#MyHeritage – Liz Lawson, Seamstress Extraordinaire

At Heritage, we are honored to serve extraordinary individuals with amazing life stories to tell! Keep reading to learn more about Liz Lawson who lives at The Village, a Heritage community in Gerry, New York.

Written by Liz’s sister, Susanna Lawson, M.Ed. from Cassadaga, NY.

Elizabeth (Liz) Lawson was born on March 27, 1953 in Los Angeles, California. Her father, Arthur Ortez, was involved in the automotive business and painted semi-trucks including designing his own pin stripes and other design elements, making each truck unique. Her mother, Mary Alaya, was one of ten children, seven sisters and three brothers. Her mother’s youngest sister was named Hope, and she babysat for Liz while her mother worked. This began a life-long closeness that extends to this day – “Hopie” regularly contacts Liz and calls often.

Her mother’s siblings were creative and one sister, Helen, owned a millinery shop in Los Angeles. They made hats for society women, and also for the movie industry. One day, Liz’s mother found a note on one of the hats on display that read, “…save for Lucille Ball…” and it ended up being worn by Lucille in Season 5, Episode 13 of the I Love Lucy Show called “Bon Voyage.” To view the episode, click here for a link to the show. Also, see slideshow below which includes a screenshot of the hat Helen designed worn by that Lucy as she was lowered by helicopter onto a cruise ship! Liz’s aunt, Helen, and her brush with fame inspired Liz to explore her passion for fashion.

Liz graduated from Montebello High School in 1971 and enrolled in college at Cal State Los Angeles. During her teenage years and throughout college, she learned the craft of sewing, dressmaking and fashion design. She ended up graduating with a degree in Art History, although she had a dual major in Fashion Design. After college, Liz worked and partially owned a clothing business called “Wild Rags.” She began designing costumes for heavy metal bands in the Los Angeles area. She worked primarily with leather, spandex and very expensive materials.  “….the more exotic, the better,” said Liz, in regard to the costume designs. She took their ideas and crafted costumes that were coordinated for the whole band! One of her biggest clients was a rock band named “Europe.” This would have been prior to 1979, when they gained fame in Sweden.

One important date in Liz’s life was in 1977 when she became a “born-again” Christian. At the time, she was a member of the Baptist Church in Montebello, California. After that, her emphasis changed from exclusively heavy metal to other types of music because the lyrics and lifestyle did not coincide with her Christian philosophy and her dedication to Christ and his teachings.

During the late 70’s and early 80’s, Liz happened to read about a Renaissance faire being held in the area and she became interested in studying the era. She designed her own costume and attended several faires in California in the 1980’s. She also helped design costumes for friends and family, and her whole family dressed in Renaissance attire for a RenaissancefFaire in San Luis Obispo in 1989.

In 1993, Liz and her former husband, moved to Panama, New York. She was very excited to move out of Los Angeles County into a rural area, and loved living close to nature, caring for farm animals and living a simple lifestyle.

Liz began her own sewing shop on Fairmount Avenue in Jamestown, New York called Stitch in Time, where she offered services of sewing, mending, and costume design. She was also employed at Mariner’s Rose Fabric Shop in Jamestown as a seamstress, doing alterations and custom work beginning in 1994 until they closed several years later.

Between 1994 and 1995, Liz enjoyed presenting her work for local historical groups and civic organizations including The Marvin House, Mariner’s Rose, Daughters of the American Revolution, The Norden Women’s Club, The Antique Study Club, and Holiday Shopper’s Lunch and Style Show. Her presentations included topics such as Fashion Show Modeling, Fashion Design in the 1800’s, and Clothing of the 1800’s where she modeled her handmade garments, hats, and accessories as seen in the below photos.

She then joined the Harmony Historical Society where she served as president between 1995 and 2000. Each year she managed the History Fair, the organization’s biggest fundraising event. In the left article below, a gentleman from the Harmony Historical Society is pictured wearing a vest made by Liz to wear at the fall festival. This festival preceded the election of the 104th United States Congress, during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Pictured, in the slideshow, are 2 colored photos of Liz in the beautiful dress she made as pictured in the news article on the right.

In 1997, she was the lead wardrobe and costume designer for Dracula, a production of Jamestown Community College’s theatrical group and production company known as the “Uncommoners.” Dracula was also performed at the Lucille Ball Theater in Jamestown, New York with Samuel Paladino, a well-known actor in the area, as Count Dracula. Mr. Paladino said that Liz was the only one who could hold his cape for him.

“It was such an honor to wait in the wings for him, holding that cape, waiting for him to rush toward me and put it on, then go back on stage,” said Liz in remembrance of her time during the production, “… he was such a great actor and it was quite an honor for me to work with him.”

In 1998, she designed the costumes and wardrobe for the production of Jesus Christ Superstar. In 1999 she assisted with wardrobe alterations in their production of Company, where she recalls shopping for clothes at the thrift store and altering and embellishing them for the production. In addition, she assisted with other JCC Uncommoners productions including The Crucible (2001) and Hair (2004).

Liz also gave educational presentations between 2000 and 2004 at Panama Central School (Panama, NY) and Southwestern High School (Jamestown, NY). These presentations explained the intricate details of clothing design in the 1800’s and Civil War era. She gave these presentations while modeling her handmade clothing, reflective of the time period.

Liz was later diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in the fall of 2001. It became quite taxing for her to continue to work in clothing design as well as the pressure of a theater production. Liz joined the Heritage community at The Village in Gerry, NY as a full time resident in July of 2015.

If your loved one is part of our Heritage family and has a fantastic life story to share, please contact marketing@heritage1886.org and we’ll be in touch!