Brenda Riddle’s Ambleside fabrics evoke a lush country garden. Surprisingly, she creates her verdant designs near Tucson, Arizona, in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. But her early, mobile years provided her with plenty of exposure to more leafy landscapes.
Brenda (or Bren, as she’s known to friends) grew up in San Diego, where her mom taught her to sew. “I made most of my own clothes back then and loved it,” she says. She spent her college years in Minnesota and the San Francisco Bay Area, studying architecture, interior design, and art. After working in those fields and spending a year with a hunger-relief organization in southeast Asia, she moved to Arizona to get a teaching certificate. “I thought I’d be here for two-and-a-half years, but that was 23 years ago,” she says. She taught art and design at a private school for 15 years, and six years ago left teaching to focus on her design career.
“From the get-go, I’ve always loved interiors, even in high school and before,” she says. “I’d make a new bedspread, a pillow, and change my furniture all the time.” She describes her style as cottage farmhouse, balanced with a rustic look. “My house has a light, airy feel with softer colors, but I also like crispness,” she says. “That’s what I love in quilts, too.” She believes this affinity comes from the quilts her grandmothers made and that surrounded her when she was little. “I’d see them stacked on the linen closet shelves, scrappy quilts with light-colored backgrounds. When I see that in a quilt, I’m immediately drawn to it.”
Around 2004, Bren’s love of fabric led her to ponder opening a quilt shop. She visited Quilt Market and noticed people walking around with bags stitched from Seaside Rose. “I didn’t know anything about fabric companies at that point, but I knew I had to find out who’d made that,” she says. She visited Moda’s booth and became an ardent fan. The quilt shop never materialized, but over the years, even as she designed fabric for other companies, she describes Moda as “a magnet.”
“They work so well as a team, they work really hard, and it shows,” she says. “They ran with my designs and I’ve been on cloud nine ever since.” She recently got her sample yardage of Ambleside, and was delighted. “When you see the precuts and how they’ve arranged the colors, it’s exactly how I wanted it to be. One of the honest-to-goodness blessings is their attention to detail and presentation. As a designer, you couldn’t ask for more.”
Brenda’s currently working away on her Quilt Market samples in her home studio. She lives with her “buddies,” her father and her little dog, Bailey (for more about both, visit Bren’s Little Acorns blog). Along with fabric, she also designs quilts and needlework, and she’s started Quilted Comfort, an organization that provides quilts for seniors who live at the care centers her brother manages, and who have no visitors.
Bren is grateful to have quilts in her life. “Quilting is obviously a creative outlet for me,” she says, “but it’s also a connection to the women in my family who came before and I hope, those who come after—one of my nieces recently requested a special quilt. Quilts have a utilitarian purpose, but they also comfort people and bring them joy.”