Sandy Moore is a mixed media collage artist who creates portraits, landscapes and beautiful flowers with fabrics. When she works with fabric, she feels connected to all of the women who have come before and who have utilized fabric to care for their families and express their creativity. Strong rich colors are the hallmark of her work.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I have loved the creative world since I was a child. I can still remember the pure joy of opening my first deluxe box of 64 Crayons with a sharpener! I was in heaven. It wasn’t long before I graduated to paint by number masterpieces and it took even less time for me to realize painting without numbers was way more fun.
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All through school, art class was a favorite and it was a place I can remember finding recognition. While getting my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, I explored a range of studio arts including pottery, glass blowing, drawing, painting and design. I wanted to experience it all.
As a post graduate I began working with fabric and it quickly became clear to me that I had found my artistic home. Everything about working with fabric was interesting and satisfying to me. I loved dying fabric, manipulating fabric, cutting fabric, sewing fabric, and designing with fabric. And so began a love affair that has lasted for more than 50 years.
When I work with fabric, I feel connected. I feel connected to my mother and my maternal grandmother both of whom expressed their love and creativity in the clothes they made for me and the homes they decorated for their family. But I also feel connected to all of the women who have come before and who have utilized fabric in caring for their families and expressing their creativity. I know that I am part of a tribe with a very long history.
My work with fabric has gone through many iterations. I learned about shibori and indigo dying at what was then the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts. I turned a 50-gallon drum into an indigo vat and for a year I fed and stirred my vat with the goal of keeping it healthy. Did you know indigo must be nurtured? Indigo fabric hanging in the breeze to dry is still a favorite memory.
I moved on to dying with fiber reactive dyes and recorded detailed logs of dye formulas so I could duplicate my work. I worked extensively with silk and created fabrics for a west coast design group that made and marketed wearable art. I created and marketed my own wearable art before moving on to creating a series of silk banners influenced by the rock art of the Columbia gorge.
It was great fun to see my work hanging in Pacific NW galleries. And then… I stepped back and took a long break from creating. As many of us do, I got busy living my life and I put aside my youthful exuberance for being a maker.
Skip ahead 40 plus years. Covid strikes, I find myself locked down for the foreseeable future and my work life is dramatically altered. I feel so fortunate that just before Covid I had taken a paper collage class and I loved the process. It was a perfect match for the way I like to work but could I do that with fabric I wondered. The internet provided the answer and to my surprise I discovered that there were lots of people making fabric collages. I discovered techniques like raw edge applique and free motion stitching.
However, my very old sewing machine, a hand-me-down from my mother, wouldn’t work for these techniques and I couldn’t just walk into a sewing machine store to replace it. After more online research I decided on a model, bought it over the phone and picked it up at the curb. This is how in 2020 I began exploring the world of fabric collage.
I am in love with fabric collage! For me it is pure joy to create a piece of art using fabric and thread. And as my work has developed and grown, I have found a way of working that perfectly suits my temperament and work space.
I am so grateful to have a dedicated space in which to create. It is filled with light and arranged so everything I need is within easy reach. Fabric is stored in clear boxes so I can easily find what I need. My work tables and storage cabinets are on wheels so I can reconfigure them easily for cutting, coloring fabric, framing, etc.. The studio is, hands down, my favorite room in the house.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
It takes time to develop a personal style and process. I just now feel like I am beginning to hit my stride. In the beginning I did a number of pieces that didn’t see the light of day as finished work but I began putting these pieces away rather than tossing them out. I was amazed to discover I could come back to a piece that I started a year previously and see new possibilities.
What different creative media do you use in your work?
In my work I use 100% cotton fabrics, both commercial and those I have colored myself. I say colored rather than dyed because I use liquid acrylic ink and ink blocks to color fabric. These leave the fabric soft and pliable, just as it was before you colored it.
Color is the single most important element of a composition for me. If the palette is expressive, I am going to be happy with the finished piece. Strong rich colors are a hallmark of my work.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
I often find inspiration in photos I have taken and my subjects usually fall into one of 3 categories; waterscapes, florals and images of people especially women from young to old.
Most importantly, I always want my work to evoke an emotion or tell a story. I live in a multigenerational home. We have 3 grandmothers, two adults and two “tinies” under one roof. The energy and abandon of my grandchildren has been the inspiration for many of my early works and continues to be prominent.
