Sarah Wiley uses her fondness for bright colours and a myriad of inspirational fabrics to create works of art. Sarah interprets her clients memories and photographs into beautiful creations that bring joy and lasting memories. From pillows to framed art, Sarah’s distinctive pieces capture people, pets, special rooms and places in a singular, highly stylised way.
We came across Sarah’s beautiful work online and wanted to get in touch to find out more about her intricate interior portraits made from fabric and thread. Sarah lives in Richmond, Virginia and is inspired by colourful interiors and the world around her. Join us as we ‘Meet The Maker’…
How did you begin making your textile artworks?
I have created with my hands for as long as I can remember. I took sewing lessons and sewed my own clothes at 14. My grandmother taught me how to needlepoint and do embroidery. I always have some kind of handwork to keep myself busy. While raising my children, I practised interior design and my studio was in my home. I enjoyed a fabulous career for 28 years. I am a self-taught artist, both in my former career in interior design and now in my textile art. As my life path weaves along, I bring these interests together by creating rooms in miniature.
When I decided to purchase a simple embroidery machine (for fun!) it opened my eyes to how a machine could help in the creation of a design. Since I found pre-made designs ‘too staged’ and perfect, I searched for a way to create more organic and loose designs. I found software that I could use to make original designs. I quickly learned that the ‘stitch-only’ designs would take hours to stitch out. At this time, I was still designing interiors. I had many memo samples and extra fabric lying around – Aha! The applique process began. Instead of using all stitches to fill a space, I used beautiful and colourful interior design fabrics to fill my hand-drawn shapes.
Can you tell us about your process?
My process has evolved over time. Initially I took my own children’s drawings from when they were young and interpreted them with thread. I replicated their youth-like lines and circles into bright colours. I stitched them onto pinafores and overalls. How proud a child would be to have their own drawings to show off on their clothes! I quickly learned that this made for expensive clothing that a child would grow out of in several months, and so, I came up with a ‘Memory Pillow’.
My design ideas grew into the concept of creating lasting memories. I bring my clients joy by creating a work of art that becomes a family treasure and conversation piece that is passed down as a family heirloom. I capture life events and stories in an original art form that expresses special feelings and creates lasting memories.
When not working on commissions, I love creating interiors. Interior inspiration is available all around us. Instagram alone is an adventure in visual beauty. My pieces are created layer by layer. By using recycled fabrics, I create a composition. The details build slowly as I assemble, choose and place each successive piece of fabric. I have a keen eye for detail and take special care to drape the fold of a curtain or to stuff a cushion.
Where does your creativity come from?
I have many creative relatives who help channel my inner creativity. My great grandfather was Charles Dana Gibson, an illustrator and creator of the Gibson Girl. His wife Irene Langhorne Gibson, my great grandmother, was famed for being the ‘last southern belle’. She was a celebrated beauty and a symbol of strong American womanhood at the turn of the century. Her sister, Nancy Langhorne Astor, brought southern hospitality to England. After the early death of her mother, Lady Astor raised Nancy Lancaster who co-owned Colefax & Fowler, and was known for codifying the English Country House look. Raised at my family home in Virginia, she inspired generations of designers in Europe and the United States. Amongst them was Jane Churchill, her great niece.
Can you tell us about some of your commissioned pieces?
A favourite commission was for a daughter and mother having an afternoon tea at Haymarket Hotel. The two women are enchanted by Firmdale Hotels and visit many of them frequently. It was important for their story to include a particular layered tray of scones, cookies and cakes. We included some of the Mythical Creatures china and replicas of the art at the hotel.
Another commission was to create two wedding pillows of an only daughter who was getting married. The wedding took place at their home in the country. A birthday tree had been planted on their property to celebrate their daughter’s birth. A focal point at the wedding, it was covered with twinkling lights. I used a piece of the bride’s veil to create a veil on the pillow. The couple’s dogs wore wreaths of flowers matching the bride’s bouquet. I chose a romantic floral pattern for the background of one of the pillows.
What is inspiring you at the moment?
I am currently studying artists who are influenced by surrealism. I like the idea of throwing off a perspective and choosing unexpected lines and shapes. Since my art is more about texture, including unexpected fabric into my pieces interests me. I am in love with Hilary Pecis, a painter in California. Her interiors and still life works excite me with their distortion and vibrant colours. She makes ordinary objects explode off the canvas.
It is an enormous honour to be featured in Kit Kemp’s Design Thread blog. More than any designer I am aware of, she uses crafts brilliantly in her interiors. I am inspired by her rooms and have replicated several of them that include crafts of all kinds!
We thought it was an honour to speak with you Sarah! We are excited to see future creations and commissions. You can find out more here: sarahwileyart.com or follow Sarah’s work on Instagram @SarahWileyArt