Lucy, Liza




Lucy, Liza




Liza Prior Lucy


Pauline Salzman

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sponsored by Moda Fabrics / United Notions


International Quilt Festival
Houston, Texas USA


Rachel Grove


Pauline Salzman (PS): Third.

Unidentified Person (UP) Third. That be the third

PS: You ready? This is Pauline Salzman. Today's date is November the third, 2001, and 9:28 a.m., and I am conducting an interview with Liza Prior Lucy for Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories project. Could you for the record please spell your name?

Liza Prior Lucy (LPL): Liza, L-I-Z-A. Prior, P-R-I-O-R. Lucy, L-U-C-Y.

PS: Liza, would you please tell me about the quilt you brought in today? Who made it? You know, the age?

LPL: This quilt is called "Gridlock." I made it for the first book I wrote with Kaffe Fassett. It was called "Glorious Patchwork," and it came out in '97. The quilt is simple structure, just small squares and large squares. It was taken from an original knitting design of Kaffe Fassett's. Kaffe and I worked together on this quilt in various ways. Sometimes he would completely design a quilt from start to finish, and I was merely the seamstress. More often than not we worked together on putting a design together. He would choose colors. I would do some editing. We would go back and forth, and we would design together. In this case, something else happened. There was an artistic tension of sorts between us when we did the first book, and that was he wanted to do very traditional quilts in new colorations. I wanted to do Kaffe's original patterns and knitting ideas but do them in patchwork, and so one time he was at my house wearing a sweater that he called "Gridlock," and I took a picture of his back and he left and went back home to London as he always does. He comes to my home and works with me, and while he was gone I copied and interpreted the sweater he was wearing and made a quilt, and let's just say he was very pleased with the results, and it became my favorite quilt in the book "Glorious Patchwork."

PS: A wonderful story. Is that the special meaning this quilt has for you, that it was the beginning stages of the difference?

LPL: It was not the beginnings, but it has meaning to me because it has more of my energy than some of the others might have, so I'm very pleased with it, and I'm pleased that Kaffe is pleased with it.

PS: Do you use this quilt?

LPL: No, unfortunately this quilt has either been stolen or it has gone missing in one of our closets, and nobody can find this quilt, so I suppose [laughs.] that's another reason I feel sentimental about it. It's my favorite, and it's gone.

PS: So any plans you've had are gone?

LPL: Yes.

PS: Maybe you ought to tell us a little bit about Kaffe and how this happened.

LPL: Sure. Got you. Kaffe Fassett and I both worked in knitting. He is a designer. I also worked as a designer for people like Vogue Knitting Magazine, McCall's, Family Circle, and so on, and I was a sales rep for the Rowing Knitting Yarn Company when Kaffe's first book came out called "Glorious Knits." It changed the world of knitting in a revolutionary way. Before that sweaters that were multicolored had a little Fair Isle neck and maybe another color bottom and that was considered multicolored. Kaffe reinvented knitting. I say that completely honestly. Everything changed after Kaffe Fassett in knitting, partially because he didn't know the rules. He didn't know you couldn't tie a knot in the middle of a sweater. He didn't know you couldn't use more than three colors on a row and all those prejudices that we had all grown up with, so as I worked with Kaffe and the Rowan Company, I would take Kaffe to all the various book signings in my territory, which was New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and we got to be friends, liked each other. Similar sense of humor, both a little bit maniac, and five years into our friendship I had my first child, and I wanted to make her a quilt so took my first quilting class, and I applied all I learned about quilting, about knitting, and color from Kaffe , and applied it to my first quilt. So I went to my first class with instruction to bring a light, a medium, and a dark, and I brought about thirty yellows, thirty blues, and thirty navys, and the teacher just about freaked out, and she'd say, 'Well, you know, yellow's hard to use,' and I'd say, 'I don't care,' and she'd say, 'Well, fabrics you brought are directional,' and I said, 'Well, I don't care,' and she's still talking about me to this day. Well after that I decided Kaffe had to do a quilt book, and I wanted to do with him, so I started stitching up little swatches of interpretations of his knitting designs. The front cover of the book, "Glorious Patchwork," called "Red Squares" was just one of those things. So I would look at one of his sweaters, I would interpret it into quiltmaking, simplify it for quilters, and then mail it to him in London, and I'd say see, 'See, you're a quilter. You're a quilter. You're a quilter,' and [laughs.] then I would do another one, and the next one became the back cover, which is called "Pennants," and I seduced him with color. I mean I could have written him all the words in the world. I could have called him on the phone. It wouldn't have done the same thing, but dangling glorious color under his nose is what did it, so the rest is history. We work together.

