Sara Buscaglia is living my dream life. I’ve always wanted to be an agrarian who has a giant garden and spends my afternoons and evenings creating things with my hands. Sara does all of that, and then some. On her farm in the Colorado high desert, she creates the most beautiful heirloom quilts and natural dyes. She truly is an inspiration for sustainable living and using the “stem to leaf” approach to life. In our interview, Sara gives us an insight into what life looks like on her farm with her family, where she finds creative inspiration and using creative hobbies as self-care.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I live on a small family farm in southwestern Colorado with my husband and our four kids. We raise organic vegetables, fruit, flowers and hemp, and we tend to a small flock of chickens and ducks. We strive to live a sustainable lifestyle and grow a lot of what we eat. We cook everything from scratch. In my spare time, I work in my studio as a natural dyer and quilt maker. I dye organic cotton and linen fabrics with plants and minerals and then basically cut up that fabric only to sew it all back together in quilt form.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It’s ever-changing with the seasons. I begin each day by tending to the chickens and ducks—feeding them and collecting eggs. At this time of year—the spring—there are all kinds of farm chores to keep up with. Seeds to sow and young plants to tend to. Most of the year, I jump right from chores into homeschooling my youngest two. I always make time at some point in the day to cook a nourishing meal. Between it all, I try my best to find an hour or two here and there to spend in my studio.
We love your heirloom quilts! Can you walk us through your unique process?
Thank you! All my quilts begin in my backyard where I spend summer afternoons dyeing yards and yards of organic cotton and linen fabrics. I create dyes with minerals and various plant parts—leafs, roots, flowers, bark. Natural dyeing is a very time-intensive process but the colors that the natural world offers are so unique and special. I also really enjoy the process and the alchemy! I couldn’t create the quilts I do with commercially dyed fabrics because my style very much depends upon subtle imperfections, variations and textures that come from dyeing in small batches. It’s always my goal when I’m dyeing a certain color to make several slight variations in color saturations. When I put a quilt together, these slight variations, textures and perfect imperfections are my signature. They tell a story that can only be created by the bond of plants and human hands.
Sometimes I create colors just for fun or because I’m experimenting and when this is the case, I don’t have a plan for these colors. I store all my dyed fabrics in a huge chest of drawers in my studio. A lot of the time when I go to make a quilt, I simply open the drawers and a certain color will stand out and inspire me and I’ll pair it with other colors to create a palette that excites me. I never think of color theory when I’m doing this, rather it’s based on feeling. It’s amazing how adding or eliminating just one color can completely change the feeling of the palette. Once I’ve selected a palette, I decide which kind of quilt pattern to work with—something that will make my palette shine. I don’t draw my quilts out on paper. I’ve become pretty good at being able to visualize in my head what the quilt will look like and I never feel like I could draw that vision as good as I could just going ahead and making it with fabric.
When I put a quilt together, these slight variations, textures and perfect imperfections are my signature. They tell a story that can only be created by the bond of plants and human hands.
Other times, I have a very specific quilt in my head and I’ll create certain specific colors to make that quilt. Over the years, I’ve become fairly good at being able to create specific colors. My first several years of dyeing, I created all kinds of colors through experimenting, which was really fun and also a valuable learning experience, but I was not at all able to, for example, set out to make red and end up with red.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
I feel inspired by the colors of nature, especially the colors of November in my high desert landscape. The dead grasses, the gray light and the browns and greens of sage and cedar trees. I hope to put them in quilt form. I like to look at antique quilts and textiles, old Turkish and Moroccan rugs, the colors of faraway places and landscapes. I like simple interiors but busy quilts with lots of little pieces that make your eyes curiously dance around the piece. I also really like simple quilts, but I’m mostly drawn to making complex patterns because I enjoy the process of figuring out how to make them and how to make the colors work together.
What’s something you wish people knew about living on a farm?
Well, you have to be a little crazy to be a farmer and I am. We are. We work hard for little pay but there are real benefits that make it more than worth the struggle—the main one being that sustainable farming is a form of independence. When you’re a farmer, you can never slack on the job. Too many lives depend upon you. You have to get up and go water the greenhouse and keep the plants alive. If you’re late on this chore by just a few minutes, it’s game over, so you don’t let that happen. You don’t slack because it’s not an option. We plant the seeds, and tend to the plants and bring them to harvest, which is basically magic. At peak season, we eat like royalty. When autumn comes, we can’t wait for the relentless work to be over, and when the snow melts and the first smell of thawing soil reaches our nostrils, we can hardly wait another minute to do it all again.
