Getting It All Together

Getting It All Together

Getting It All Together: Jean Ray Laury’s Quilts and Education

Jean Ray Laury had it all together, so it seems, and she taught other women how to live a balanced life in the roles they chose, making room for everyday creativity. 

This was Laury’s feminist viewpoint, one that appealed to women for whom a radical change in lifestyle was neither practical nor desirable.

The works of Laury’s hands and mind reveal a woman who—as an artist, quiltmaker, feminist, mother, wife, homemaker, teacher, mentor, and author—combined the many ingredients of her life, along with a dash of humor, into an integrated whole. She “had it all together.”

Jean Ray Laury: Getting It All Together features Laury’s quilts, artworks in other media, and her personal and professional records selected from the IQM Collections and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Archives and Special Collections.

Laury donated her art and papers in 2010, a few months before her death on March 2, 2011. Unless otherwise noted, all items are drawn from this generous gift.

Featured Media

Featured Media
Featured Media

Artist and Designer

Artist and Designer
Artist and Designer

“Art has less to do with the material used than with the perceptive and expressive abilities of the individual. Any difference between the ‘fine’ and the ‘decorative’ arts is not a matter of material, but rather what the artist brings to the material.”
— Jean Ray Laury, Appliqué Stitchery (1966)

Beginning with the first quilt she completed in 1956 for her Master’s degree in design at Stanford University, Jean Ray Laury sought to blur the lines between fine art (painting and sculpture) and decorative art (fiber, wood, glass, ceramic), bringing an artist’s approach to all her work in many media. As she developed her own artistic vision, Laury not only participated in the late 1950s revitalization of American craft, but also became a role model for her own and future generations. Although she continued to work in other media, by the late 1970s she was focused primarily on quiltmaking.

Throughout her career, Laury advocated for original design. Between 1970 and 1980, she wrote or co-authored ten books showing how original design could be applied to any medium. She used unexpected materials: lace, pantyhose, wood and fabric to make wall hangings, dolls, tote bags, rugs, clothing and quilts



“If we can retain the structural integrity of the traditional quilt, and add to it a contemporary approach in color and design, we will achieve a quilt which merges past and present.”
— Jean Ray Laury, Quilts & Coverlets (1970)

Jean Ray Laury was drawn to the quilt medium for its links with the past, the pleasure of having a handmade object and the joy of creating something that provided physical and spiritual warmth. Her own work “merged past and present,” combining traditional quilt references with contemporary design. Laury also used quilts to share her artistic vision and opinions. Perhaps no other traditional design captured Laury’s artistic imagination more than Sunbonnet Sue, whom she saw as the nemesis of any quiltmaker aiming for originality.

Laury and her work were recognized widely. She was inducted into the Quilters Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1997 she received the prestigious Silver Star Award from the International Quilt Festival in recognition of her past and continuing contributions to the quilting industry and community. Laury’s influence extended to quilt history; she was active in the California Heritage Quilt Documentation Project during the 1980s and wrote Ho for California, bringing to life the 101 quilts and 99 makers included in the book.

Perhaps Laury’s greatest contribution to late-twentieth-century quiltmaking was to recognize and promote quiltmaking’s potential as an art form, paving the way for the emergence of studio art quilts. She encouraged all quiltmakers to apply art principles: pattern, color, texture, rhythm, line; to quilts, and to incorporate painting, printmaking and photographic techniques in their work



“There is a lot of sifting and stirring going on in kitchens today and not all of it goes into the muffins. … The combination of roles in which a woman performs as artist/mother/homemaker/wife requires a tremendous amount of ‘getting it all together.’”
— Jean Ray Laury, The Creative Woman’s Getting It All Together at Home Handbook (1977)

Jean Ray Laury intentionally positioned herself to reach the primarily female quiltmaking audience. Her writing, teaching, and artwork appealed to those struggling with changing female roles in the 1960s and 1970s. Her quilts addressed the same issues that concerned radical feminists—women’s bodies, housework, sexuality and the right to choose. But by combining the familiar, non threatening nature of quilts with her trademark sense of humor, Laury presented a message in a format accessible to everyone.

Wife, Mother, Homemaker

Wife, Mother, Homemaker
Wife, Mother, Homemaker

“It takes a little madness and a lot of passion to spend as many hours working in the studio as I do. I couldn’t live without it. But I couldn’t live without my family either.”
— Jean Ray Laury, The Creative Woman’s Getting-It-All Together at Home Handbook (1977)

Jean Ray Laury cherished her roles as wife, mother and homemaker, but also realized her need to create. She balanced these two aspects of her life, aiming for excellence in her art rather than in her housekeeping skills, arguing that “Dust is a great preservative.” Nevertheless, Laury derived lifelong creative inspiration from her surroundings—family, household events, everyday objects and nature—infusing the ordinary with vitality

Mentor & Teacher

Mentor & Teacher
Mentor & Teacher

“I see my role as a teacher as one of giving people confidence, of assuring them, of helping them to see that one’s work must be personally important first—then it can take on importance to other people. … A teacher must encourage or cultivate the uniqueness, not develop conformity.”
— Jean Ray Laury, Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine (May 1982)

Jean Ray Laury provided a comfortable and supportive environment for her students and encouraged them to develop their own styles. While teaching students a technique, she also reminded them, “At its best, a quilt is a personal expression—not a mimic of the ideas or designs or color preferences set down by someone else.”

