Eagles fly off the fabric. Waves ripple along the seams. Trees grow out of the stitching.
A Carol Seeley quilt is not just a pretty bed covering, it’s a work of art – practically a sculpture.
Pinned to a wall in her large, brightly-lit, multi-windowed home studio is one of Seeley’s latest commissions. It’s a forest scene split by a tumbling creek and even though it’s far from finished, already tall tree trunks emerge from the quilt’s surface.
“I really like putting dimension in my work,” Seeley says.
Seeley demonstrates the technique she’s using to create the branches. Tiny pieces of fabric are applied to a water-soluble material to build up the pine-needles and mosses. When it’s all applied, the background is dissolved, leaving a mass of natural looking greenery that is sewn onto the quilt.
She is creating an image but at the heart of it, it is still quilting. Pieces of fabric are sewn to other pieces to make a pattern or image on what is still basically a blanket.
But she has taken quilting to another realm. The blanket becomes a canvas. Although she still collects and uses fabric scraps to make quilts for her family, she has become nationally-renowned for her artistic quilts.
She is in demand as a teacher, travelling the country doing workshops, and her quilts have won national awards.
Seeley applies an engineer’s knack for innovation, a photographer’s eye for colour and a naturalist’s love for landscape. The result is quilts that are marvelous not just for their beauty but also for the process that created them.
It’s no surprise. Seeley is a trained mechanical engineer and she admits being an engineer plays a big part in her quilting art. Most of her career as a mechanical engineer was spent working for Kodak, the film giant.
“I was educated as a mechanical engineer dealing with colour film,” Seeley says.
“I think both of those things – being able to draft and being able to use colour – are two of the things that really stood out right from Day 1.
“That knowledge has helped me to be able to produce what I do now.”
“I really need to make my quilts look realistic,” Seeley says.
Seeley even incorporates photographs in her work. She will print a photograph out on fabric and then stitch it into the scene and colour it. The photo just becomes another piece of fabric joined with others to make the quilt.
Her studio is home to five sewing machines. One of them looks industrial.
“That’s George,” she says. George is also the manufacturer’s name and it’s written across the metal sewing machine in red. You couldn’t call it anything else because it dominates one corner of the studio.
Meanwhile, the command centre of the studio is a chair at the bottom of a u-shaped arrangement of tables in front of a bank of windows. A sewing machine stands like a ship’s console. On either side of her are three other sewing machines, all accessible via wheels on her office chair. Music pipes in from her stereo – classical when she needs to concentrate on her work.
She works on average about four hours a day but that can be a couple hours on one day, 12 hours another day if she’s on a roll. She doesn’t do a lot of her work in the summer because she and her husband Larry are often out on the water in their boat.
Boating played a large part in Seeley’s growth as an artist. After traveling out on the water, she came back to shore with a desire to recreate what she saw in her preferred medium, quilting.
“I had to start designing my own designs because there wasn’t any out there,” Seeley says.
The Seeleys moved to Campbell River in 1995 when Larry opened the Boston Pizza franchise. Campbell River was a destination they had always had in mind after Larry’s first career often took him to the West Coast.
Since arriving, they’ve been active in the community. Carol is a moving force in the arts community having been treasurer and president of the Campbell River Art Gallery. She is still involved with the gallery.
Seeley is a native of Buffalo, New York, and moved to Toronto where she and Larry lived until 1986 when they moved to Vancouver for a few years before landing on the Island.
Quilting became a way of life for Seeley when she was looking for something to do after moving out west.
“You have to meet people so I started joining clubs and groups,” she said. “As time moved on I found that quilters are much friendlier than other people so I dropped all the other groups and stayed a quilter.”
Now she travels the country teaching her art and her quilts continue to win awards. In her hands quilts become works of art. The nature seascapes of the Campbell River area come alive through the needles, thread and fabric of her quilts.