Do you have a daily uniform/go-to outfit?
In the farming months, I wear my work clothes. I made a pair of hemp overalls several years ago from a vintage 1970’s sewing pattern and they’re my favorite. They’ve been mended and need some more mending to get through this coming season. I wear a pair of black Jolly Clogs every day to farm in. The rest of the year, I wear the clothes that I make. I sew and knit most everything I wear, and at this point have made a lot of clothing, so I switch it up every day because it’s way more fun than overalls all the time.
You don’t slack because it’s not an option. We plant the seeds, and tend to the plants and bring them to harvest, which is basically magic.
Any favorite sustainable fashion brands?
I don’t shop too much because I enjoy sewing and am always wanting to make things. I’ve bought a couple Pyne & Smith Clothiers dresses and love them. I follow Beaton Linen on Instagram and Conscious Clothing and I really like both of those shops and styles. I really hope that the future holds more hope for companies committed to ethically produced clothing.
What’s always in your fridge?
Our fridge is always stuffed with fresh produce and fruit. There are lots of Mason jars full of nuts and seeds, homemade nut butters, fermented hot sauces and kimchi that I make. I make plant-based milks and tofu. Those are our main fridge staples. Oh, and ketchup. My kids like ketchup.
Do you have a go-to recipe you love to cook?
I’ve been really into making curries with red lentils. There’s an Indian dal style I like to make and also an Ethiopian version that’s become my favorite. I serve both versions with brown rice and braised mustard greens from the farm.
What does self-care look like for you?
Self-care for me is making time to be in the studio because that’s my happy place. It’s really all I need. I can always carve out time somewhere to be in there working on some kind of project, whether it’s a quilt or a garment. I dream of the day I can be in there regularly and make more of a job out of it. Presently, homeschooling comes first, and the farm, which is my real job, and then my studio in spare time. So studio time is self-care and I’m grateful for it.
What are you currently reading?
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
What are your all-time favorite, must-read books?
- The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka
- Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry and all of his books!
- Soil Not Oil by Vandana Shiva and also all of her books. She’s a true freedom fighter!
Shop Sara’s reading list:
Last album you listened to?
Townes Van Zandt, “Roadsongs”
What is your morning routine?
Chores. Always chores first. Let out the chickens and ducks and feed and water them. Open the greenhouses and water the plants. Make a big smoothie that will get me through the morning. Wash the eggs and bring them down to the farm stand. I begin our homeschool day at 8:30 a.m., always with reading to my kids. We’re reading Shakespeare and Dante’s Divine Comedy currently.
What does your ideal Sunday look like?
We don’t do anything special or different on Sundays. No matter what day it is, the kids are in charge of making themselves breakfast and lunch and I make a big family dinner every night that we enjoy together. We don’t eat out much—haven’t eaten out since we last traveled in January, actually. The farm does not offer us Sundays off. We always have to irrigate and tend to basic chores no matter the day. We do try to take a day off every week in the height of the summer work when everything is planted and established and thriving. On our day off, we like to get up to the mountains for a hike where everything is cooler and fresh.
Are there any causes or movements you’re particularly passionate about?
I’ve donated the proceeds of a quilt I made to the Refugee Makers Project, a small organization that helps refugee families be successful in selling their handmade items in their new homelands in order to support themselves. I also made a quilt for an auction to raise funds for the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. We are committed to clean organic sustainable growing practices on our farm for the health of all life and the Earth and I’m passionate in voicing my opposition to commercial agriculture.
Anything exciting on the horizon for you that you can share?
Nothing big. I’m looking forward to growing a lot of food this summer and also to the days ahead dyeing fabrics in my outdoor studio. Last year, we built a little farm stand here on the farm to sell produce from. We’ve been harvesting on Fridays and so far this spring, we’ve been selling out by the next day, which is really exciting! The coronavirus pandemic/crisis is terrible and scary, but I think it is awakening people to the importance of local food systems. I really hope it sticks because I enjoy growing good clean organic food for people but can’t stand talking it up and trying to sell it like it’s a nonessential thing. It really is so very important to support local food production and I believe that anyone willing to do the hard work of farming should be supported by their communities because truly it is the community that benefits when local food systems are in place.
Not really, but this is a good one from Georgia O’Keeffe:
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life–and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
Connect with Sara | @farmandfolk