Over more than thirty years, Laury taught various workshops that reached thousands of students, nationally and internationally. She based her teaching upon her explorations in fabric surface design with screen-printing, dye sticks, crayons, cyanotype and dye transfer.

From 1976 until 1998, Laury conducted “Quilt Camp,” an annual Surface Design Seminar at Shaver Lake, California, with friend and co-author Joyce Aiken. She continued the retreat with her daughter Lizabeth and friend Susan Macy. Laury’s students formed a devoted and grateful following. In appreciation and to celebrate the artist’s 60th birthday, several friends created a red wooden wagon, imitating Laury’s own wood appliqué technique, and filled it with thank you notes and quilt blocks. She preserved many of the letters from students, poignant testimonials to the artist’s personal and creative influence on their lives



“Putting thoughts and ideas into words give them importance and validity.”
— Jean Ray Laury, “Keep Writing,” Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine (October 1983)

Jean Ray Laury started writing a diary in elementary school and, in one form or another, continued writing her entire life. She kept quiltmaking journals and daily diaries, wrote dozens of poems and short stories and especially enjoyed corresponding with other quiltmakers. Her first two books—Appliqué Stitchery (1966) and Quilts and Coverlets: A Contemporary Approach (1970)—were among the rare how-to books available in the quilt revival’s early years. During the 1960s and 1970s Laury contributed regularly to several national women’s magazines, such as Women’s Day and Family Circle. She went on to pen a regular column in Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine during the 1980s and 1990s. Her musings about the art of quiltmaking remind us of how much the field has changed, while still offering advice still relevant to today’s readers. 

Laury’s writing style is conversational and usually tinged with humor. Like her teaching methods, her books and articles describe more than techniques. She intertwines “how-to” instruction with philosophy, encouraging her readers to be original, value their work, explore and take creative risks. Her approach inspired many readers, including young artists who embraced the quilt as their primary means of expression as well as others who wanted to incorporate creativity into their everyday lives.

Laury’s twenty-two books and numerous magazine articles make her thoughts and ideas about life, art, women and quiltmaking “important and valid.” In addition to her quilts, they provide lasting evidence of her legacy.

Selected Books by Jean Ray Laury
Doll Making: A Creative Approach (1970)
Quilts and Coverlets: A Contemporary Approach (1970)
Handmade Rugs from Practically Anything (1971) with Joyce Aiken
Creating Body Coverings (1973) with Joyce Aiken
Wood Appliqué (1973)
New Uses for Old Laces(1974)
A Treasury of Needlecraft for the New Baby (1976)
The Creative Woman’s Getting it All Together At Home (1977, reprinted 1985)
The Total Tote Bag Book (1978) with Joyce Aiken
The Pantyhose Craft Book (1978)  with Joyce Aiken 
Quilted Clothing (1982)
The Adventures of Sunbonnet Sue: Sunbonnet Sue Goes to the Quilt Show (1985) 
Sunbonnet Sue Makes her First Quilt (1985)
Sunbonnet Sue Gets it All Together at Home (1987)
No Dragons on My Quilt (1990)
Ho for California (1990) California Heritage Quilt documentation project
Imagery on Fabric (1992, reprinted 1997)
Incredible Quilts for Kids of all Ages (1993)
14,287 Pieces of Fabric (1997)
The Photo Transfer Handbook (1999)
Fabric Stamping Handbook (2002

Works in the Exhibition

Works in the Exhibition

Nineteen: Memorial for the Child-Victims of the Oklahoma City Bombing 
IQSCM 2010.014.0015

Laury was one of nineteen quiltmakers selected to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing and to honor the nineteen children killed in the blast. She depicted the everyday objects and activities of childhood repeatedly in her work, beginning with Child’s Quilt made almost forty years earlier. When the same objects appear in Nineteen, they serve as heart-wrenching reminders of what remains after the devastating loss of a child. 

Pods: A Pair
Appliqué, embroidery
IQSCM 2010.014.0014

Persephone’s Spring
Appliqué, reverse appliqué, embroidery
IQSCM 2010.014.0012

Boxed Illusion 
Machine pieced
IQSCM 2010.014.0024

Laury’s quilt designs sometimes paralleled contemporary artwork in other media. Boxed Illusion departs from her familiar pictorial imagery as she experiments with a colorful three-dimensional abstract style.

Doppler Effect #1 
IQSCM 1997.007.1033

In the Doppler Effect series, Laury explored optical illusion, emphasizing color, pattern and repetition. 

Seven Camels Heading West
IQSCM 2010.014.0019

In a variation on the Doppler series, Seven Camels Heading West, one camel goes east, perhaps representing Laury’s own non-conformist, humorous personality. 

