Denise Labadie: A Quilter’s Journey

May 2024 | Quilting
by Marilyn Heywood Paige

Denise Labadie is a well-known quilter who creates fiber art inspired by ancient Celtic megalithic structures. (Imagine Stonehenge.) In a recent interview, she explained she makes quilts depicting these formations because the stones represent history and people’s connection to the land. That human connection draws her to these giant stones.
Though at first her fascination with stone ruins might seem counterintuitive for an artist working in fabric. Upon further investigation, it seems portraying these ancient structures in quilts is fitting as quilting is a 60,000-year-old practice. All of human antiquity includes quilts. There’s no place on earth that doesn’t have quilting in its history, as this fascinating Four Minute History of Quilting can attest. So, visually portraying archaic structures using an ancient human craft is appropriate. 


As you can see from the photos of her quilts, these are not rudimentary amateur renditions. She makes the stones and their environment come alive with her use of perspective, texture, and color. That kind of skill didn’t just arrive after a few quilting classes. Denise’s sewing background is deep.

Early Beginnings and Passion for Sewing

Denise didn’t start out as a quilter, contemporary, artistic or otherwise. Her mother was a competent seamstress, and their home had a Singer Sewing Machine. At seven, Denise begged her mother to teach her to sew. Her mother refused, saying Denise would have to wait till she was ten. However, fate intervened when Denise was kicked out of Campfire Girls because she didn’t get along with her teacher. She was then able to join the 4H Club where she could take sewing. Her instructor, Misses Nesbitt, instilled in her the importance of precision sewing techniques that became the foundation of Denise’s considerable sewing skills. 
Denise had a sewing and alterations business for 25 years where she sewed everything from work attire to wedding dresses. But over time, the stress of it wore her thin, and she realized she only wanted to make things for her family, so she closed her business. Some time later, she took a class at a local quilt shop with a friend and discovered a new love. “I was like, I have to do this and I told myself that for a couple of years. And then finally I said no to everything else and went off to learn to be a quilt artist.” 
Her fascination with stone structures first came from the pages of a book. Denise was paging through a book on Ireland and saw a stone circle of three stones. “I said, ‘Oh my God, I've gotta see these.’” She did and took photos of them. When she came home, she saw an ad for a quilting teacher, Jean Nesbitt in San Francisco, who was teaching how to turn a photo into a quilt. She took the class and learned the technique. 

Art Quilt Class

The Quilting Process

That was the beginning of creating stones on quilts, but since then, she has mastered fabric painting and quilting techniques that reflect her precision honed over decades of sewing. 
Her quilts can take anywhere from a few to several months to complete. She has dealt with creative barriers, but also experienced thrilling moments of discovery that enabled her to complete her award-winning quilts. 

Decades of Quilting

Over forty-five years of quilting, Denise has accomplished much. Her quilting resume is long and includes many prestigious honors and publications. She exhibits much more frequently than she teaches, so we are thrilled that she will bring her quilting wisdom to the Estelle Center this summer and fall. 

Denise Labadie’s Quilting Classes at the Estelle Center

On July 13 and 14, she will teach a Fabric Painting Workshop. You can learn her techniques for using sun-reactive transparent color paints to create textured and colored fabrics. From October 14 to 18, you can join Denise in a Five-Day Art Quilt Intensive to learn her techniques for creating stunning contemporary art quilts.
Through her quilts, Denise not only weaves together fabric and thread but also connects people to the rich tapestry of history and emotion. 


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