Linda O’Sullivan is an original member of Quilter’s Unlimited. She first attended founding member Betty Jo Shiell’s quilt shop classes in the 1980s. O’Sullivan has been a part of guild meetings and shows ever since. She retired from her time as a school soccer coach and now looks forward to monthly “show and tell” gatherings and the nationally acclaimed quilters brought in for guild workshops.
The Quilter’s Unlimited show, “Unity in the Community” at City Hall this summer will feature one of O’Sullivan’s paper piecing quilts titled “Fanfare.” The tiny black and white fans are a nod to Celtic imagery and O’Sullivan’s roots growing up in Wales.
“When I first came to the States, I wanted to do something that I considered to be an American craft,” says O’Sullivan. “I only found out after the fact that it’s a huge tradition in Britain and Wales as well.”
O’Sullivan learned to sew and knit with the help of her mother and grandmother. She fondly recalls the first pair of socks she ever made in elementary school. Once she moved to Tallahassee, she took up quilting and learned to make templates in addition to applique.
Celtic design finds its way into many of O’Sullivan’s quilts. She has dozens of books featuring Celtic patterns such as spirals. Visiting her husband’s home country, Ireland, also provides a wealth of visual motifs. O’Sullivan takes photographs on their travels of older buildings and interiors that are decorated with intricate designs.
“When we visit churches and cathedrals in Europe, I’m always more fascinated by the tile floors than the decorated ceilings,” says O’Sullivan. “I’ve made quite a few quilts that resemble tile floors. They’re geometric so they lend themselves well to paper piecing.”
Paper piecing is a technique that uses paper as the foundation for a quilting block. O’Sullivan uses freezer paper to draw her design in pencil. She then layers the fabric underneath. The paper allows for many small perforations, so when it’s torn away you can see the sewn design underneath. It’s the technique she’s taught the most as an instructor at local quilt shops in north Florida and South Georgia.
O’Sullivan utilizes a muted palette with grays and greens, and challenges herself to throw in brighter fabrics for contrast. Her time living in Florida has trained her eye to incorporate light colors as she grows her stash of bought and found fabrics. She sketches out new quilts in her home using a floor-to-ceiling design wall.
“I’ve got it covered with flat white flannel so that fabric sticks to it when you put up pieces on the wall,” describes O’Sullivan. “The advantage is that you can put up your design and step back and look at it, which gives you a better idea about how it’s all going to work.”
An average quilt takes a few months for O’Sullivan to complete, and she will alternate techniques that use geometric designs with more organic, hand cut and sewn shapes. Sometimes this is a whole day affair as O’Sullivan sews in the morning, pieces in the afternoon and does the hand stitching in the evening. She’s fairly precise in her handiwork, and even if a mistake does arise, she incorporates it as part of the Welsh tradition of more rudimentary hand stitching.
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