These Is Not Art, #1
IQSCM 2010.014.0035

Laury’s quilts also comment on other contemporary art. Printed around the border of These Is Not Art is a quote from the guest book of a contemporary painting exhibition. “These is not art to me all these squares and things … real art has—you know—like a Madonna in it. …” The comment captured her imagination and sense of humor. Little multicolored “squares and things,” dance around the surface of her quilt and, as if to give her work the imprimatur of art, she stamped a Madonna in the center thereby proclaiming it “Art.” 

Between 2001 and 2005, Laury designed several fabric lines for Free Spirit, a company that markets fabric specifically for quiltmakers. These lines included both new ideas and favorites from her earlier career. For example, a version of the happy crab in the Splash! line appeared on her 1958 Child’s Quilt, which hangs across the gallery. Her Chicken Little fabric line developed from whimsical chickens drawn in her “Telephone Doodlers” sketchbook.  She solidified her color and design choices by creating cut-paper illustrations used in the fabric production process.

Cherry Wreath Quilt
IQSCM 2010.014.0027

Cherry Wreath Quilt pays homage to traditional red and green appliqué quilts in format and technique, but incorporates a fresh, modern approach to color and bordering elements.

Machine pieced
IQSCM 1997.007.1031, Ardis and Robert James Collection

A traditional eight-point star block, a common pieced pattern in nineteenth-century quilts, turns into fireworks in the dynamic Starfire.

Log Cabin Variation #5
c. 1980
Machine pieced
IQSCM 2010.014.0011 

By manipulating color and light and dark values in her adaptation of the popular Log Cabin block, Laury creates a giant star.

Endangered Species 
c. 1990
Screenprinted, hand-painted
IQSCM 2010.014.0022 

In Laury’s version of the faceless Sunbonnet Sue figure, the old Sue is an Endangered Species. Laury puts a modern and humorous spin on an old favorite and successfully “merges past and present.”

Barefoot & Pregnant or Senator van Dalsem
IQSCM 2010.014.0005

One of Laury’s best-known quilts, Barefoot & Pregnant, incorporates a quotation from a 1963 speech made by “the barefoot and pregnant senator,” Arkansas state legislator Paul van Dalsem. Text from his sexist speech is printed on the quilt, one line per block. His comment rankled Laury, who felt strongly about women’s rights and reproductive freedom. In 1999, this quilt was selected for inclusion in The Twentieth Century’s Best American Quilts.

Fitting Garment 
Screenprinted, hand-painted
IQSCM 2010.014.0009 

Fitting Garment incorporates illustrations from a 1929 Simplicity sewing book filled with advice on how to disguise “protruding abdomens” and “arms or hips that are slightly fuller that average.” Laury’s quilt ridicules the unrealistic expectations placed on women’s figures, both past and present.

Female Troubles
Screenprinted, hand-painted
IQSCM 2010.014.0034

Testimonials from an old advertising brochure, both hilarious and pathetic, inspired Female Troubles. They reminded Laury of those times when women were expected to suffer in silence

Child’s Quilt
Hand appliqué
IQSCM 2010.014.0025

One of her earliest quilts, Child’s Quilt, is filled with images of familiar items—foods, animals, plants and children’s toys. While similar objects also inspired earlier quiltmakers, Laury adds modern ones—a popsicle, telephone and a fireman—that bring a contemporary aesthetic to the design.

No Dragons on My Quilt
IQSCM 2010.014.0017

Made over thirty years after Child’s Quilt, No Dragon’s on My Quilt includes similar images of everyday child life.

Moonrise on Jupiter
IQSCM 2010.014.0004

Laury developed her techniques in screenprinting fabric painting and dye transfer through many years of creating. Using simple methods, she captured the ethereal nature of outer space in Moonrise on Jupiter

Coalinga Earthquake #3
IQSCM 2010.014.0036

Earthquake documents the 1983 event in Coalinga, California, not far from the artist’s home in Clovis

It’s My Birthday
Felt appliqué
IQSCM 2010.014.0003

Magenta Forest
c. 1990
IQSCM 2010.014.0006

Laury developed her skills with cyanotype, one of the many fabric printing processes she taught and fully explored in her book, Imagery on Fabric. She filled a three-ring binder with carefully labeled samples of this and other surface design processes, illustrating the techniques for her students.

Cherries Quilt
c. 2000
Stamp printed
IQSCM 2010.014.0002

Twenty-five years after updating the traditional red and green wreath appliqué in Cherry Wreath Quilt, Laury revisited the theme with hand-cut stamps and fabric paint. Throughout her teaching, Laury encouraged her students to experiment with many media and techniques, just as she did in her own work.

Works in the Exhibition

Gallery Photos

Gallery Photos
Gallery Photos
This exhibition was made possible through funding from the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. The Nebraska Arts Council, a state agency, has supported this exhibition through its matching grants program funded by the Nebraska Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Visit for more information.
Event Date
Friday, March 2, 2012 to Sunday, September 2, 2012