PS: This quilt here, what makes it--you know, you don't have lights and darks and--

LPL: No.

PS: Why don't you tell us about what makes this work and so different from everybody else's?

LPL: I think one of the things that distinguishes our work is low contrast. We like closer tones in our works. You won't see, hardly ever, very whites and blacks for instance or whites and navys. We like things closer together. Kaffe talks in terms, harmonies and vibrations. Sometimes I think he hears color as well as sees it because of his language about it. When he sets up a contrast, Jacobean brown is going against purple and sets up a vibration and a harmony, something that snaps your eye. It's not a matter of darkness and lightness. It's a matter of one color making another color sing, and so this quilt that I'm showing you, "Gridlock," is very typical of Kaffe's work, where the contrast--I'd say almost everything in here is a medium tone, and yet you see the most glorious things with the colors that set each other off.

PS: Some areas of your quilt here have lots of quilting. Some areas have none or very little.

LPL: Well, there were big squares, and then there were checkerboards, and the checkerboards we did in the ditch, so that they would be very, very rigid and square. The larger squares we stippled and then put sort of a concentric--what we call concentric square snails in the center. It was meant so that--oh, how do I say this? The checkerboards, we wanted the colors to be distinct one from another, but in the large squares we stippled it, so that the colors would merge one into the other more than they were than when they were pieced. It was meant to make a more mergey look. That's exactly--

PS: How many hours a week do you quilt?

LPL: It is my job. Minimum ten hours, but sixty hours isn't unheard of and I am a mother.

PS: Are there other quilters in your family?

LPL: No, knitters.

PS: So how does quilting impact your family?

LPL: Impacts everything. [laughs.] My family lives with thread. Well, my house has gone from me working in my bedroom to taking over the dining room, and now we no longer have something called a living room at our house, and now it's the studio. I've gotten past that suburban housewife look of walking in the front door and seeing something--well, a piano and a lamp in the corner. It just isn't that way at my house. Now, that isn't to say we don't have wonderful rooms that have, you know, quilting going on. We do. I mean my family does have a nice space to live in, but it has changed everything.

PS: Do you use quilting to get thorough difficult times or this quilting is just something you do? Does it take mind off--

LPL: Oddly enough I think I use knitting to get through difficult times. Quilting is something I do for a living and enjoy, and it's pleasant, but hand quilting I will do to get through difficult time, but I don't sit at a sewing machine to work out my thoughts. I have to knit or hand quilt. It's a handwork thing that soothes me.

PS: What do you find most pleasing about quilting?

LPL: Color. Everything. Everything is color.

PS: Everything is easy-- [inaudible because talking at the same time as Liza.] piecing and quilting.

LPL: Oh, you know, I love cutting, and I love piecing. Really oddly enough, I adore binding. I think there's something about putting that finishing touch, and I love to do it well.

PS: Well, it certainly is done well in its stripes. Are most bindings stripes?

LPL: They are. I have real love of doing bias cut stripes on the edge like teeny little candy canes or barber poles. I think it draws it all together. I like a firm binding. I like it too look stuffed. I like it small. I just love binding. Yes, it's silly.

PS: What do you think makes a great--well, I should ask you first what aspects of--never mind. What do you think makes a great quilt?

LPL: Color and I like traditional quilts. You know, there are lots of fabulous art quilts out there, and I admire them, but I love the repetition of shape and color from tradition. Now, I don't particularly care for when people try to reproduce the past. When somebody says 'I'm doing a Civil War quilt.' No, you're not. You're making a quilt in 2001 that is similar to things made in the Civil War. I like when a Civil War structure gets pulled in a 2001 sensibility. I love taking modernity and old things and merging the two together, so I love a traditional block quilt. I like repetition of shape, repetition of color. That's what makes a quilt for me, and I don't care much for quilts that when they're folded up you know everything about them. I like a quilt that when you open it up there's a reason to look over and over and over again. It draws you back.

PS: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

LPL: Wow, that's a hard question.

PS: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

LPL: Draws you in, makes you want to look again, makes you think about it.

PS: And what makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

LPL: I feel all of these are hard.

PS: Why thank you.

LPL: [7 second pause.] I don't know. It's kind of like what the Supreme Court said about pornography. 'I don't know what it is, but I know it when I see it.' [6 second pause.] I go to museums. I look at quilts. I'm thrilled to do it. I can't tell you what makes a good collection. I'm pulling a blank here.

PS: And what makes a great quilter?

