Linda Steele started quilting as an adult when a friend encouraged her to take a patchwork class. Over time, she started designing her own improvised quilts, finding inspiration in fabrics, emotions, nature, and new techniques. She works in series, finishing one or two quilts before starting something new. Her advice to new artists is “do what you love.”
How did you get started making fiber art? Why did you choose that medium?
Although I loved seeing my grandmother’s embroidery and my mother was a wonderful dressmaker, I was never interested. After I married, I started to do some dressmaking but when my fourth child started school my friend encouraged me to do a course at the local patchwork shop. I was hooked from the first lesson and couldn’t believe such a wonderful thing existed.
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Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?
I often work in a series, I found that while I am working on something, other ideas come into my head. I get inspired by all sorts of things. In my early days, I used to get inspired by fabrics. I’d fall in love with a fabric and it would spark an idea. Now, I am more inspired by feelings or emotions.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I am an improviser. One of the reasons that I started doing my own designs twenty-five years ago was that I hated following patterns and wanted to make something different from everyone else. If I had to design before I started, I would probably never start. I get a whisper of a thought and have a rough idea of the size and colour and just start with a small section. While I am doing that small section, I start to get an idea of what to do next. I find that my work involves a lot of problem solving and thinking but that is what makes it interesting for me.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
I am a finisher, years ago when I used to follow patterns, I made lots of tops and had many unfinished projects. I became very stressed about them and decided that 2002 was the year of the UFO. I made a vow not to start anything new and finish every project. I finished them all by the end of the year and from then on, I only worked on one or two projects at a time. Other ideas come but I do not let myself start until I am finished with the others. It keeps me focussed and I work hard to get them finished so I can start another. I work well towards deadlines.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
Ideas come from everywhere. I run an art quilt group and one year we had to choose a theme for all our challenges. I chose the seasons and by the end of the year, I was inspired enough to make a large crazy quilt called Time for all Seasons. It ended up winning a few prizes as well as winning Viewer’s Choice in the World Quilt Show. My favourite quilt was inspired by an Asian quilt challenge for our local guild. I thought the little challenge quilts looked so gorgeous that I made a quilt called Eastern Elements.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I have many sketch books but I don’t use them for quilt design. I dabble with painting and drawing and would love to do more but there is never enough time. My quilting sketch book has inspirational quotes and ideas for projects. I also keep track of how many hours it takes to machine quilt my quilts. I sign in at the start of a session and note the time that I finish. It’s interesting to see how long they take to quilt and gives me an idea if I am going to make a deadline or not.
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
My favourite part of making a quilt is getting that first inspiration and choosing the fabrics. I usually go through a difficult section where I think it is not working but I know from experience that I usually just need to keep going and it works out in the end. I have been known to work on something for a while and I hate it so much that I stop and start again with a new colour or a different idea.
How is your work different than it was in the beginning? How is it the same?
My work has changed a lot over the years. I get really inspired by a particular technique and suddenly, I want to do something else. I sort of burn out and must find another idea to keep myself engaged. It’s hard to change especially when people like what you do and it takes me two or three years of thinking about it before I make the switch.
When I started, I tried many different techniques and did every class that I could find and ended up doing a lot of hand applique. I designed an applique quilt called Scottish Dance that was very successful for me, winning prizes and getting a lot of coverage in magazines. In spite of that success, I discovered crazy quilting and designed many quilts and taught a lot of crazy quilting and machine quilting classes over the following twelve years. My crazy quilts took a long time to make and I was busy teaching and being on committees. I had lots of ideas and decided to start making some art quilts that were not so time consuming.
I happened to see a documentary on tv about coral reefs and became fascinated by the colourful, exotic world under the sea. I loved to create quilts that explored the beauty of the coral reefs but also looked at some of the challenges that the reefs face. Magical Coral Reef and The Bleaching are two examples. I only expected to make one quilt but it turned into a whole series of them. I was able to incorporate my embroidery work from the crazy quilts into art quilts.
I had an opportunity to take a two-week design class with the famous Nancy Crow. She advised me to stop making pictorial work and start making abstract contemporary work as she thought it would suit me and would develop my voice and style. I found it quite difficult at first but I persisted and I have found that improv piecing does suit me. I have no pattern, just an idea and I start piecing fabrics together. It is very hard to explain but I try and express how I feel about a certain subject.
I started with my series called Connections, where I made quilts that used circles as the motif to express emotions. Family Feud and Grief are examples of this.
My latest work tries to express what I feel when I think about a certain subject. Autumn Song, Citrus Zing and Moroccan Magic are my latest quilts.
Browse through more inspiring art quilts on Create Whimsy.