Loralie Designs

Loralie Harris with a faceless dress sketch.

Loralie with a faceless dress sketch.

Loralie Harris is the spirit and creative force behind Loralie Designs. Her “Fun Ladies” machine embroidery designs have fanatic fans all over the world. Every new whimsical fabric collection — Nifty Nurses, Teachers, Sew Girls, now Apron Esque — is infused with in-your-face personality and attitude. Loralie thinks of fabric as the wardrobe, and embroidery as the jewelry.

Although she wears many hats at Loralie Designs, Loralie Harris thinks of herself as an artist and a writer. She says, “I love to do the artwork, and I always imagine the story. I often write a little poetry for some of my characters.” Maybe those unique stories are the secret sauce behind the success of Loralie’s Ladies.  

Like most girls, Loralie always loved fancy dresses. In college she discovered the world of theater and costuming, which provided the perfect launchpad to open her own little boutique. After college, she opened a tiny, one-of-a-kind boutique in Capitola By the Sea and never looked back. It was 60’s California and she was right on trend.  She considered herself a hippie merchant, making long dresses (remember granny dresses?)  hostess gowns, little tops and bathing suits. “It has always been a thrill for me to have a customer purchase something I created. Being an artist/merchant has been a gift in my life.”

Loralie Original, 2003.

Loralie Original, 2003.

After Loralie married her husband Chuck, he took her home to Alaska where they lived together on his boat. He was a contractor, and she opened another little shop in downtown Ketchikan which quickly became the “go to” place for handmade, one-of-a-kind dresses for local weddings and special occasions. Their son, Tim, was born in Alaska, and he was always a part of the business. He used to take his nap under the cutting table in a tub full of fabric scraps.

When Tim was five, the family moved to California and went into the wholesale dress business. They started “Loralie Originals.” Loralie happily became the designer of prom and bridal wear and Chuck engineered and ran the factory. For 20 years, their formal dresses were sold all over the world. Loralie Originals had 300 employees and became a respected major player in the world of women’s formal attire.

But, in 2000, the Chinese came into the formal wear market. That was the beginning of the end. “We had worked hard to build a business we were very proud of — but we just could not compete. We tried everything, but the writing was on the wall. After a long process of downsizing and reinventing ourselves we finally had to call it quits, laying off all employees and selling off hundreds of sewing machines and closing our factory in Northern California. We had to let it all go.”

First Ladies, Doodles on a hotel note pad, circa 1995

First Ladies,
Doodles on a hotel note pad, circa 1995

On one of her last fabric buying trips to New York City for Loralie Originals, Loralie was doodling while talking to Chuck on the phone. Although she had always sketched her dress designs on faceless models — she had the urge to draw faces. She saved those first doodling sketches. Little did she know at the time that these “First Ladies” would be the start of a whole new breed of fun, quirky characters who would populate Loralie’s world for years to come!

Because Loralie Originals had been buying fabric wholesale for many years, they had many contacts in the industry. With the popularity of Loralie’s fun characters growing in embroidery, stepping over to the production/wholesale side of the fabric business seemed like a logical next step for the Harris family.

Loralie’s creative haven.

Loralie’s creative haven.

They went to their first fabric trade show in Kansas City in 2005 with three groups: Nifty Nurses, Cool Cats and Bathing Beauties. “It was a whole new world for us. After 20 years of being a manufacturing business, we became a warehouse operation.” It has been twelve years since that first market and the original three collections are still available and selling and have become classics in the Loralie assortment.

Loralie Designs has always been a family business. Loralie creates the art and Chuck manages production and financials from their home in Arizona. Their son Tim and his wife run the office, website and warehouse from Northern Colorado. Loralie’s design process rotation cycles every quarter, so new collections of fabric and embroidery are always in the oven. They have the fabric produced, warehouse it in Colorado and sell it through the wholesale market to retail shops all over the country. They also sell through international distributors in Japan, Europe, Australia and many other countries. “I marvel and am thankful that the imagery and message is international in its appeal.”

In Colorado they have a few future rocket scientists cutting, folding, making fat quarters, packing and shipping. “We think of ourselves as a colorful, fun business experience for them along the road on their way to the corporate suite or university!”

Loralie Designs - Ooh Lá Lá . . . Personalities that make a smile!

Ooh Lá Lá . . . Personalities that make a smile!

