Luella Doss has a thing for chickens. The professional image of this internationally-known quilter, fabric/pattern/wearable art designer, teacher, organizer, and businesswoman extraordinaire is utterly intertwined with all things poultry. How this happened goes back to an unlucky winter’s day in central Illinois, when Luella was just six years old.
Luella and her brother, who was nine at the time, were out snow sledding, their sleds tied together with bailing twine. As they came careening down an icy hill, her brother’s sled came loose and ricocheted onto the road, where he crashed into a parked car. He sustained a serious head injury, which left him in a coma for a month, his memory affected, and his body paralyzed.
Against the odds, he survived, but had to endure months of rehabilitation in order to learn how to walk and speak again. In order to help pay for the cost of therapy, Luella’s parents purchased 1,000 chickens, and the family started selling eggs.
“We would gather a thousand eggs a day and, in the evenings, after we finished our homework, we’d clean them and store them in a big walk-in cooler. Every spare moment was spent cleaning eggs in preparation for our weekend egg route,” Luella recalled. “We lived in a farming community near the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We’d sell eggs one Saturday in Urbana and the next Saturday in Champaign. That is how I learned to market a product, how to talk to people, and how to make change.”
The experience also must have taught her how to excel, because Luella is one of those people who, shall we say, rises to the top of the “pecking order” in every endeavor which she undertakes.
Instrumental in forming Luella’s unique association between chickens and her other passion, quilts, were the chicken-and-biscuit suppers at the country church that her family attended. The ladies of the church—including Luella’s grandmother—always had a quilt in the frame for these events, and this instilled in Luella a powerful connection.
When Luella married, her husband’s work allowed them to reside in many different places. While living in Austin, Texas, another link was added to Luella’s chicken chain when she decided to enter the National Chicken Cooking Contest that she had seen advertised in Family Circle Magazine. Luella comes from a long line of women noted for their abilities with chicken in the kitchen, and she won the state contest, subsequently representing Texas at the national level with her Sweet and Sour Chicken Fritters (* recipe below).
Although she had always been around quilts and quilters, Luella didn’t start quilting herself until 1970, while she and her husband were living in Puerto Rico. She also began designing and selling patterns for three-dimensional quilted animals and birds at that time, eventually becoming a best-selling designer for the Simplicity Pattern Company.
Of course, it wasn’t long before the birds that she knew best—chickens—made their way into Luella’s repertoire. Her soft sculpture hen and rooster received the prestigious Tommy Award for Excellence of Design from the American Printed Fabric Council in 1997.
In 1975, after Luella and her husband moved to Wisconsin (where they still reside), she developed a quilting curriculum and began teaching quilting at the Milwaukee Area Technical College. She also started teaching at a local quilt store, and as her reputation as an instructor spread, she began traveling throughout the United States offering quilting workshops.
In the 1980s, Luella founded two non-profit quilting organizations: Wisconsin Quilters in 1981 and the Wisconsin Quilt History Project (WQHP) in 1988. The WQHP sponsors the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts, which is located on the historic Hoffman Boecker Farmstead in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Today, Luella serves as the museum’s curator and events coordinator.
Several years ago, Luella was asked to design a line of fabrics for the innovative quilt fabric company FreeSpirit. Naturally, chickens were Luella’s inspiration for this first line, which she called “Fowl Play—Made from Scratch.” The fabrics feature chicken feet, beaks, eyes, and combs in colorful, whimsical combinations that give free rein to Luella’s humor and creativity, and the quilt pattern she designed to accompany the line was “Poultry in Motion.” Luella is now on her fourth fabric line for FreeSpirit, each one of which contains some aspect of her feathered friends.
When the Fairfield (and later, Bernina) Fashion Shows began, Luella’s wearable art was selected to tour with the shows, frequently going first on the runway. And yes, chicken fabric was included in some of those designs. She has been a contributor to books and magazines, and has appeared on national quilt-related television shows. As a popular speaker at quilt events, she has been known to appear in a chicken costume.
In 1990, Luella opened Raspberry Hill Patchworks, publishing patterns and producing manufactured goods for the gift, gourmet, and furniture industries. At one point, Luella and her helpers were making over 2,000 soft-sculpture chickens (in three sizes each) year and selling them internationally.
Always interested in helping others, Luella continues to donate these 3-D hens and roosters as fundraisers for various charities. Most recently, Luella’s prolific mind came up with a fundraising package deal, in which a soft-sculpture hen is accompanied by one of her signature chicken dinners.
Of course, these chicken combos are wildly popular, and have raised thousands of dollars for their intended causes. Their descriptions give further insight into Luella’s ingenuity: “Hot Chicks” features a soft-sculpture hen made from chili pepper fabric, along with a chicken fajita meal; “La Cage aux Fowl” features a busty hen made of hand-painted velvet wearing a size-38 Victoria’s Secret bra, along with a French-inspired chicken meal; and so on. In recognition of her artistic and altruistic contributions, Wisconsin Public Television and Radio named Luella its 1998 Artist of the Year.
“Who would have thought that the lowly chicken could become so elevated?” she asks . The only possible response is yet another question: “Luella, with you as the creative force behind it, how could it not?”
Note from Suzanne:
I have a thing for chickens, too. I raise them, and find them endlessly entertaining and just inherently funny. I also write about them as part of a country living blog for the Farm Credit System. Here are links to some of these posts:
How I Bonded with a Chicken
* Luella Doss’ Sweet and Sour Chicken Fritters
Poultry in the Parlor
Talking Turkey, Er…Chicken
Makes 36 Fritters—can be served with your favorite rice dish
1973 Finalist Texas-National Chicken Cooking Contest
One whole broiler fryer chicken
1 beaten egg
2 ½ tsp. Ac’cent
¾ C. Milk
1 ½ C. sifted all-purpose flour
1 Qt. Mazola Corn Oil
3 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
To prepare chicken, sprinkle Ac’cent on outside of chicken and in the cavity. Place chicken in a 13” x 9” Baking Pan. Cover tightly with Alcoa Aluminum Wrap aluminum foil. Bake in 375 degree oven 1 hour or until done. Cool; skin and bone. Dice into 1 inch cubes. Measure 1 ½ C diced chicken. (Freeze the rest for another meal.)
With a fork mix flour, baking powder and salt with the egg. Add enough milk so mixture resembles biscuit batter, stiff, but a little lumpy. Add the diced chicken and mix well. Pour corn oil into a Wearever Registered Dutch oven, filling utensil no more than 1/3 full. Heat over medium heat to 375 degrees. Carefully drop batter by teaspoonsful into the hot corn oil. Fry about 3 minutes, turning once, until brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with sweet and sour sauce.
Sweet and Sour Sauce
1 10 oz. jar sweet and sour sauce
2 firm tomatoes, quartered
1 C pineapple cubes
1 green pepper
In a small saucepan, heat the sweet and sour sauce. Add pineapple, tomatoes and green peppers, taking care that peppers and tomatoes maintain crispness.
The above mentioned Brands were sponsors of the contest held in Little Rock, Arkansas
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