Recently I have done a series of icon women including Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Frieda Kahlo, Iris Apfel and Dolly Parton. I look forward to adding to that list. However, I often come back to flowers because they are just so colorful and happy. Who wouldn’t want a bouquet that never dies? And there are no rules with flowers! I like no rules! Waterscapes will forever be a favorite. I love the palette. I love coloring the fabric. Looking at flowing water is my very favorite recreational activity.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
I often am working on more than one collage at a time and I generally alternate subject matter. This helps me to maintain a fresh eye and keeps me excited about what I’m working on. If I have just finished a portrait commission – a piece that does have rules! -, I’ll do a floral or water scene next.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
My working process is dependent upon subject matter. When I’m doing a floral or a water scene there truly are no rules. I might work from a sketch or photo or I might start with a piece of fabric I find beautiful. I start with a general composition in mind but as I have grown in my process, I find it unnecessary to have a detailed composition at the outset.
I like to build my design directly on a loosely woven white cotton fabric, cut roughly 2 inches larger than the dimensions I have in mind for the finished piece. Using a removable pen I sketch directly on the backing fabric. These initial lines will not be visible later so you don’t have to worry about making mistakes or changing your mind. Think of them as merely a suggestion. When working on a portrait, I am much more detailed and specific in this first step. I want to make sure there is a good likeness, so I spend much more time creating a ‘cartoon’ that I then transfer to my foundation fabric. You can do this manually using a light box or a window. I prefer using my computer at this point and often will create a digital file that I can then have printed directly on lightweight cotton fabric. This helps me ensure the likeness isn’t distorted as I build my collage.
Step two is all about color. If I have a favorite part of the process, this would be it. Pulling a pallet of fabric to work with is pure joy. Finding the colors that talk to each other is such fun. Inevitably there will be changes, additions and elimination, during the collage process. That is to be expected. Sometimes a trip to the fabric store will be required. Oh darn! But exploring the fabrics I have on hand is where I like to start. I usually find something I had totally forgotten and am so happy to rediscover.
I generally prep a variety of chosen fabrics before I begin to collage. This is the equivalent of squeezing your paint on the palette. Using Lite Steam-a-Seam 2, I adhere the wrong side of my fabrics to a thin adhesive layer. Now the real work of cutting and placing can begin. I use both a rotary cutter and scissors to cut pieces of fabric that I then transfer to the foundation fabric. At this point the fabric can easily be repositioned multiple times. When I think a collage is finished it goes up on my design wall. I will look at it periodically over the next day or two. I don’t know why a rested eye sees so much more clearly but it does. I will always see something that needs changing. Once I’ve made these final changes and am confident in all my decisions, I will make the bond permanent by ironing the finished collage with steam.
Now its time for the final step in creating a fabric collage, the free motion stitching. Before I begin stitching, I make a 3-layer sandwich. The top layer is my collage followed by a layer of batting and finally a backing fabric cut just a smidge larger than my collage. At the sewing machine I lower the feed dogs so the fabric will not be being pulled along by the machine. Instead, I move the fabric freely with my hands to create a stitching line. This line adds detail and texture to the piece. I want it to feel loose and playful but it also provides added insurance that all of the individual pieces of fabric are firmly attached. Early on free motion stitching was frightening. I had little control of where the stitching went and it often went awry. However, this no longer a dreaded part of the process. I have learned to embrace the wonky irregular line and, of course, I have gotten much better at being precise when it is required.
My collages are created as wall art. I do not think of them as quilts. For this reason, I found it important to finish my pieces differently than quilts are traditionally finished. After trying a number of options, all of which fell short, I settled on what feels like the perfect solution. After finishing a collage, I add a 2 to 3 inch mitered boarder in a contrasting fabric. The border effectively acts like a mat and I can then stretch the “matted” collage on a canvas and add hanging hardware.
Do you sell your work? If so, where can people find it?
I create a digital file of every finished piece. Not only for my records but also to create reproductions of my work. I am so delighted to have started a brand-new chapter in my life as a maker at the age of 72! I discovered that Holli, my wife of 9 years, was an excellent seamstress. What’s more, she loves to stay busy.
I have always believed that art belongs in our everyday life. I can’t imagine a home without art. Some on the wall, yes, but also in the functional items we use. We combined our 2 talents and the commercial side of Sandy Moore Arts was born.
We began selling at local and regional art fair and opened an on-line store where you can get beautifully constructed decorator pillows, tote bags, coasters, tea towels and pot holders. We share a studio and take turns curating the music that plays in the background. I create original collage, Holli sews beautiful decorator items and together we are enjoying a whole new adventure!
I am always happy to share my work and talk with makers and patrons of the arts. We do regional art fairs and love to see art lovers leave our booth with happy, colorful, joyous art to brighten their homes and their spirits. You can find a list of Art Fairs where we participate on our website.
Classes are coming and a schedule will be available on the website soon.
Interview posted May 2023
Browse through more mixed media collage stories and inspiration on Create Whimsy.