Spotlight: Olesya Lebedenko, Quilter and Designer

Holiday inspired character blocks

Spotlight: Olesya Lebedenko, Quilter and Designer

After finding it hard to maintain a creative life in war-torn Ukraine, Olesya Lebedenko closed her business and emigrated to Canada. It all just felt right during a 2017 visit, so she took the plunge to create a new life in a new place. With the freedom to let her ideas flow, Olesya is a prolific designer of cheery foundation paper pieced (FPP) patterns with hand-painted details that give her characters unique personalities.

Olesya Lebedenko portrait

Why textiles? Why quilting? How did you get started?

Textiles and threads are my way to draw my world. It’s a freedom to mix colors with texture and add tiny touches to bring life to the character. My quilting started with textile dolls and scraps after my classes in the studio. My creative life began when I lost my office job because of the crisis in Ukraine. In 2009 I was 27, a pregnant housewife, and I started my on-line shop BestKits. A year later, I ran a creative studio and started teaching. 

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Have your personal experiences (or situations) influenced your creative abilities? How?

I think, yes. Since my early childhood, I was a bookworm. And I can always find inspiration in books and stories. 

Tiger and Cat Flower mini quilts

How have other people supported or inspired you?

I have a huge list!!! My husband always supports me in every new beginning. He and our daughter are my best inspiration.

My favorite writers, Lewis Carroll, Mikhail Bulgakov, Terry Prattchet and Boris Akunin, gave me so much inspiration and woke up my imagination.

My friends Joy Paolozza, Tatyana Kurilina, Mary Tereshenko, Adrienne Gallagher and Carol Arsenault support and inspire me, also.

Joy Paolozza is my Quilting Godmother in Canada because she supports my family and me with everything! Tatyana Kurilina is a pediatrician professor; for me, she is the best example and support for strength and wisdom.

Mary Tereshenko is a Ukrainian artist and a tattoo master. She and my husband inspired me for my 365 days challenge. Mary had a 365 days flower sketch challenge. My husband has more than three years of everyday meditation practice, and he doesn’t plan to stop.

Adrienne Gallagher is a BERNINA educator, and thanks to her support BERNINA Canada sponsored me as an artist with all the needed sewing equipment. Adrienne inspires me to reach for new machine sewing heights. I’m working on a new collection special for BERNINA. It will be more than 15 blocks. The first block was released in August.

Carol Arsenault is a marvelous embroideress and a hand sewing quilter, and she taught me some gorgeous stitches!

Warm Wishes fabric post card

How did you come to live in North America? How was the transition to Canadian life?

The first time we visited Canada was in 2017. We fell in love with nature, peace (since 2014 the Russo-Ukrainian war disrupted our lives), the country itself, and found such a right environment for personal and business growth, so we decided to immigrate. The paperwork and the waiting time were the worst parts of the immigration process. The transition was swift and easy for all my family, especially for my dog. From time to time, I think that we mostly moved to make him happy. 

Olesya work in progress

Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?

Most of the time, I use Instagram instead of other platforms while I have my site and shop. Now my husband and I are working on a new design so we are preparing new materials for it.

Stay Cozy mini quilt

How did your 365 Days of Quilt Scraps block challenge begin, and how did it change over the course of the year?

At the beginning of 2018, I was deeply depressed after selling my shop and closing my studio in Ukraine. Then only unsold materials from the studio stuffed into my apartment and immigration bureaucracy remained around me. 

At that moment, I was struggling to find a new shiny goal in my creative life – something that could return my creative joy and keep me happily busy every day. 

I vividly remember that it was the 28th of April 2018 when I’d decided to start a BIG year-long scrap challenge. So very seriously, I promised myself that every day no matter what, I’d make a finished block. I was fully aware that the task was huge, so I needed to choose a block format wisely. So that’s why I prepared squares 3.5″ by 3.5″ (9cm by 9cm) as a perfect size for using scraps. 

