Diane Harris has turned more than 30 years’ experience as a quilter, editor, teacher, and designer into an alter ego—the Stash Bandit—that urges us all to think outside the box and be open to “happy accidents.”
Diane has come to be known for her signature bright-and-scrappy aesthetic, with an emphasis on scrappy. While she’ll occasionally make a quilt in solids or using a limited number of fabrics, she’s primarily into scrap quilts. “Nine out of 10 quilts I make are scrap quilts,” she says. “In my trunk shows, I talk about the things to think about when making a scrap quilt: how to tie it together using fabrics from your own stash, and how you can have a lot of fabrics with a unifying element.”
Her passion for quilts that sparkle is one she’s developed over the past three decades. The Nebraska native learned to sew garments through 4-H when she was a young girl, but didn’t start quilting until 1984 when she was pregnant with her first child. She was looking for something new to do, and of the few classes her local fabric store offered, quilting looked the most interesting.
“We made a sampler quilt in that first class, and I took to it like a duck to water,” she says. “I loved it.”
Diane’s early quilts were typical of the styles popular in the 1980s, “back when you had to put muslin in every quilt because there were only four fabric choices at every store,” she remembers. “I was following some patterns, but there wasn’t a great abundance of stuff on the market like there is now. This was before rotary cutters, when you made templates, traced around them on fabric, and cut them out with scissors. Not having an abundance of patterns and how-to’s and fabric, part of the intrigue was the thrill of the hunt. The closest quilt store by about 1988 was an hour away from me. Ten years later when there started to be stores everywhere, part of the fun had been taken out because there wasn’t so much of a hunt anymore.”
For a number of years, Diane and her family lived in the Denver, Colorado, area, during which time she worked as an editor for Quiltmaker magazine from 2005 to 2016. She’s now back in rural Nebraska, near a little town called Bladen about 130 miles southwest of Lincoln. Despite being 35 miles from the nearest fabric store, these days she has no problem putting considerably more than four fabrics in each quilt.
Diane’s original patterns first started getting published not long after she started working for Quiltmaker, but it’s only been in the past five years that she’s truly felt like a quilt designer. In the beginning, designs she considered good were more of an accident, instances when she stumbled onto something and realized it could be effective. “Design wasn’t my forte,” she says.
An article she read about a particular art quilter that described how the artist had tried plenty of things that didn’t work before she landed on the thing that did was eye-opening. Up until that point, Diane thought designers just came up with great ideas. “I realized that’s not how it happens!” she says.
Some ideas she scribbled on the back of an envelope that ended up turning into effective quilt designs sealed the deal. She realized, “If I could allow myself to play, good things could happen.”
She still designs mostly by playing and experimenting. “I don’t have a strong background in art or elements of great design, but I’ve learned to have a sensibility about what might work,” she says. “I’ve learned to ask questions like ‘What would happen if?’ or ‘Maybe I should try this.’”
Diane’s best piece of advice for new scrap quilters? Make your first scrap quilt a one-color quilt. “The easiest color to start with is red,” she advises. “As quilter and author Mary Ellen Hopkins said, all reds clash well. Use a range of reds, with maybe one neutral.”
As the Stash Bandit, Diane presents a variety of classes and trunk shows, the result of the lessons she’s learned and the many quilts she’s made. “I named my business Stash Bandit because I wanted a sense of playfulness and to communicate the idea that you can make quilts with what you already have,” she says. “There are some amazing quilts hiding in your stash.”