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Billings artist stitches quilts for conversation, not comfort - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Billings artist stitches quilts for conversation, not comfort

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BILLINGS - When Barbara Olson sits down at her sewing machine, she listens for a rhythm.

“There’s a cadence, there’s my feet, the sound of the machine, my hands,” she said.

Olson's hands move to the beat of the machine as a mechanical heartbeat pumps life into her work.

She's threaded needles and aligned fabric for decades, but this seamstress gave up dressmaking years ago.

“I have never looked back, I’ve never made a garment, I haven’t mended anything since then,” said Olson.

Olson is a quilt artist, but she also considers herself a rule breaker.

“I could never follow the rules," said Olson with a laugh. "There used to be a law where you couldn’t cross over one piece of stitching with another piece of stitching or the quilt police would come.”

Olson sees her beautiful, intricately patterned quilts as statement makers.

“For years I was only doing big quilts, I couldn’t say what I needed to say in a small format so they always kept getting big,” said Olson.

Today, Olson’s quilts are much smaller, some no bigger than a game board.

One of the larger quilts is covered in colorful flowers, which Olson said became a symbol of life during her mother's passing.

Over the years, Olson has found her voice. Now she’s using it to push the art world to open its mind.

“There was often a question of the longevity of fiber art pieces versus a painting,” said Olson. "The art world didn't see quilts as something that would stand the test of time."

According to Olson, quilting only recently gained acceptance as an art instead of a craft.

She said that up until now, gallery owners and museums often believed quilts were better suited around a person’s shoulders than on display.

“It’s not a traditional quilt you get to wrap up in," said Olson. "I made a quilt with a lot of spirals in it and I put it on the bed and my husband wanted it off the bed. He swore all those little spirals were getting him at night.”

And she said her quilts really aren't comfortable anyway.

Olson's work has been featured in galleries in the south and she also teaches courses on quilt-making. 

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