Every collection starts with a “panel” which is the heart of the “story. Loralie thinks of the panel as the star of the play, and the related novelty prints are the character actors, and the coordinates as the chorus in her fun production on cloth. Loralie’s love of theater has always been at the core of her art. She often writes stories to go with her fabric collections — or poems that could easily become songs. A little known fact — Loralie has actually written a musical review — Fun Ladies Follies. If you think one collection is fun, try putting ten together with costumes, music and silly lyrics!
Loralie’s designs have a personality all their own. “I always strive for friendly humor in my artwork. It is my pleasure to put a spring in a lady’s step and see her face light up with inspiration for a project when she sees my work. The comment I hear most often is,‘They just make me smile.’I am so blessed to be able to share my work, and support my habit!’’  

Every Loralie design or character has a unique voice and she thinks of her art as a gift from God. “Every designer has a special ilk, inscape, vision which is their own. It is important to turn on your receptors to absorb creative input from all around you. It is a kind of mental wavelength I intentionally exercise.

Then, get into the idea, start the work, and if it is good it will grow. I just let it flow. I don’t know what little buddy will come forth next to make me smile first and then go on to cheer so many others. I may start with a theme in mind but the particular characters are quite spontaneous and a surprise!”

So what does the future hold for Loralie Designs? As the grandchildren now nap in the scraps, it will be the Harris children’s challenge to continue the life of Loralie Designs, a kind of “Strange Inheritance” still in progress. In fabric, embroidery and wherever they may take up residence it is Loralie’s hope that her characters and collections will continue to put a spring in the step and a smile in the heart.”


Fabric Panels

Yes, YOU Can Color the Dream Pillowcase Panel! ©2016 Riley Blake Designs and CRAYOLA™

Yes, YOU Can Color the Dream Pillowcase Panel!
©2016 Riley Blake Designs and CRAYOLA™

If you were a girl in the 1970’s, you may have loved Joni Mitchell and tie-dye, or maybe you were a Cher fan and bell bottoms and fringe were your groove. “Groovy” was a word you actually used.

While we were watching movies like JAWS or Annie Hall, there was a quiet revival taking place. 1976, America’s Bicentennial year, saw a rebirth of our national interest in quilting. If you want to learn more about the mover and shakers of the movement, read the excellent American Quiltmaking: 1970-2000 by Eleanor Levie (2004).

In those early days of the revival, piecing an entire quilt was out of the question for most modern women. It is hard to remember, but we didn’t have access to rotary cutters or mats until the 1980’s, which is why printed fabric panels played an important role in the initial resurgence of quilting. Many of us would be embarrassed by those early cheater quilts. We cringe when we remember using poly/cotton sheets for our quilt backs. But there is no question that 1970’s fabric panels served a purpose. They were the ON RAMP for today’s quilters and they helped spawn an entire industry of quality cutting tools, notions, patterns, books and beautiful, coordinated 100% cotton fabric collections.

When it comes to fabric panels — to quote a famous Virginia Slims campaign — YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY.

Loralie with her “Dog Gone” panels. Imagine these doggies traveling the world!”

Loralie with her “Dog Gone” panels. Imagine these doggies traveling the world!”

Loralie Harris of Loralie Designs says her whimsical fabric collections always begin with a panel. “The panel is the star of my play.” Once she knows who the star is, she gleefully casts the supporting characters. The coordinating fabrics could be stripes, flowers or polka dots — and there is always a “tossed” version of the original panel. Loralie says, “The inspiration for a panel can come at any moment! The most mundane, ordinary notion can strike and explode into a lively, fun story when illustrated in a panel. The ‘Nifty Nurse’ panel, my first panel is an example with each block expressing a different personality of a nurse which we have all experienced! This panel has been in print now for 13 years unchanged. My newest panel comes from my collection ‘Dog Gone’, the story of cute little doggies traveling the world with each block set in a different iconic location on the planet. A companion poem tells the fun tail!“

During the 2016 Spring International Quilt Market, Rhonda Pierce, (SCHMETZneedles.com Marketing Manager) attended the Joyce Hughes Schoolhouse session. A few weeks ago this blog shared the panel artistry of Joyce Hughes, a fiber artist from Pennsylvania. Starting with a simple fabric panel, Joyce adds thread, fiber and texture to create a unique work of art worthy of a gallery showing.

Using her unique thread painting techniques, Joyce created stunning art from Northcott fabric panels. Rhonda fell in love with the Northcott booth, photographing their impressive fabric panels.

Northcott Panels, Spring 2016 International Quilt Market

Northcott Panels, Spring 2016 International Quilt Market

Although many companies are creating fabric panels, Northcott has a unique history and point of view. According to Deborah Edwards, Design Director of Northcott, “Panels have always been featured in our collections, particularly juvenile collections.