During the first month, I was making blocks from different designers all over the Internet. The second month I felt more confident, so I tried to make my first own designs. At the end of the fourth month, thanks to my Instagram followers, I made my first pattern with Animal’s Flat Faces, which then turned in the collection. After that, during four more months, I created Halloween and Christmas pattern collections. 

But everything changed even more on the 250th day. On that day, I made my first fan art pattern with painted details. I was so glad as I felt that I found my unique style! Only two or three dots of paint bring REAL life to a character. I was so happy to add emotions! 

Today there is almost a year passed since I finished my year-long challenge. And I must say that no jokes, I have sketches for at least two more 365 days challenges!   

Sewing Scrap Characters book cover

What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Sewing Scrap Blocks with Character?

Don’t be afraid to try something new, mix techniques, and bring your unique touch to the pattern.

Inside Olesya's book Sewing Scrap Characters

What inspires your designs?

Honestly, almost everything around me gives inspiration. It could be a cold cup of coffee, the smell of a new book, re-watching or re-reading of favorite movies and books.

Panda Flowers mini quilt

What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?

I started to draw the details. Unique fabric mixes and characters with emotions are my signatures.

Some of Olesya's favorite tools

How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce? 

You may ask my husband: I become annoying, and it’s better to leave me alone for a while. Sometimes I have so many ideas that I can’t choose.

To calm down, I need to take out my fabrics so I can make a creative mess around. Sitting in the middle of the mess, I draw a silhouette and then divide it into pieces. The next steps are to choose fabrics and put all the pieces together. Then the final step is my favorite. It’s final touches with paints and stitches. From time to time, the last step could take a lot of time. All characters are live, so during creation, their mood may change too.

Holly Jolly mini quilt

Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn? 

Yes, I really believe that naturally everyone is unique and creative. Just spend time and listen to yourself so you will know what your passion is. After a while, you will find out that there are no frames in creativity. 

Olesya at work in her studio
Olesya’s sister working in her studio

Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?

It used to be a big table in my studio. The room had the biggest window in our apartment and the table I took from my old studio. But now I have shelves with baskets full of fabrics, two tables, three LED lamps, a tripod, and a designing wall in our house’s biggest room.

Foxy Flowers Mini Quilt

What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?

I love open baskets for fabrics, tins for buttons, yarns and laces, and signed photo boxes for rarely used instruments and samples. 

What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?

I can’t imagine my work without pinking shears, calque (vellum tracing paper), white and black textile paint, BERNINA sewing machine, and Slimline 3 table lamp. Pinking shears prevent fraying edges of my fabric pieces. Calque is perfect for foundation piecing and choosing fabrics for fussy cutting. Textile paint gives me the freedom to add details and confidence that the image is still stable after washing or ironing. I can talk for hours about my BERNINA machine and all it’s incredible functions!!! Thanks to Lilo Bowman and her book Love Your Creative Space I have one more tool, such as my Slimline 3 table lamp with all its light modes.

Holiday inspired character blocks

Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?

I make my sketches on a calque paper. It’s great to put fabrics under it and choose the particular part of the fabric print for piecing.

Set of 3 bear mini quilts

What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?

When I’m sewing, I’m listening to movies. I love detective stories, romance movies and comedies. During this year, I re-listen (but some moments I like to watch) my favorite series: Black Books, Going Postal, Good Omens, And Then There Were None and Shop Around the Corner. When I’m writing or photo shooting, I’m listening to music. I love rock and classical music. My favorite rock groups are Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Nirvana, Paddy and the Rats, Dropkick Murphy, The O’Reillys and the Paddyhats, Bardcore. I can listen for hours and hours to Paganini, Vivaldi, and Shostakovich.  

Be Bright mini quilt

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Believe in yourself. Trust yourself. Educate yourself.

Olesya Lebedenko Quote

If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?

It’s the most challenging question. Honestly, I can’t choose only one. But I know for sure what I would ask. “Let me spend some time in your working space, watch your creation process and feel your spirit”.

Interview with Olesya Lebedenko posted December 2020


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