Fabric artist Sandy Teepen details her new exhibit at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance

Sandy Teepen's quilted collages is on display at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance Center in Chamblee through Aug. 31. (Photo courtesy of Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance)

Sandy Teepen likes to say there’s a common thread that runs through her life — many threads, actually. The Atlanta fabric artist has worked in various forms, including weaving, costuming and, her current emphasis, quilted collages. In these pieces, she combines traditional designs with modern colors and patterns, and her latest exhibit of quilted collages is currently on view at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance. She’s also their artist in residence for the month of August. Sandy Teepen joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes via Zoom to talk about her new solo exhibition.

An artist with an adventurous view of fabrics:

“Unless I’m encouraged to do a custom-made project for a customer, I don’t do bed quilts. I like to think of the colors and the fabrics I use as one giant palette. I like to think of it as the most extraordinary box of crayons a girl could ever have,” said Teepen. “I can use fabric like paint, and that’s what I strive to do. I don’t know if I always get there. I’m always waiting for the next project, so I can really treat fabrics the way I think they should be put together, the way they should meld with the things around them. And that’s how I think that the idea of collage enters my work.”

“I have no idea how long they take because I work on several things at any one time. I think I actually live with the fabrics before I use them. I buy things I like, so I know I fell in love with them, but they have to be with me for a while before I figure out what happens to them. I collect things that I think will work, but I don’t know when, and I don’t know how.” 

Freestyle quilt-building with whim and spontaneity:

“I buy things from Goodwill and second-hand stores. I like to see brand-new men’s shirts with tags that haven’t been worn. People don’t like something, so they give it away. Well, I can use that. I can take it home, wash it and cut it up,” Teepen explained. “My friends bring me fabrics. ‘Oh, I saw this. I thought of you, so I bought it, and here it is.’ Okay. Now I have that, and most often, it works.”

She continued, “I like to tell the story of my granddaughters offering to spend a day in my studio, and they’ll sort my fabrics. ‘We’ll organize. We’ll put all the yellows in one basket. We’ll put all the blues in another basket.’ And I said, ‘Oh, please don’t do that.’ Because when I go looking for something, I find the things I need. Plus, my brain sorts my fabric. All those fabrics then go to the cutting table. They eventually become a collage. I put them together in a very spontaneous manner.”

Themes of diversity, place, color and community in Teepen’s art:

“I think one of the best things that we have as a city, as an arts community, is our diversity. That plays always in my work because I’m constantly thinking about, ‘Well, how does something from Senegal go with something that I bought in Asheville?’ I think it may be trite to say I like that we find where we are agreeing, and we do connect, rather than the places where we don’t meet. I think Atlanta’s a good example of finding the places where we do get to meet and coalesce, if you will, as a group, as an arts community.”

“I’m currently caught up on a map craze, and one of my quilts just got sent off from this exhibit to another, which is the Great Wisconsin Quilt Show … but that piece is what I call ‘Number Two’ of a series I’m doing,” said Teepen. “The other thing is, I think [there] are really just comfortable ways to look at art, different ways to look at art when it’s up on a wall, and it’s fabric, not paint. I like to encourage people to think about the pleasure that those colors bring to one’s eye. It’s a brain-hand-eye thing. That’s the message I want to deliver about my work.”

Sandy Teepen’s quilted collages will be on display at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance Center in Chamblee through Aug. 31. More information is available at fiberartsalliance.org/participate/sandy-teepen-quilted-collages