Behind The ‘Fabric Paintings’ That Give Old Clothes A Voice


portrait of artist Sarah Darlene Palmeri on a yellow bench with fabric hung behind her

Denver-based artist Sarah Darlene Palmeri calls her mixed-media work “fabric paintings.” Each features repurposed textiles—often including clothes donated by loved ones or from her own closet.

As a material, fabric never feels purely neutral. Textiles swathe the most private corners of our home. They live close to our skin, molded to our bodies and memories. Denver-based artist Sarah Darlene Palmeri unravels their layers of meaning through mixed-media works that feature repurposed fabrics—often including clothes donated by loved ones or from her own closet. As such, these familiar velvets, stripes and florals bring startling intimacy to her abstract compositions. 

artist hands sewing on flower covered fabric remnant

The artistic journey of Sarah Darlene Palmeri started with abstract expressionistic paintings and led to layered mixed-media textile artworks

three works of art using paint and fabric remnants in an abstract manner

Her compositions, which often use fabric remnants or cast-offs, speak to ideas of reconstruction and recreation.

spools of multicolored thread and pins in small round containers

Hand-stitching fabric fragments into a complex artwork “became the most important part for me,” notes Palmeri. “Stitches are like sutures."

peach, striped, white and red fabric samples stitched together

A detail of some of Palmeri's stitched together work demonstrates the intricate layering effect achieved.

Palmeri calls these pieces “fabric paintings,” a natural extension of her career as an abstract expressionist painter. Her initial school of art was rooted in “this idea of painting as a cathartic tool for healing,” says the artist. But it felt “very white and male-dominated. And that’s not where I’m coming from,” she adds. “I wanted to reference abstract expressionism from a feminine and queer standpoint.” 

She began with collages deconstructing femininity and sexuality in media, then fabric took over. Now Palmeri drapes and tightens materials over stretcher bars, cutting and arranging jagged pieces into dynamic compositions. Though nonfigurative in shape, their clashing colors, patterns and textures—from feminine lace to lumberjack plaids—simultaneously evoke and blur gendered connotations. Hand-stitching these fragments into a complex whole “became the most important part for me,” notes the artist. “Stitches are like sutures. They speak to this idea of healing and reconstruction.” 

Healing guides Palmeri’s entire in-studio process at the RedLine Contemporary Art Center. Before touching any fabric, she begins with meditation rituals. “It’s just a way of coming back into my body,” the artist explains. “When I’m entering my space, I want to be grounded.” Mindfulness also informs her approach. Instead of strict planning, Palmeri improvises textile selections and cuts, adjusting as she progresses. “I let the clothes and shapes say what they need to,” she reflects. 

And what these textiles say can prove deeply personal. People often approach the artist to share recollections conjured by her pieces, from their grandma’s curtains to childhood holiday sweaters. For Palmeri, turning the remnants of our lives into something beautiful is the ultimate act of healing. “All energy can get recycled,” she says, “and turned into something new.”