Vintage Twist

Quilt artist Brian Haggard brings history to life in fabric

By Teresa Nicodemus
Photography by Haley Neale

IMG_4003Just a few cobblestone steps from the Southport Antique Mall is The Crazy Haberdasher studio, also known as The Haberdashery. Inside the studio, guests will find vintage artworks, wooden buffets and tables, and knickknacks from long ago. Three long tables, bordered with high-back, wood-spindled chairs, sit empty, awaiting the next class of students, whom Brian Haggard will welcome to his studio to learn the art of crazy quilting.

The antique whites of the furniture and the rich brown tones of the studio’s walls reflect the neutral palette Haggard loves, and these colors influence the combinations of fabric he often chooses in his art. Crazy quilts differ from traditional quilts that have connected blocks of fabric that are finely organized and geometric. A crazy quilt, or an art quilt, as he calls it, is free flowing in design and artistically embellished with buttons, lace and beads, detailed embroidery and exotic fabrics, such as velvet, satin or silk. It is often framed and displayed or added to a cushion, pillow or lap quilt. He usually works with blocks of fabric from 12-by-14-inches to 18-by-18-inches in size.

“The quilts I make as an artist are like scrapbooks made out of fabric,” he explains. “My work is vintage style from the 1800s and often features photos from that time period.” The photos are copied onto fabric using a specialized aging process that recreates the sepia effect of Old World photography. 

 Haggard attended the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, specializing in photography, a far cry from embroidery, but his success as an interior designer and owner of the design firm Windsor House Interiors for 17 years nurtures his quilt artistry, along with memories of the hours he spent as a youngster stitching and quilting with his grandmother. He credits that special time in his youth as the first inklings of a creative instinct for decorative stitching, fabric and texture in décor.

   The first art quilt Haggard created was for his mother’s birthday seven years ago. “We are an artistic family, and I know how my mother loves to reminisce,” he says. The quilt was elaborately detailed with buttons, antique lace and embroidery woven around sepia-toned, nostalgic photos of his mother and grandmother. The quilt became a beloved gift to his mother and marked the beginning of his career as a quilt artist. He later developed a unique niche in quilting circles with his creative use of photography and original embroidered designs.

His vintage artistic spirit blossomed with his submission to the “Power Suits: An Art Guild Challenge” exhibit in 2011. His art quilt “Power Suit,” honoring his great-grandfather, combined a photograph of his grandfather in sepia-toned format in the center of the quilt surrounded by Versace and Armani vintage suit samples, a nostalgic array of material snippets from his great-grandfather’s tie collection and pieces of a watch to symbolize the passage of time. The art quilt gained national recognition as it traveled with other artist submissions in the Power Suit collection, showing in a variety of venues from art galleries and art centers to the National Quilting Associations’ 44th Annual Quilt Show.

Haggard’s maternal family roots inspired his “A Family’s Legacy” art quilt, on which he featured photos of his great-grandmother and great-grandfather. Entwined in a fabric block with his great-grandmother’s photograph, Haggard’s intricate stitching reveals a lilac, her favorite flower, and a seagull commemorating her favorite novel, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” His great-grandfather was a hunter and fisherman, which is conveyed through embroidered images of a fish and pheasant.

“I do all of the hand stitching, embellishments and binding for my quilts,” he says. “I’ll send them to a machine quilter for final quilting with explicit instructions for quilt design.”

Marilyn Harding, long arm quilter for the Back Door Inc., a local quilt shop in Greenwood, has worked with many of Haggard’s quilt designs. As a long arm quilter, she uses a large frame quilting machine to sew Haggard’s creative patterns. “Brian’s quilts are so artistic,” Harding says. “He is very, very talented. He will bring the completed quilt top to me, and I stitch the top layer, the batting and the back together as one finished piece. He has his vision of what he wants it to look like, and my job is to make it look like that.” 

Haggard decided several years ago to take his quilt artistry a step further, and taking a friend’s advice, he began writing books to share his expertise with the public. He has since authored two books, with a third in the works. His first book, “Crazy Quilted Memories,” featured ideas for crazy quilt projects, which was published by C&T Publishing in 2011. The second book, “Embroidered Memories,” published in 2012 by C&T Publishing, is a pattern book introducing a collection of his embroidery designs.

Stemming from the popularity of his books, Haggard has been asked to teach his quilting techniques to interested fans. He offers quilt classes focused on crazy quilt projects at his studio and plans three-day retreats, either on-site at his studio or off-site. Students attending studio retreats will book rooms at local hotels and spend the days learning embroidery and crazy quilt techniques.

One of Haggard’s students, Jody Baker, reminisces about her last quilting retreat at Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute in 2011. Each student ahead of time sent a personal photo to Haggard related to the quilt project they were planning. Some sent graduation photos or wedding photos. “My picture was my parents holding me on my first birthday,” says Baker. “Brian printed the photos in sepia tones on fabric and included them in individual kits for each of us with all the supplies we needed for creating our crazy quilt.” Baker now serves as his assistant, traveling with him to quilt shows abroad and around the country.

Haggard recently returned from the International Quilt Festival of Ireland in Killarney, where he was asked to teach hand-stitching classes during the festival. He often invites those interested in quilting to join him on many of his excursions, including his recent trip to Ireland. “Once my first book was published, quilt guilds began hiring me to teach crazy quilting and embroidery techniques during their events,” he says. “I’m going to California in February to teach a quilt art class for the Road to California Quilt Guild Convention and continue to schedule bookings at various guilds into 2018.” Also in February, he will teach during a seven-day Caribbean Cruise Craft Tour.

Despite his national and international travels, Haggard is always happy to return to The Haberdashery, where he also lives. There, an old door key, unusually shaped buttons, pieces of a pocket watch, a locket, photographs and strands of antique lace are all sources of inspiration for the creator of crazy quilts.