LPL: A great quilter?

PS: Yes.

LPL: Someone who learns and expands and changes and I don't mean the schizophrenic who does a different thing each day. Something that is a continuous volume of work that just seems to get better with time and when you can look back at the first pieces and see where growth happened. That's what makes a great quilter.

PS: Have you noticed a lot of growth in your own quilting?

LPL: I think so, yes. Kaffe and I in our second book are doing round shapes, so I mean, you know, the first book was squares, triangles, rectangles, very simple shapes, but we've expanded into some other shapes, [laughs.] so there's a change. [3 second pause.] Yes, I see it as one body of work that just--You know, we get on different kicks, and as I said round seems to be kick of the day.

PS: Will your rounds be done differently than in the traditional method?

LPL: Yes, we don't have time for hand appliqué, so I've done some machine satin stitch appliqué. I've done one blanket stitch appliqué. There are a couple that are done hand. You know.

PS: How do you feel about handwork versus machine work?

LPL: I prefer doing it, but it's not very efficient.

PS: Prefer what?

LPL: I prefer doing handwork, because that soothes my soul, but it's not very efficient, so I don't do it much.

PS: How do feel about the longarm quilting machine?

LPL: Fine. Terrific. All--not all--most of our quilts have been done on a longarm. Quilting is the least important part of our quilts.

PS: Okay. So you don't quilt the quilts anymore?

LPL: No, never did.

PS: Never did. So you always sent them out to be quilted. Did you select the color of the threads?

LPL: Yes, we selected how we wanted the quilting done. I had two quilters in the first book. One used a Bernina and one used a Gammill [longarm quilting machine.]. We found the more work we put into quilting the less you saw, because the colors in ours were so dominant that the quilting was somewhat lost on the viewer, and in the next book Kaffe and I both did some quilting. I did some traditional hand quilting, and he did some very bold--what I call 'toe catcher' stitches with large threads, and he's having a ball. He is enjoying hand quilting tremendously.

PS: How often do you all get together?

LPL: When we're working on a book, we work on the quilts for about a year and a half, two years. He'll come to the United States from London for about a week to two weeks. We'll work out anywhere from ten to twenty ideas. He'll go back to London for two months, come back, and digital cameras and computers and e-mail have changed our life quite a lot. We talk almost everyday on the phone, but instead of bouncing things back and forth in the mail. Right now we're doing it by e-mail mostly.

PS: How do great quilters learn the art of quilting, especially how to design a pattern or choose fabrics and colors?

LPL: Oh, take a class with us. [laughs.]

PS: Very good.

LPL: Observe, look. Around every corner is something that really should delight your eye. I can tell you a story of the first time I met Kaffe . I was driving him from a shop in New York to one in New Jersey, and we were sitting in line at the Lincoln Tunnel. I was driving, and I was just fuming. There was a bus in front of me and smoke and yuck, and I was waiting, waiting, and waiting in line, and all of a sudden I hear [makes sound of someone breathing in quickly in surprise.] in the back seat, and I didn't know if he'd had a heart attack or what it was, and all of sudden he had noticed that the building next to us had about seven colors of peeling paint, and it had made his day. He saw the most gorgeous thing in the world. I never saw peeling paint. I saw the bus. But he saw something, and so observe, observe, observe. One of Kaffe's designs came from a place that both of us find fascinating, and that is the makeup counter at fancy department stores. Go into Bloomingdale's and you'll see. I mean he made a wonderful sweater that is literally eye shadow pots. It's just circles, but if you look at a lipstick display, you see there's an array of reds that all look the same shape, one after the other. I just stare at makeup counters. I just love it so much.

PS: Wow.

LPL: Is that nuts? [3 second.] Towels. Towels stacked up at Bloomingdale's. It knocks me out. [laughs.] I guess again it's a repetition of shape where the color shifts, so your eye isn't being distracted by a million different things. A good display in a department store means--little pots of cream are repeated over and over and over and there is such inspiration around us that way. I look at the buildings in Houston, and this is not a particularly interesting piece of land here. It's flat, but if you look out the window, you see these wonderful silvery shapes against a blue sky, and the contrast is--I'm sure I'm going to go home, and Kaffe's going to send me a sketch by fax, and it's going to have vertical silvery shapes against a blue background. I know this will happen, because we're so influenced by everyday.

PS: How wonderful. Why is quilting important to your life?

LPL: Well, I make a living. Because I get to use color. And honestly it's important because I have the extreme privilege of working with Kaffe in a very intimate level. I've learned about life and color. It's changed how I feel about many things.

