by Mary Beth Krapil
Stuart Hillard is a quilt designer, maker, and home décor expert and a Handi Quilter international ambassador. He has more than twenty-five years’ experience and hundreds of published patterns to his name. His approach is fun and fresh, inclusive, and achievable. Stuart is the star of BBC Two’s “The Great British Sewing Bee“. His first book, Sew Fabulous, was published in August 2014 by Orion. His latest book, Use Scraps, Sew Blocks, Make 100 Quilts, was published by Pavilion and he has a new book coming out in August called, Simple Shapes, Stunning Quilts, also published by Pavilion.
I visited the UK recently and sat down with Stuart to get to know him a little better. Here’s what he had to say:
HQ: What does being an HQ Ambassador mean to you?
It’s a massive honor and a thrill of course. The very first time I tried longarm quilting on a Handi Quilter frame I was completely hooked. The ease, the comfort and the endless creative possibilities were apparent the moment I grasped the handles! You could say it was love at first stitch! I’ve always cherished the quilt making process from start to finish but as a magazine columnist with four columns to produce every month and the author of three quilting and sewing books, the pressure is always on to make quilts that are beautiful but can be turned around quickly! I’m also a TV presenter on both live and pre-recorded television and my Handi Quilter enables me to produce a vast array of samples with ease. Working with my Handi Quilter Avante
allows me to create beautiful, professional quilts in a fraction of the time it would usually take and I get to inspire more quilters than I ever dreamed possible.
HQ: How did you get started in quilting?
SH: I was a very early adopter! I learned hand piecing when I was a little boy at school. Hexagons and log cabins mostly. Very traditional stuff which is still where a lot of my passion lays. I’ve been making quilts for 41 years now and I haven’t run out of ideas yet! That’s what’s held my interest for so long, the shapes, the blocks, the fabrics and styles are ever changing and becoming fresh again but the elements that make up my quilts have remained the same. I didn’t “quilt” anything by machine until I was in my 20’s and took a class. I was given two options: “in the ditch” with a walking foot or “free motion meander”. The free motion won and I’ve loved bringing a quilt to life with quilting ever since.
HQ: How would you describe your style of quilting?
SH: I’m definitely eclectic and inclusive in my approach. There really isn’t a technique or style I haven’t tried and I love having a vast “tool-box” of skills to draw on whenever I need it. I’m definitely a piecer but I love to applique too and combining them both in one quilt is about as close to perfect as I think you can get. I love the traditions that our craft is based upon but I also love the innovations and ever changing boundaries. I can’t wait to see what happens to quilting in the next 10 years! When it comes to quilting my quilts, possibly the greatest asset I have in my Handi Quilter longarm is the Pro-Stitcher. The majority of my quilts for books and magazine publication are quilted with an edge to edge design. I love scouring my library to find a design that will harmonize perfectly with my top, but not only that, I can alter the density of the design to perfectly complement my quilt. The thread weight and color too to create something that will truly inspire other quilters to get their fabrics out and start cutting!
HQ: What is the most fun thing you have done as an Ambassador?
SH: I just can’t wait to finish a quilt top these days. I’ve always loved the quilting process but now it’s painless, easy, dynamic and fun. The magic happens right before my eyes and there’s no “down side” anymore. I get to meet thousands of quilters every year at shows and sharing our quilty passions is pretty hard to beat.
HQ: Of all your quilts, which is your favorite?
SH: That would be like choosing a favourite child, but if pushed, I would say that my favourite quilt is always the one I’m working on right now but ask me tomorrow and everything could have changed!
HQ: Do you still have your first quilt?
SH: My first quilts are all long gone I’m afraid, although I can still picture the little hand pieced hexagons I spent hours sewing together. I hope those memories never fade!
HQ: Who is your inspiration/muse?
SH: My inspiration isn’t one person, it’s many. I’m inspired by, and design for, the thousands of quilters I meet in person or online every year. They’re the quilters who want to make a special something to wrap their son or daughter in when they leave for college, or their new grand babies; the quilters who have a precious few hours once a week to do the thing they love so much and need a bit of inspiration. I listen and I hear the voices of those quilters when I’m designing and making my next project. I hope I fulfill at least some of their desires. That’s my intention anyway! I also take a huge amount of inspiration from fabric and nature…there are patterns and color combinations all around us, we just have to see them!
HQ: Of all the “tasks” in creating a quilt, which is your favorite and least favorite?
SH: Bringing ideas to life is the very best part of quilt making; whether that’s choosing fabrics, piecing blocks, turning a flat quilt top into a quilt with beautiful stitching and thread, or even sewing on the binding. There’s nothing that doesn’t give me pleasure. I don’t like making hanging sleeves or sewing them on..it’s such a small thing in the great scheme of things but most of my quilts are minus a sleeve…oops!
HQ: Do you have any other hobbies or interests?
SH: Teaching in one form or another has always been my job. Now it’s really a very enjoyable hobby and I get to hang out with my quilty friends and share ideas and skills. When I’m not sewing I love to knit (I’ve been doing that since I was 3 years old). And I also spin yarn on a wheel. It’s kind of my meditation! I love to cook British classics, like roast beef with Yorkshire puddings and steak and kidney pies! I love my garden but I’m more motivated to grow fruit and veggies than flowers. Travel is a huge passion of mine. I visit Asia and Australia most years but so far my trips to the US have been a bit limited.
HQ: Thank you Stuart for spending time with me. We all hope that you will put the U.S. and Handi Quilter in your travel plans soon. Many thanks to your photographer, Rachel Whiting, for the fantastic photos of your quilts.
Follow Stuart on Facebook here
Instagram – @stuarthilliardsews