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Bill Stearman has discovered the power of quilting



For our most recent Umbrella magazine, the Quinte Arts Council dedicated the winter issue to celebrating the Art of Craft and how the lines between the two often blur in innovative and exciting ways. We profiled 12 Quinte-based craftspeople who express their art through their craft; the ninth in this series is Bill Stearman in Picton.

Bill Stearman struggled with storytelling as a way to make sense of his life for many years. And then he discovered his voice in quilt making.

In March of 2014, he had a serious leg injury that left him in significant pain and medication that “killed his brain.” So he threw away the pain meds and sought another solution.

“I have no idea where the notion came from, but I decided to try quilt making as a way to deal with the pain. I bought a $100 sewing machine, ordered some fabric online, found a few YouTube videos, and started to make a quilt,” says Stearman. “What I quickly discovered is that when I am working on a quilt, I don’t feel pain. Every sense, every part of my body, every corner of my brain, even my heart, is focused on what I’m doing. Close to 200 quilts later, I get to call myself a quilt maker.”

He adds: “I am a quilt maker, but I am also a storyteller. The two go hand-in-hand,” says Stearman. “The stories cover topics not usually associated with quilts. And often these stories are not ones that folks expect, or want to hear talked about.”

For example, his Canada Day 2021 quilt, is made with 215 pieces of orange fabric and quilted using text from the United Nations definition of genocide; in his “Reclaiming Pride” he uses braille and morse code to present the hurtful names he was called growing up gay, “to take words that were thrown at me as slurs and present them as something beautiful.”

Stearman has a formidable belief in the power of one voice, and the obligation to call out what he sees as inappropriate or unjust. “The power of my one voice can inspire another and another to join in until there is a chorus, and then, change is possible. That notion influences every quilt that I make; every story that I tell.”

Even the fabric he uses tells a story: “My goal is to primarily use fabric designed by folks I know, or fabric that I have dyed myself. But I am also drawn to fabric that has history; that is made using time-honoured, traditional techniques. Japanese yarn-dyed fabric,

South African Shweshwe fabric, and Tanzanian fair-traded and hand-made batiks are current favourites.’

Stearman is quick to give credit to the woman who does most of the quilting on his work: Deanna Gaudaur of “While I design the quilting for my pieces, it is Deanna who executes those designs so beautifully through her hand-guided, free-motion, long-arm quilting.”   IG @bill_stearman