot of my work and I hope people will be able to see the variety of pieces I have made in the past. If they read my “News” section, they will find out what is important to me on the day I’m writing each entry.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Some people are naturally creative and some work very hard to achieve a degree of creative skill. I think if you are interested in being creative, that’s the first step. I am by nature a creative person but I know many people who simply aren’t interested in working with their hands. That’s fine. We need all kinds of people in this world. However, I am very much drawn to people who are creative in some way.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
Going for a walk with my dog and my camera will always do the trick.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
I have been extremely fortunate in my career to interview many creative people for books, magazine articles and as an editor. And this is a continuing process as I am meeting new wonderful people on a regular basis. However, I find that it isn’t the famous people who are the most interesting, but the regular people I meet on a random basis who suddenly surprise me with their incredible story of an amazing life that I never would have expected. That’s what I really enjoy about meeting new people. And once this pandemic is over, I’ll be able to do that again!
Learn more about Linda and her work.
Interview posted March 2021
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