Have a seat because quilt artist Laura Hartrich may exhaust you! While raising her kids, working and pursuing a degree, Laura still finds time to create original, innovative quilt designs. Improvisational fiber artists such as Gwen Marston inspire her style and method, allowing her to embrace the twists and surprises that send her quilts into new creative territory.
How did you get started designing quilts? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
I loved to create from a young age, thanks to wonderful elementary school art teachers and a mom who kept every imaginable craft supply in the house. I taught myself to make quilts in 2009 when my friends started having babies. For the first year or two I followed patterns, then ventured into making my own designs. Reading books by Gwen Marston helped me see a new way, making patchwork like “parts”, then puzzling those parts together until I had a whole quilt. I found this approach to be very liberating, as Gwen promised, and never looked back from there.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners. Your purchases via these links may benefit Create Whimsy. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.
What inspires you to create?
So many things inspire me to create… art and artists of all kinds, shapes and patterns in the world around me, quilts both old and new. I’m so humbled to reflect on the great line of quilters who came before me and all the amazing quilts they made, and I love imagining myself adding to this lineage of creativity. Beyond inspiration, I need to make things. I have an internal drive to make and create. I’ve been aware of this force since my childhood and have been lucky enough to hang on to it so far.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
There are a number of recurring themes in my work:
- Improvisation, responding to color and shapes as they develop
- Memory and the passage of time
- Self reflection and acceptance
I think that because these themes are so personal, there is always more to explore, since I am always growing, learning, and examining my world.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I actually love to do both, but improvisation continually crops up in my process. For example, I never measure fabric amounts before I start a quilt, which means I might run out of something I’m using. What will I choose to do then? Switch to another color? Take the composition in another direction completely? Even when I think I’m making something planned, I love to improvise a solution to an unexpected problem.
Tell us about returning to school after 15 years. What prompted that decision, and what do you expect to be different when you are done?
Yes, thanks for this question! I had kids pretty young (a story for another time and platform!) and stayed home with them for a long time, sometimes working retail or childcare jobs. I always knew I would go back to school eventually, but didn’t know what for.
Finally I decided to pursue art therapy, and set about earning credits that would allow me to apply for a master’s program. I took undergrad art classes for the first time, and that was an amazing experience that really allowed me to see myself in new ways as an artist. I took a sculpture class and incorporated fiber and quilting at every possible opportunity. Drawing classes were scary because I can’t “draw”, but I had an incredible teacher whose definition of drawing was super expansive. She saw my lines of stitching as drawing and that’s what allowed me to not only survive that class but pour everything I had into it and love it.
A random turn of events (a quilting related repetitive use injury) caused me to switch from art therapy to occupational therapy, and that’s the degree I’m pursuing now. I’m excited about occupational therapy because it is so client-centered and creative. (There are a lot of parallels with art therapy, actually). My hope is that when I’m done with school, I will embark on a career I can enjoy and feel proud of, and that I will continue to make time for quilting, even if it’s less time than I had before.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I am so lucky to have a converted attic space to use for my quilting studio. The only other room on that level is my daughter’s bedroom, so I have to keep a path open so she and her friends can get through. The slanted ceiling makes it hard to have a proper design wall, which I dream about. It’s also a hot in the summer/cold in the winter type of space. But I make it work! And I’m so thankful to have it.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I do use a sketchbook. I’ve never ventured into designing on a computer. I love the tactile nature of graph paper and pencil. In addition to sketches, I use my sketchbook to capture all kinds of details. I write down whatever I can think of that might be of interest later. I jot down dates (when I sketched the idea and when I actually made it), thoughts and concepts, quilt math and sizes, and exhibits the quilt has been in. Also, I glue fabric swatches and inspiration images right onto the pages. I like to use my sketchbook as a record of my work. I can come back to it and reflect on how my work has evolved, and generate ideas for future quilts.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Sometimes I think I should try working in silence to see how I like it. I envision myself a holy monk, silent as I pursue my meditative task. That vision lasts about 2 minutes before I start another TV series (I think I’ve seen them all now). I try to mix in some podcasts (Ask Ronna & MBMBAM are faves) and audiobooks, but TV is my guilty quilty pleasure! If it’s a British murder mystery or Australian dramedy, I’m there.
Is there a part of your process you enjoy most? Why?
I dread basting. Pretty much everything else, I enjoy. I especially love the planning/dreaming stage.
Even if I’m making an improv quilt and don’t plan it out, I like this period where I’m coming up with concepts, constraints, or color palettes. When I’m in this phase, I often think about the new quilt all day, sometimes solving design conundrums when I’m in the shower. Nothing makes me feel more like an artist than thinking about my art nonstop and having an ah-ha moment in the most unexpected place.
Second to dreaming and scheming, I love piecing the top. That motion of rhythmically feeding fabric under my machine’s foot is the best, and it’s so satisfying to watch it grow as I piece everything together. Quilting by machine is rough (I can do it but would much rather collaborate with a longarmer), but quilting by hand is a joy. Handbinding is up there for me too.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
This is a tough one, but I’m going to go with Jean Ray Laury. I adore her work and would love to pick her brain about how she came up with her ideas. Also maybe some of her acerbic wit and humor would rub off on me. I always feel self conscious that my quilts are so earnest. Just once I’d like to make a quilt that makes someone laugh.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think creativity is like a muscle you can train. Every human is born with it. Some start flexing that creativity at a young age and receive encouragement to keep flexing it. These are the people that get labeled as “creative” or “artistic,” while others grow up thinking they are not creative because they didn’t receive the label. But with proper training (which, in this case, would probably take the form of a good teacher), and with enough openness and courage, anyone can access creativity. It’s within them, and always has been.
Interview posted January 2022