It all started with a prize from the Guild retreat. My ticket was called and I selected a little stack of fabrics that looked vintage. They were brightly colored and kind of stiff like a wax print. At first glance they looked like juvenile prints so I tucked them away for perhaps a donation quilt.
A little over a year ago I put my hands on them again and was inspired to do something with them.
Unpacking the fabrics and working with them I was really charmed by all the prints. They turned out to be a little chemical-smelling when ironed so I decided they wouldn’t go to a donation quilt.
I was about to reach out to the community to see if anyone had insight into this unusual fabric, but then I found a clue and knew immediately why I was getting a certain designer’s vibe.
See the clue? Had you already guessed it?
This, of course, sent me on a research quest. This was actually really easy as Cooper Hewitt was preparing an exhibit and had published a book that told me the story.
I don’t know for sure all of my scraps are Zuzek, but I think most of them are.
The story goes, when Lilly married Peter Pulitzer and moved to Florida, she opened an orange juice stand in the citrus groves he had owned. The need for a dress to hide all the OJ stains was apparent, and she designed a brightly colored shift for that purpose. This dress, of course, caught on. [https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/lilly-pulitzer-remembering-the-queen-of-prep-20934074/]
Now, I think it’s important to note there is a difference between what’s being sold in stores today and what I’m working with. The Lilly Pulitzer brand rights were sold in 1993 several years after the company’s bankruptcy. These vintage prints are the from the Key West Hand Print Company, the primary fabric source for Lilly’s original fashions. The KWHPC had a few designers, but the most prolific was Suzie Zuzek. She was really the surface designer behind the Lilly brand. Her prints are beautifully detailed and delightfully quirky, and this book details her art and involvement. [Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Artist Behind an Iconic American Fashion Brand, 1962-1985 is authored by Susan Brown and Caroline Rennolds Milbank]
I was thinking of the orchard and what it symbolizes (I guess it’s technically a grove, but whatever). Not only was it the birthplace of this fashion moment, but it could also be a metaphor for the behind-the-scenes people who created this fabric. At the lead was Zuzek and I think of her mind as the orchard for the Lilly prints. So I began playing with the traditional Tree of Life quilt blocks.
I ended up settling on one that I thought looked more like an orange tree and added in some solid orange and metallic gold to the vintage scraps.
Another element I knew I’d need for sure was a sun. Zuzek designed a lot of them so I did my best to pay tribute in fabric.
The other elements to this quilt did not come easy. Many, many, MANY hours were spent experimenting and rearranging and looking for details about Suzie that could add to this quilt composition. Keep in mind, the fabric was a limiting factor as I only had the one stack of squares. However, once I started talking to friends about it, I heard from one who had recalled visiting the KWHPC store and told me about you used to be able to shop the fabrics they printed right there in Key West. Another friend remembered fabric she had in her stash from that very store, and generously let me cut from it to be included in this quilt! She even had the original brochure about the printing company and the woven labels denoting KWHPC that you could add to your garment after sewing with their fabrics.
The pink/coral print in the wonky pinwheel was the fabric my friend let me use for this quilt. It was really neat to see “Zuzek” on her complete selvage.
I added the pinwheels because not only are they are common quilt element but I also because I saw a picture of Zuzek in her office and that was a design I zoned in on that was in some art on her walls.
I added the thin blue line all around to represent the ocean and the island where she created (that was a beast to piece, just saying).
I added some stars really for my own signature in this piece, and when I just couldn’t think of anything else to add, I called it done.
Not the best lighting in this photo, but you get the idea of the layout
This quilt ended up being a mixture of precision and wonky piecing, which I think is perfect since Zuzek’s designs were both detailed and quirky. The dresses were also preppy and whimsical – so the juxtaposition works here.
On to the quilting!