November 21, 2023
We’re excited to announce the October $10,000 Amber Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Linda Diak, Owner of Linda Diak Quilts. She is the eleventh qualifier for the 2023 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).
Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down with Linda for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.
WomensNet: Hi everyone. Welcome to a conversation with this month’s Amber Grant winner for October, 2023. Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Linda Diak of Linda Diak Quilts.
I’m Marcia Layton Turner. I am one of several WomensNet Advisory Board members. So Linda, thank you so much for your time to chat with us about your quilts. I’m super excited to hear all about them.
Linda: Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here.
WomensNet: So, let’s start at the beginning. Tell everybody who’s watching a little bit about your business and how you got started in quilt making.
Linda: I am predominantly an art quilter. I create our art quilts that are images from my imagination, my inspiration. But I also do commission work for others – their homes, their pets, their loved ones, etc. Businesses… I’ve done their logos.
Then this past year, I’ve added long arming for a quilt for others, whether it’s their bed quilts or their art quilts. I started the art quilting just a few years ago. I have been a textile artist all my life. I was a weaver for the first half of my life. And then I started around 23, 24 years ago, graft and fibers, which became DyakCraft. And I was originally selling spinning fibers and hand spindles made by other folks. And I wanted a specific spindle and no one would make it for me. So my husband began his wood turning career, creating that spindle, and that morphed into knitting needles and crochet hooks, which kind of took over.
So for the last decade or so, I have had to channel my creativity into website development and emails and photographs and advertising. And I hit a point where I really needed to be making, again… I needed to do my work again. So, I was in a fabric store. I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do, and I was in a fabric store and they had gotten in a sit down long arm, a long arm machine that’s placed in a table.
WomensNet: And so a long arm is a quilting tool.
Linda: Quilting machine. Yes. It’s on a big frame. So they had gotten a sit down and so I sat down at this thing and within 30 seconds I turned to my husband and to the shop owner and said, ‘that’s it. That’s what I’m gonna do, and I’m gonna be really good at it.’ I just knew. So that’s how it got started.
WomensNet: That’s awesome. So now that you’ve won the $10,000 Amber Grant, what are some investments that you’re gonna make in your business?
Linda: Well, I am married to a former exhibitions designer. I worked for museums and collectors, and every time I’ve made a piece, I’d say, ‘Tom, what do you think of it?’ And he’d say, ‘that’s nice, honey, but it should be bigger.’ And we recently hung all my work up at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Lebanon, medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. And it looks great, but there’s a lot of empty wall. And I have two pieces that I have designed that I have been trying to get built. And the first one is of Billings Farm Museum in Woodstock. It’s a beautiful facility, part of the Rockefeller Foundation, I believe. And they have a visitor’s center that they want this particular quilt; it’s of their cows with the museum stitched into the background, for their entry. And if I can complete this piece, it will be seen by tens of thousands of visitors every year from all over the world.
So I’m trying to get it made. The exhibitions person at Billings is trying to find funding to purchase it, etc. And now I finally have the equipment, which I just got this past year, a machine on a frame, but I’ve needed the time and the funds to shut everything down to work on that large of a piece.
Then the second piece I want to create, I designed this year. In July, Vermont was devastated by flooding— especially in our area. And a number of animals were impacted. And four of them caught my attention. A pig that that took off down the highway, a bull that was running through neighbors yards, an emu that took off and went on a month long trek, 30 miles loop around the area. And a peacock named Kevin.
So I’ve designed a quilt with the four of these creatures in an old Buick and taking a road trip together. I’m hoping I can produce it and tour it around the state and the region and possibly raise money from the image for some animal groups. Because nothing has really been done for the animals that were impacted… there’s still much that the people need, and it’s understandable.
It also gives a bit of humor and something to smile about from the flooding, which there’s just not a lot to smile about, you know? So I want to get those two pieces produced. I wanna get them photographed professionally and appraised.
WomensNet: Excellent. And so when you’re talking about a large quilt, what are some dimensions?
