Arts & Culture

Traditional weavings and quilts follow patterns well-known throughout the decades—think Native American and cultures around the world. In the nineteenth century colonists brought their skills to the New World. Many of today’s quilters say that they learned sewing techniques from their grandmothers. And many fabric artists have broken with tradition and, like artists in other mediums, created pieces that reflect their life journeys or have personal meaning. Some sew secret symbols into their works.

Last Fall the Festival of the Thread was held at the Shane Center for the Arts in Livingston, showing the works of Montana women fiber artists. The Festival focused on contemporary, untraditional designs that radiated sophisticated beauty. 

This article, like the show, features talented women across Montana. Here are statements about their aims or backgrounds as well as images of their work. Since pictures speak louder than words, let photos of the women’s art reign. 


Laurie Gano

Big Timber

Laurie Gano


Laurie Gano’s elegant and intricate tapestry work captures the beauty of our Montana landscape.

Gano was introduced to tapestry weaving at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She says:

“After several years of weaving geometric designs, followed by birds and animals, I pursued landscape as a design source almost exclusively. I challenge myself by finding new areas of concentration, such as sky and water, greater detail and the effects of light. My husband and I live on a ranch north of Big Timber; many of my works depict scenes from Sweet Grass County.

“I love the discipline of weaving, the methodical progression, the geometry.”




Debbie Smith

Miles City

Debbie Smith


Debbie’s art figures possess a mystical spirit. Debbie is in the Certified MAP (Montana Artpreneur Program) Artist through the MAC (Montana Arts Council). “I am a mixed media artist living under spectacular skies where the Yellowstone River runs through the quiet prairie. The addictive open space of the plains provides an opportunity to contemplate nature, divinity, and the human world as one, allowing the expression of my art to materialize into spirit figures or “Guardians.” 

“Each of my Guardians is inspired by the essence of an individual who has crossed my path—messengers whispering the shared wisdom preserved deep within our hearts where ancient memories are stored.

“I have called upon my needlework skills acquired over a lifetime, incorporating the use of found organic objects and adding thoughtfully sought-out beads to create my figures. The Guardians take flight into the world on re-purposed bedsprings emerging from hand-painted wood block bases.



Carol Kimble


Carol Kimble

Find Carol Kimble on Facebook or the SAQA website,

Carol creates art quilts using commercial and recycled fabrics combined with hand-dyed fabrics and embellishes with painting to add to the visual substance, dimension, and emotion. 

“I use all kinds of fiber, dyes, paints and objects to represent my current feelings, questions, emotions, memories, and experiences. The tactile process of connecting what I see, feel, hear, and remember is how I share and record my journey.

“In my childhood, my family had a wonderful Japanese friend who loved making fabric art. We would visit her often and I was mesmerized. She taught my mom how to sew as she was a professional seamstress. She would take me to her “upstairs” where all of her fabrics, fibers, buttons, trims, and threads were organized and stored – brocades – embroidery – wispy – shiny – silks – cottons – wools – color – smooth – rough – so much to see and touch and remember.” 




Rickie Van Berkum

Missoula, also

Rickie Van Berkum

Rickie is a fiber artist who creates elegant hand-painted yarns and hand-spinning fibers and original art garments inspired by Montana landscapes. “I explore the importance of using scientific research and analysis to address today’s pressing social and environmental questions. My work brings together my science background and a lifetime of fiber art. My pieces are designed to promote conversations about the role of science in making policy choices, and the impact of technology on our lives.”

Did you realize creative fiber art could illustrate research? These two shawls are hand-dyed and -knit using merino wool and silk.

A Gender Difference, Women and Men’s Hourly Wages, 2015

(Chart adapted from Economic Policy Institute), By educational level, some high school-graduate degree

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Caused by Humans 1840-2010

(Chart adapted from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
Blue: forestry and other land use, orange: fossil fuels, cement, and flaring




Cindy Bowker


Find Cindy on Facebook

Cindy Bowker

“Color and fabric drive my designs.”

Poppies. “Beautiful red poppies in my front yard inspired this quilt, and the realization that big black fancy buttons could represent the center of the poppies.” 

Trillions. “’Trillions,’” named after triangle shaped cut gemstones, was created at a quilt retreat at Bucks T 4. Emphasizing the Australian center triangle fabrics was the goal. They are framed with ivory linen, some silk, and textured black cotton. I ran out of the linen when it was too late to drive back to Bozeman to get more and was stumped on what to do. A very, very generous glass of wine at dinner freed up the thinking
(I don’t need any more linen; using other fabrics makes it more interesting). The foosball table in the game room was used to lay out the position of each triangle.




Heidi Zielinski


Heidi Zielinski

Extensive stitching, beading, and numerous surface design techniques enhance Heidi’s free-form quilting style. 

Capture The Sunrise—I found a beautiful fabric panel with the colors of a sunrise and began to cut it up and put it back together again with some of my own fabrics. I chose a wonderful picture of the sunrise from my yard looking into the Sapphire Mountains and printed it out on silk fabric.
I painted the white borders of it to match the colors in the quilt and layered it over a segment of the original panel fabric. I quilted it rather heavily and then added many stone and horn beads in earthy colors. I felt I had really captured the essence of the sunrise and the feelings it inspires when you see it glowing on the horizon and through the trees.

Without Light Nothing Flowers—Created as a complement to a series of quilts based on the color wheel, this piece is mostly white fabrics with touches of black and red for accent. White is not really a color but it is what we see when all wavelengths of light are reflected of an object—it is all colors. Hand embroidery accents this collage-style piece. 

In a Purple Fields of Tulips—This piece incorporates numerous commercial fabrics accented with couched yarns and beading. The earthy tones and shades of green, purple, and brown create a soothing and calming piece. Innovative freeform stitching compliments the design and brings it all together. 


Colleen Story


Colleen Story



Colleen founded the Fourth Annual Festival of the Thread.

For special help for this article, thanks to Linda Fisher & a Stitch off Seventh, a sewing studio in Bozeman.

Find on Facebook or email [email protected] Also Lori Richards in Livingston, [email protected]