PS: It certainly seems that he--going to the makeup counter.

LPL: It has. [laughs.]

PS: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or your region?

LPL: I don't think they do, although I am from Pennsylvania, and you can't go anywhere without seeing quilts where I live. I'm not that far from Amish country, so it's a very prominent sight here.

PS: I know it's kind of backtracking a little, but how early were you when you were exposed to quilting, since you're from Pennsylvania?

LPL: Oh well, I guess early on, although I didn't notice it, but I can't remember a time when I wasn't making potholders as a kid or knitting or using [inaudible.] the yarn. I made, you know, Barbie doll things, but the first time I actually was turned on to knitting was in the '70s when Beth Gutcheon's book came out. "Patchwork Primer" it was called, and I was a needlepoint designer at the time, and I immediately took patchwork images and turned them into needlepoint designs.

PS: What do you think of the importance of quilts in American life?

LPL: Like it to be more important. I would love everybody with a needle, knitting needles, in their hands. It brings such serenity and calmness. The world would be a lot better place if someone would calm down a little. Do you think we could get the Cabinet to learn to knit?

PS: That's a good idea. In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

LPL: Oh, I think there's so much there. I think that one of the most influential books I ever read was called "Anonymous Was a Woman." It talked about how women were always artists, but they didn't sign their work. You know Picasso got great credit, but an Amish woman living during the same period of time who is just stitching these amazing pieces to put on her children's cradle doesn't sign anything, and so a woman's art has been anonymous. "Anonymous Was a Woman"

PS: [5 second pause.] How do you think quilts can be used?

LPL: How can they be used? Oh, anything. I'm a little hesitant to say they can be used for clothing, because I'm a rather ample human being, but [laughs.] I have learned by being invited into the Fairfield Fashion Show that you can use fairly thin batting, and then you don't need to put a great big target across your buns, which I see way to often, so it's okay in some clothing. I don't particularly love quilts on walls, and that's mostly because I have a lot of artwork in my house, and so my walls are kind of covered already. I have one quilt up at a time. Love it on beds. Love it thrown over the sofa. Love--nothing looks better than a quilt over a piano in my opinion. I like it to drape.

PS: So do you have them draped all over your house?

LPL: No, they're on tour. [laughs.]

PS: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

LPL: Well, this is a great idea, isn't it, these interviews? You know it's funny. I'm not all that interested in preserving. When people say, 'Oh, aren't you worried about fading,' or 'Aren't you worried about using it or the dog sitting on it.' I want quilts to be used, so yes, I'm grateful to preservationists especially places like the Victoria and Albert Museum. I'm glad that they're being collected and preserved by people more careful than me, but I want quilts to be used and loved.

PS: What has happened to the quilts that you have made for friends, or friends and family?

LPL: Well, I hope they've--

PS: Go ahead.

LPL: Hope they've been adored. I see them on my brother's bed, on my cousin's bed. I'm in the midst of making my parents fiftieth anniversary quilt. It will be their bed quilt, so they've been appreciated. I never give handmade things--knitting, quilting, whatever, unless it's somebody who really know about the effort. There are many people who just don't have a clue that this takes diligence.

PS: It really does take a lot of time.

LPL: For people who don't know, you go to Bloomingdale's, you buy them a nice crystal vase, you hand it over--Done.

PS: If you weren't quilting what would you be doing?

LPL: Knitting, needle point. I would be doing something with color and fiber. I love textiles. I am a textile junkie. Every level.

PS: Does your family get involved anywhere?

LPL: Oh, no, but my children, my girls, were little--They're eight and eleven years old. They knit. They like to make things for Barbie, but no. Now my husband's working for me now. My husband was a high-level computer geek for Lucent Technologies until six months ago, and then the economy decided to blow itself up, and my career was very much taking off, so he's working for me now, and I hope to keep him home, because the kids love it. I love it, and life is good.

PS: Anything else you'd like to tell us?

LPL: No, I think this is a wonderful project. Enjoy life. Observe. Go to Bloomingdale's. Look at the cosmetics. [laughs.] Which--it'll be life changing.

PS: Well, you've certainly expanded my [inaudible.]

LPL: You expand mine. I love what your work is about.

PS: [inaudible.] I'd like to thank Liza Lucy for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 2001 Quilters' S.O.S.- Save Our Stories project. Our interview was concluded at 9:58.

LPL: You talk fast.

UP: Yes, she's supposed to talk fast.

LPL: Sorry. [laughs.]

PS: Where's the stop on this thing?

LPL: I'd like to start over.


“Lucy, Liza,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,