I met Laura Lee Fritz last year at a craft show that we were both participating in. Her work stopped me in my tracks, and I was overjoyed when she accepted my offer to share her work with you, my readers. A real professional, she sent me her story complete and I am able to publish it here, word for word.
It all started with the books. Learning about the world I belong to.
I lived my first 13 years in Berkeley, amid street art shows, classmates from all over the world. I yearned at my mother’s elbow to sew like she did. I sewed my doll clothes, knit them blankets. Then came embroidery. making my own clothes. I soon learned that our clothes signified things. Girl Scout skirts at Jamboree distinguished one troop from another. People from other cultures dressed differently than we saw on television and magazines. That was a taste of what our previous peoples knew about their textiles. They meant something. They were imbued with magic and power, rich with significance. As a very shy child, I immersed myself in my love of fabric and yarn and threads. By the time I was fifteen, and a runaway in New York City (how far could one get without a passport?) I was earning my way selling my creations in consignment shops. Then, later back in the Bay Area, at the Marin Flea Market.
As others who knew the power of personal Regalia, would find me, I would stitch their visions, such as the Buddha Jacket for Sherdyl.
I was always hiking and writing poetry. All the time. Sometimes my poems were simultaneously illustrated, some are quick observations, sometimes just words of perspective about adjusting to life with people.
My first store was in Point Reyes Station, in the early ‘70’s. I named it Almost Rubber, after this poem I wrote, the photo is of the 6’ hand applique in corduroy, used as my shop sign, hanging in the window. The poem is flanked by the cliffs of Kehoe Beach, out on the Point Reyes seashore.
Studying world textiles, and the meanings of the designs, the importance of design placements, enchanted me, and all this research went into the work of making jackets and vests, shirts for whoever would buy them at the fairs and out of my shop.
Eventually quilts interested me more than custom jackets and vests. I always preferred to make what I wanted, if someone connected with it and it fit, then they could buy it.
My nemesis was the customer who would order something wonderful, but never come for a fitting, then fuss about how it was too tight.
Quilts were more universal. One size fit all, and I still made them in corduroy and velveteen, and cotton velour, just like my jackets.
Soon came the Great American Quilt Competition, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. Quilt contests were a new concept to me, but I was eager to see what would come from my fingers, of course in finer fabric than corduroy.
My design plan started with carrying my Instamatic camera everywhere, envisioning scenes that belonged in the quilt, and looking for opportunities to enact or discover a manifestation of those visions. I married a great man, Ron, who never was without his camera, and took me into a world of photographic adventure.
After choosing my photo subjects, and drawing patterns for my applique pieces, I would pour myself into every detail of the story, doing meticulous hand applique embellished with detailed hand embroidery to add beauty and personality. Where was the activity, who would share the scene? Every action is like theater, there is the main character, the supporting cast, the background location.
The quilt And Crown Her Good With Brotherhood came from this effort, not a prize winner for that competition, instead it won a prestigious award for Exceptional Craftsmanship at Quilt National.
This quilt launched a career of many decades of teaching across the Northern Hemisphere, countless quilt show competition entrees, and a book published by American Quilters Society.
In fact, this quilt has this year been selected for purchase by the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, to be part of their permanent Quilt National Collection.
Then came The Pressman, Lift Off, Hang Glider Over Yosemite, and a few other pieces I consider to be Time Capsules to the future. With that in mind, every piece I made was with the intent of communicating to those who would be viewing it in a hundred years or more.
Sometimes a small bit of visual poetry is enough to charm the heart, as this teaching sample of an arctic hare preening his feet.
Jacket making continued, and when my teaching travels put me in a few scary airliner rides, I made myself a secret good luck jacket, with the concepts of Long Life and Riding the Wind appliqued in Chinese characters. The power of having this jacket carry the burden of my anxiety freed me to not concern myself with worry.
Eventually my “day job” assembling bicycles hit me with carpal tunnel syndrome, something hardly known to the media by the time it denied me the ability to hand stitch. On my next trip to Houston Quilt Festival, this was 1989, I explored the new quilting machines and purchased my first Gammill.
The next huge quilt I made was the Car Crusher, and I quilted it with my giant quilter, customizing a different pattern for every different area of the truck. This 111” quilt won first place at Houston that year, back in the day when the prize was a certificate of paper to frame on my wall.
The next year, and for five years to follow, any quilt stitched on a longarm quilting machine (as they eventually came to be known), was DISQUALIFIED from entry in the Houston show. Up to that point, these machines were only used for pantograph following and vermicelli type designs.
Regardless of that, I had found the tool I needed to continue designing and telling the legends of our lifetime. For my own quilts, and for the growing number of quilters who became clients, I designed a lot of continuous-line designs. C&T Publications was willing to be the first publisher in the world to release a book of continuous-line quilting designs, with all the samples machine quilted. And then they released more.
For every quilt made, there is a story being told, my task as the quilting collaborator, is to investigate the clues and help complete the telling of that story. Why should our quilts be half-baked, look like mattress pads, and have no creativity past the fabric selection and fabric placement.
Quilting should not be an afterthought, I begin dreaming up my story lines as I begin to design the quilt top. Hand in hand.
I take the legends of my life travels, the wondrous places we have made home, the animals we have studied and loved as sisters, as brothers, and draw their stories. If your quilt doesn’t need stories I have drawn already, then lets seek new models to draw new designs. Originally I would just draw on paper, then trace onto the fabric with a light bar. Then I discovered Solvy (Dissolve, Vilene are other names it is found under), and began to trace onto it, stitch right over the film, then pick at it or wash it away.
Now I use a computer system to record my movements while stitching over my drawings, so that the quilting computer can, later, direct my longarm to requilt that same design over again another day. Although it sounds like a simple process in the telling, it usually entails a lot of hours tending to the digital version, cleaning up wonky lines and ooops-es.
Between, behind, and surrounding the finessed images, I freehand quilt my backgrounds. The moose family may be in the mountains in one quilt, in the swamp in another.
The destination may be a quilt, a handbag, a jacket, a paper bookcover.
Yes, jackets are still on the menu, lately they are continuous lines on lush solid colors.
What do I do for play? I cut rubber to print from onto fabrics I hand dye. Something like this:
Still talking story, adding beauty and meaning to the textiles of our lives. I do it because I can’t NOT do it.
I have lived from New York City to Southcentral Alaska, and many points in between.
These last 6 years I have lived just south of the town of Sonoma, with my studio in a warehouse deemed not-public by the county zoning regulations. Ron and I are now, May 2019, preparing our longarms for the move to a more public studio location close to the Plaza in Sonoma. Come find me there, 916 First St West, Sonoma, CA 95476, but you might email me first to be sure it’s a work day, before you come.
You can also find me at www.lauraleefritz.net
Wow! What a story. I learned as much as you did if you read it all. That’s the enjoyment of meeting the artists that share their work on my blog.