Linda: About eight feet by 10 feet. I think Billings is gonna be seven feet by nine feet. They’re working out the dimensions where they wanna hang it. But they’re large scale. They’ll take a lot of time. And I won’t be able to be working on other folks’ work while I’m doing that.
WomensNet: What do you think has been the secret to your success thus far?
Linda: I have a few advantages in that I have a long history in the fiber arts. As well as a variety of businesses to date. Retail mail order, online sales…I’ve been involved in two large nonprofits. And you collect this throughout your life and at some point it all kind of just flows together. And that kind of did for me here in this…
I have my husband that I can call on who has a very keen and developed eye, and I can say ‘I’m stuck.’ And, you know, ‘what do you think of this?’ And so having that is huge, and a support community. And I have a very strong one. It’s my customers, it’s my peers, colleagues, friends. Because I’ve been at home and self-employed in a rural area most of my adult life. But I’ve also been online because of my business.
WomensNet: It sounds like a strong network has really been a key advantage, especially as an artist. Now looking ahead to the future, three to five years, what do you think your business will look like?
Linda: What I’m hoping it’ll look like is that I will be doing more and more of my work, but at the same time, I want to produce online classes. Over a decade ago I told my husband, we have to look forward to the future here and consider that we’re gonna have to get to a point where we’re selling information and not stuff that came out of our hands. ‘Cause you can only count on that for so long.
So I do wanna put together a series of classes that will change and grow. I want to build out our house, which is an old colonial in a very quintessential Vermont village. We’re right in the center and it has been a business for much of the last 40 plus years.
So there’s no kitchen downstairs anymore or anything. And we would like to take that space, which is currently shipping and office and turn it into a retail space and gallery for my work. There’s other people work as well. We had a gallery when we first moved to Vermont 30 plus years ago, and we’ve always kind of wanted to revisit that. And then I’ve been in talks with a number of the inns here in town to bring in students for week long retreats. I have a friend in Australia and one in Spain, both world renowned quilters. They wanna hang out in Vermont. So we could start having some really nice retreats to bring folks in so that they’re in our restaurants, they’re in our shops, etc.
When we first moved up here from Florida, we were in a restaurant in Northern New Hampshire. I was sitting at the bar and there was a woman sitting there and she said, ‘if you wanna live here, you have to do three things.’ And I said, ‘what’s that?’ And she said, ‘it doesn’t matter… you have to be able to do three things.’ And that’s what business is – you have to be able to do three things.
WomensNet: So what’s one piece of advice that you might give an aspiring female entrepreneur, somebody who’s just getting started?
Linda: I think the most important thing is to listen to your gut, because the people in your life are going to be overly concerned about you. People perceive the risk that’s involved with self-employment as being extraordinary when they’re all at risk too.
Everyone has risk. It’s just that it’s more visible when you are self-employed. It’s no different. So you do have to become risk averse and not pay too much attention to that.
Safety nets. You do lose safety nets when you’re self-employed. And your safety net is going to come in the form of your community, and you really need to cultivate that.
And I think the last thing is, especially if you’re an artist, you need to join groups that are related to what you do. But you can’t get too wrapped up in them early on, because you’re going to have a lot of self-doubt. We all do, you know, question yourself. And if you’re surrounded by too many people whose work you admire, then you’re gonna start questioning your own. And you need to just listen to yourself.
And before I go, I have to say this: I cannot thank WomensNet enough for this award. Not only the financial support, and I appreciate that, but just the recognition that a quilter, an artist, and a quilter of all things is worthy of a business award. It is not easy out there for artists. It is not easy for women and women artists, particularly those of us who are working in areas or mediums that are considered more domestic. It is almost impossible. Every single order, the New York Times runs a column on an innovative quilter or knitter or crochet. And every single headline is not your grandmother’s knitter, not your grandmother’s crochet, not your grandmother’s quotes. And since most people only read the headlines, those articles only reinforce the stereotypes.
So it’s been huge. It’s huge for me. You’re providing validation to all of us, and I cannot thank you enough.
WomensNet: I’m so glad to hear it. Congratulations again for being our October Amber Grant recipient.
Linda: Thank you so much.