Textile artist Lindsay Sutton motivated by legacy to create beautiful work

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Stitching together the oft-partitioned domains of art, craft and design, Lindsay Sutton’s gorgeous textiles and quilts are both eye-catching and inspirational — especially given the struggle it took to get them made in the first place.

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But let’s talk about the work first. Scrolling through them at Henrietta Quilt Shop on Instagram, it’s easy to imagine the ACAD-trained artist’s compositions as abstract–expressionist paintings up in a provincial gallery.

She cites the monolithic Bauhaus movement as a big inspiration you can feel in the DNA of her less-is-more visual approach, which often deploys architectural shapes — the 42-year-old also clearly embracing Bauhaus’s ideals of borderless maker practises put to functional use in everyday life.

Beautiful pragmatism

Observe her drool-worthy (and, actually, drool-proofing) piano keyboard dust cover for an instance of this seductive pragmatism.

“I think it falls somewhere in between all three of those,” she says of her work — meaning these shattered silos of design, craft and art — noting, “though I tend to lean into craft. But I have dabbled.”

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Besides the ACAD fine arts degree, she taught herself various design programs to some professional use, acted various times as an art director, and has also worked plenty in fashion when she lived in Calgary. And like a lot of truly creative people, Sutton just constantly experiments to see what sticks.

But also like a lot of creative people, especially in the last year and a half, the rising pandemic stood firmly in her way, particularly, as she notes, “I like collaborating with people — because otherwise I don’t often get things done.”

The serious bummer at the time was, she was just getting going again after a long, difficult health break, collaborating with Calgary Sobey Art Award recipient Jason de Haan on a quilt. Then, you know, ol’ COVID-19.

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“It was suddenly impossible to make that happen. I was really feeling — well, I think like everybody — really stuck,” she says. “And especially so, having not done anything creative in a really long time.”

Here’s where the story gets darker. The first thing that happened, a great and complicated thing, is Sutton had a baby — Henrietta — who, as babies do, vacuumed up her every waking hour.

“I remember my friend Doha and other moms telling me, ‘Just wait till she’s two: you’ll have more time; you’ll feel more like yourself again,’ Sutton recalls. “But right after she turned two is when I was diagnosed.”

Henrietta’s six now, going into Grade 1.

Neither of us really wanted to make this a cancer story, but, this is a cancer story — at least in part.

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“So, then it was like chemo and surgery,” she says of her breast cancer diagnosis and regimen, “and a year of other treatments.

“Right when I had just come out of that, it wasn’t a re-diagnosis, it was just, like, ‘Oh, actually, you’re stage four. So you’ll be in treatment forever, basically.’”

Everyone has spots on their lungs, Sutton notes, whether they change or not. “And, unfortunately,” she explains, in her, “they did start changing. Once I was done all my treatments, they started to grow. So I had to do another round of chemo.

“And then, right after that, is when COVID started.”

Not surprisingly during all of this, Sutton was depressed. Who wouldn’t be? But she still had quilting in mind.

“I had been talking to my therapist,” she says, “and you know, just expressing that I really wanted to start this. But it was so hard; everything seemed overwhelming.”

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The best advice

Great advice indeed, her therapist suggested making it as accessible as possible. “ ‘You don’t have to work on it for hours a day, just even a few minutes a day, when you feel like it,’” repeats Sutton.

With a vision of her friend Warren McLachlan‘s family cabin and art compound down in Crowsnest Pass where she and her friends made an annual pilgrimage every August, Sutton’s first quilt emerged, almost unconsciously, as a stylized landscape.

“It turned into a king size and kept growing and growing,” she laughs. “It was huge!”

From there, she started sewing wall hangings she was calling “sketches.” These, as a hobby more than anything, she started to move into more utilitarian uses to the sides of tote and weekend bags, pillow covers, the aforementioned keyboard cosy and quilts from baby-scale up.

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“And the stitching, the hand stitching, is so good for my anxiety, because I can just sit down and do that whenever I need to. You know, keep my hands busy.”

Detail one of Linsday Sutton’s recently made totes.
Detail one of Linsday Sutton’s recently made totes. Photo by Fish Griwkowsky /Postmedia

The project, which has helped her cope in numerous ways, she named after her daughter.

“I think it’s just a way to incorporate Henny. With me being at home all the time, and especially ‘COVID year,’ we were just on top of each other. I love her so much, but when you’re with someone, even your kid, every moment of the day, you’re really getting at each other,” Sutton laughs.

She set aside a space in the basement to work while her husband Jeff takes care of Henrietta.

“Finally, I had something that was my own to do,” she laughs, “I had to bring her in — this idea of legacy.”

Though Sutton’s mom wasn’t a quilter, she was a textile major at the U of A — she sewed for Citadel productions before her daughter was born. “She would make these insane Halloween costumes and lots of my clothes,” Sutton explains. “One year I was the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, so good.

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“So she taught me how to sew, for sure. We teach it often from one generation to the next. And then you pass down these objects that are, you know, made with love … and take a lot of time.”

Sutton brings it home. “And you can’t not think about time when you’re stage four.”

The question you’re maybe wondering here — well, the answer is the same for any of us: who knows? But Sutton’s thinking past that, anyway.

“I’ve just been thinking about legacies a lot, and just what will I leave behind? And how will I be remembered? And how can a little piece of me end up in a lot of people’s lives, not even as a tradition, but as an object, for decades and decades?

“Remembered,” she says. “And passed down.”

Find Sutton and her work on Instagram @henriettaquiltshop.

fgriwkowsky@postmedia.com

@fisheyefoto

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