Today’s fabric panels are very different from those of the 70’s, and we do consider them works of art. As technology allows, our panels are becoming more creative and complex. Digital panels are not limited to 24” or 36” and there is no limitation on color. In some instances we create running yardage that looks like a panel; this allows quilters to customize the size of their quilt.”

At Northcott, panel designs are created by the designer who creates the collection whether they are in house or independent artists. Sometimes a collection starts with the panel, other times the panel evolves after the coordinates.

According to Deborah, “We are focusing more on how panels can be used in different ways, either as a complete unit or deconstructed to create something completely new. People have less and less free time and panels allow them to make interesting quilts quickly. One of the biggest benefits to starting with a fabric panel is that the design choices have already been made. Without the panel, selecting fabrics for a project could take many hours, and it isn’t a process everybody enjoys. Panels get them RIGHT TO THE SEWING PART.”

Mary Mulari & Chatterbox Apron Panel by Penny Rose Fabrics.

Mary Mulari & Chatterbox Apron Panel by Penny Rose Fabrics.

Mary Mulari is a new player in the fabric panel world. Mary has written dozens of books covering a wide range of sewing topics: Sweatshirt makeovers, appliqué ideas, embroidery, home dec, and quick gift ideas. She has developed a very popular line of apron patterns. In 2015, she created a line of fabric based on her most popular apron pattern, The Church Ladies Apron.

For 10 years, the Church Ladies apron was Mary’s best-selling reversible apron pattern. She thought it would be a good choice for an apron panel since it fits on a yard of fabric. She also liked the idea of featuring several fabric prints on the panel so the apron would have coordinated parts, such as the neckbands, pockets, and ties, when it was sewn together. Making the panel the center of a fabric collection means that the reverse side of the apron can be made from one of the coordinating prints.

Mary proposed the idea to Penny Rose Fabrics, a sister company of Riley Blake. She worked with the fabric designers to collect vintage floral prints and the result was a collection with an updated vintage look. Mary Mulari’s delicate hand-lettered instructions are recognized by sewing enthusiasts all over the world who have been loyal fans of her patterns and books since the 1980’s. Her hand-lettering became her personal stamp on the Penny Rose apron panel.

Several buyers of the panel have said, “This is just like cutting out paper dolls!” All you have to do is layer the panel over one yard of the coordinating fabric and cut on the lines to “release” the two layers of the apron from fabric. You’ll have an apron made of first quality fabrics, a terrific gift to give at a bridal shower, birthday celebration, or any reason at all. Mary suggests using a piece of leftover fabric to trim a kitchen towel and adding it to the apron gift.

Apron panels make an excellent beginner sewing project because they’re so easy to cut out and sew together. Making the aprons reversible means you don’t have to sew all that pesky bias tape around the edges — a challenge for many who sew. Plus, a reversible apron is more durable and allows the option of wearing the apron on either side.

Mary Mulari’s second apron fabric panel collection, the Chatterbox Apron, will be available in September 2016. It has three colorways for the apron along with 18 coordinating prints.

Lillian is seven years old. Grandma Rita gave her a Featherweight sewing machine for her birthday, and it’s time to learn and practice some basic sewing skills. Cutting was the first big hurdle. Children are used to those rounded paper scissors — but making the transition to a REAL FABRIC SCISSORS was a scary idea for Grandma. And the question is — cut what? Sewing a mini- quilt would be a great first project, but the process was overwhelming. First, she has to pick out a pattern for her project, choose the fabrics that would go together, then measure and mark the little pieces, and cut straight lines. It didn’t sound like much fun.

Lilly learning to cut & sew in the real world.

Lilly learning to cut & sew in the real world.

Then, Grandma Rita found this FABRIC PANEL!! It’s called “Made with Love” designed by Greta Lyn for KANVAS Studio in association with Benartex. The cutting lines are printed on the fabric — so all Lilly has to do is make the scissors work (and keep her fingers out of the way).

Whether you are an accomplished quilt artist, an experienced seamstress or a rookie sewist — you should take another look at fabric panels. Today’s fabric panels are no longer just a quickie quilt. They can be the basis to create the most interesting, one-of-a-kind projects or gifts. Used intact or cut out and strategically placed, or even combined with other panel parts, the sky is the limit.

Fabric panels are bountiful. Start your search at
these sites, then buy from your local quilt shop.