Freak of the Week ~ Shari Moraga

Hi! I’m Shari Rogoff Moraga. My business is Leo’s Dry Goods, story later. My studio, The Sustainable Sweat Shop, is where all the goods are designed and made. As well, in the studio, I teach sewing classes and am currently raising 4 baby chicks.

I love making useful goods that are simple and lovely.

I make napkins, aprons, banners and wine bags by hand. The napkins and aprons are either canvas duck, which is made in the USA, repurposed painters cloth or an organic hemp/cotton blend cloth, which is also made in the USA. The wine bags and banners are from upcycled coffee sacks. The designs I create have a modern feel yet invoke the vintage. I “sketch with thread” as a way to draw, creating original imagery. I love to play with color using contrasting threads. As well, I design dishtowels, again using thread to create original designs, and these are made using flour sack.  I think a handmade object should feel and look handmade, and by that I mean made with natural materials, but yet made well, constructed with durability, and have a story. My designs are clean and simple, made entirely by me, here in Boulder, CO.

Crispina and I met in college. We were fiber majors together at the Massachusetts College of Art. We instantly hit it off, I think that was the first time since arriving at college that I actually started laughing for real. The following year we were roommates along with her sister, Sofia, and a few other woman, at the end of the C line in Brookline.  We both had a passion for textiles and taking them to the next level.  I began felting my paintings on a grand scale, 7 by 9 foot felt paintings with a bend toward symbolism. Rolling fleece in huge bamboo shades in a huge handmade table filled with water and suds at our studio in school. It was fantastic. My arms were in great shape-which became helpful when I began my decorative painting career!

After college I began a career in decorative painting. I took traditional classes in New York City, began getting clients and began what would become a 25 year stint.

But now….the paint brush is down and the sewing machine is running full tilt. Here it is in a nut shell:

“I was a decorative painter for 25 years, my start was in NYC. When I imagined that the fountain at Lincoln Center was a creek I knew it was time to head west. In Boulder I immediately began painting, then got married and the family grew...a son, dogs, chickens and ducks. I have been standing on canvas/duck drop cloths for many, many years and looking down gave me a great idea: utility fabric for something else.”

When I began making aprons, napkins, etc.  I wanted to create goods that were simple, clean, and fun. I like the modern feel you can get from canvas, and yet at the same time feel some nostalgia in the piece. Mixing those elements is very important in all aspects of my life. We have a very modern home, but the walls are American Clay, a natural breathing surface. Our house, while not LEED certified (as it’s a fortune to do) has been built so that it qualifies for certification. I bring this up because our house was built emulating a lot of ideals found in houses designed by Luis Barragán, my favorite architect: where modern meets tradition in a unique way. Neither undermining the other,  which is what I would like to achieve with Leo’s Dry Goods.

Right now I am spending all my time creating goods and marketing them. There is such an amazing community of crafts persons out there. Its truly exciting becoming a part of something new, but yet this has been around forever: people making things out of repurposed material, natural materials. See? old and new, it’s a constant.  The movement going on in Boulder is very interesting. There is such an eclectic mix here. A lot of people still see us as a very “crunchy” city, especially with the legalization of the reefers. Well, we still have our crunch, but we are quite progressive when it comes to technology (think aerospace engineering), the local business boom has been wonderful, and the marijuana field (pun intended) has expanded to medicinal products for the sick, we just need to open up peoples’ eyes. (They love to shop for natural products at Whole Foods but don’t see how analogous it is to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, but that’s a whole other rant.)

Back to me! I find that in calling my business Leo’s Dry Goods, I am being influenced by my family every step of the way, as if they are all looking over my shoulder and smiling with each stitch. This is the little story of Leo:

“He was my grandfather. Poppa Leo. He had an amazing old store in Newark, NJ. He opened after a long journey from Prague to Spain to South America. Picking up languages along the way, (he spoke 10) he ended up in NYC, then NJ. He married Lilly Rand and opened a dry goods store, with a classic awning and the words "Leo's Dry Goods." Saturdays I would go down and sit on a big, worn wooden stool and help out. Once in a while a customer would give me quarter.”

My memories of his place and the stuff he sold has been a constant in my life. Back then nothing was made with anything but natural materials, and it was made well. Hopefully I am making a difference in supplying handmade goods, similar in feel.

When I am not working I am still working. I am trying to be the best mom I can. I enjoy being a mother more than I could imagine, especially since my son is so different than me. He has no interest in sitting at a sewing machine, he wants to throw around a football. But he has this great way of looking at things. Although sad when one of our ducks died or when one of the baby chicks didn’t make it, he got it. He understood. I am amazed by him everyday.

Transforming memory: Learning how our lives give us strength. When I moved to Colorado from NYC my father was diagnosed with cancer. While my dad had cancer, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and died. Two years later, almost to the day of my mother’s death, my dad died. I spent the beginning of my new life in Boulder traveling back and forth caring for my parents. I taught myself, with the help of others, to communicate better, to listen better. I realized how short life is and we may get to the end rather quickly so everyday has to count.

As for a prized possession, I used to have a bunch--including a very early, very large potholder rug! But a lot of that has changed for me. I learned (not by choice) that holding on to items isn’t necessary. We lost our house, four years ago, in a wildfire in the foothills of Boulder and everything was lost, the things I inherited from my parents, baby items of my son. So, I guess my prized possession would be my memory. Lets hope I don’t get Alzheimer’s!  Luckily I have a propensity for black humor.

The most magical moment of my life was the chance to paint my mother’s portrait the week before she passed away…wait for it…yup, lost in the fire. Anyway, she sat for me in our backyard. The woman that introduced me to painting at a very young age, bought me my first set of oil paints, was dying, and she sat quietly, watching me paint.  And the only four words she said the whole time was, “ who’s really the subject?” She stopped me in my tracks. Here she was, taking me in as much as I was taking her in.  It was a symbolic end to a beautiful and intense relationship.

This leads well into your next questions. I would love to spend the afternoon with my mom. Introduce her to her grandson. Just have a normal day. Maybe have a nice lunch, catch up, listen to stories. My favorite color is turquoise- a direct influence of my mother. She spent a lot of time in the 50s in Mexico City, when she was a teenager. Bright colors, mix of old and new. It all makes sense.

One of my favorite places in the world is Oaxaca. It encompasses everything in aesthetics that I love. The art and craft of the region is intense. One year, on my birthday, an old woman in a lesser-known mercado weaved thick fuchsia ribbons through my braids. Then her husband, probably 80, danced me around the market stalls singing to me. It was lovely.

Ok, the next 12 months: to bring lovely handmade goods to people that want to enjoy them. I hope the joy that I get from making them comes through. That is my goal.  I think my role in my community depends on which community we are talking about. I take pride in supporting the public school system and continue to be involved in that. I plan on becoming more a part of the different creative collectives going on around town.  I have just applied to several juried craft fairs, which I hope to be included in. As well, I just opened a shop on etsy:

If you come to Boulder look me up!