Text by Paul Vitale
Photography by Alexandra Grablewski
Richard Saja is an accomplished textile artist. His fine art pieces have been
featured in gallery shows from London to Philadelphia. His surreal pieces
are sometimes whimsical and sometimes tread into darker territory, but
Richard’s exquisite craftsmanship and artistry always shine through.
Richard’s trademark work involves embroidering bright and fanciful
embellishments on top of historic toile patterns. One might find a wolfman
pushing a maiden on a swing or a mohawked punk-rocker drawing a bucket
of water from a well. His work is always surprising and always a pleasure
to behold. Richard has partnered with some of the biggest names in retail
and fashion to create his one-of-a-kind creations, including Keds, Opening
Ceremony, and Bloomingdales. He frequently features his work on his blog,
I’ve always been fascinated by embroidery, but I’ve never had the knack to do it
myself. What drew you to embroidery and when did you realize you had a talent
for it? My interest for embroidery sprang from the necessity of keeping up with
production for a line of cushions I was selling under the name MARISAAL. I had met
an amazing embroiderer on the subway here in NYC—she was the only one who
embroidered the toile for me back then. But soon, after I picked up a needle, I found
the perfect outlet for my OCD inclinations and overall fastidiousness: embroidery!
Having no natural talent for painting or drawing, I found that a needle and floss allowed
me to accomplish very similar results. And I actually did have some innate talent for it.
What first gave you the idea to embellish toile? The idea came to me while waking
from sleep. The original concept was to embroider Maori face tattoos onto 18th
century figures, but I soon found that there are very few toile prints out there large
enough to accomplish this effectively. I adjusted the concept slightly to include any
modification to the original pattern, and the Toile & Tats line was born.
You must know a lot about toile. Can you tell us about the history of the pattern?
Are new patterns produced today? From what I understand, Toile de Jouy was the
first mechanically reproduced fabric available. It originated in a small village in France
in the 18th century, and refers to two very different fabrics. One is a highly stylized
abstraction that is usually referred to as “French provincial” now. The other—the one