By: Alison Gwinn
A needle and thread, not a paintbrush, create the beautiful products from Leo’s Dry Goods
Leo’s Dry Goods is a bit of an oxymoron: a high-thread-count business with a decidedly homespun vibe.
The company is the brainchild of Shari Moraga, who launched it in 2014 out of her home studio in North Boulder. Moraga, who majored in textile art at the Massachusetts College of Art, worked as a decorative painter in New York before being lured west 22 years ago. “In New York, I lived near Lincoln Center, where I would go sit by the fountain at night with a glass of wine. I kept imagining it was a creek. I realized that if I really want to be sitting next to a creek, I was in the wrong place.” So she signed up for a three-week alpine mountaineering course with Outward Bound, came to Colorado and found her new home.
Leo’s came about serendipitously: One year for Christmas, Moraga made aprons as gifts, painting images on canvas and then stitching on top. “I discovered that I could maneuver the fabric and actually draw using my sewing machine rather than painting,” Moraga says. “It’s really just another way to draw, using thread instead of a pen or pencil or paint. It’s all done freehand, so everything is one of a kind.”
We have Moraga’s grandparents, Leo and Lilly of Newark, N.J., to thank for not only Moraga’s sewing ability but also the business’s name. “My grandmother taught me how to sew clothing for my dolls using an old Singer machine. And my grandfather, an immigrant from Europe, had an oldschool store called Leo’s Dry Goods in Newark. I wanted to honor him.”
Moraga, who lives with her husband, son and two dogs, brings that down-home sensibility to all of the products she makes: napkins, aprons, tea towels, pillows, pouches and scarves. With her Juki and Janome sewing machines (“just straight stitches, nothing fancy”), she creates simple images on cotton canvas or flour sack: farm animals, feathers, arrows, tents, bicycles, mountains, anchors, hearts.
Moraga’s creations are so pretty, some buyers are afraid to use them. “Everything I make is utilitarian,” she says. “If something gets stained, that just shows that you are using something beautiful. I often tell customers the story of our house, which we lost in the Fourmile fire. I had these beautiful things from my grandparents, including Gorham silver, which I used every day. We lost it all in the fire, and I am so glad I used it. You only live once. Why not put beautiful things to use?”
Leo’s Dry Goods
THE BUSINESS: North Boulder company hand-sewing napkins, aprons, towels, pillows and scarves