World class artisan textiles featured in Geyserville showroom

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Sometimes the finest things can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Consider Geyserville. You may be hard pressed to buy a new wrench or set of pruners now that the old Bosworth’s is selling Western apparel and gifts. You’ll have to drive north or south to buy an appliance or a new car. But in tiny Geyserville, you can get bespoke linens, custom loomed in Europe, and museum-quality tapestries created by some of the top artists in the medium like Chuck Close and Kiki Smith.

This home finery comes through the good graces and good taste of Dallas Saunders. A trained artist, she was inspired to open her gallery and showroom by the space — a former prune packing plant re-imagined for Geyserville arts patron Steve Oliver by Jensen Architects, the San Francisco firm responsible for the multi-award winning SHED in Healdsburg. Andrea Cochran, one of the Bay Area’s leading landscape architects, designed the exterior spaces.

Such a stunning space, she figured, surely deserved to feature something exquisite inside and to be shared.

“I moved into this space to do my wholesale business. I didn’t move in thinking I would be open to the public,” said Saunders, who also lives in the tiny town in the Alexander Valley. “However, it was twice the space I needed, and the person who I originally was to share the space with decided to sell his business and move back to Wales at the spur of the moment. I was stuck with a lot more room than I needed.”

And so the tapestry gallery and textile showroom was born. Interior designers and people looking for singular fabrics for the home can arrange for custom bed covers, window coverings and browse among large, 1-yard sample swatches of fabric loomed of Belgian, French and Irish linen, as well as woolens, tweeds and cashmere. There also are decorative pillows featuring the designs of architect Julia Morgan from Hearst Castle that are functional art.

Saunders does have stock fabric from larger mills. But she also arranges with small artisan weavers in Europe to custom spin fabrics in small batches for single projects.

“I have people who will weave just 14 yards of fabric for me,” said Saunders, who has weavers in Northern Ireland, Scotland, France, Belgium and Italy.

This is not the linen you will find in mid-line stores. It’s among the finest, spun from flax grown in Belgium and northern France, known for producing the best in the world.

Certain retailers sell products they market as Belgian linen. But when you read the fine print, Saunders said, you find out that the flax was grown, processed and woven into fabric in India, with the only Belgian connection being the seeds the flax was grown from.

“The best fibers are from the north of France, Holland and Belgium because it grows really fast. It’s also the way they process its. They don’t just chop it off and mow it down. A machine pulls it out of the ground and it sits there and it gets rained on and basically the rain washes away most of the plant they don’t want and puts it back in the soil,” she said of the old traditional methods used for generations.

True linen is so rare, it represents only 1 percent of all the fabrics used in the world.

Saunders contracts with small, highly experienced weavers who will take on smaller, custom projects.

She will even custom produce bed covers and duvets because no two mattresses are truly alike.

One of her weavers, in Donegal in Northern Ireland, is an expert in spinning fabrics that appear old. Among those sample fabrics hanging in the showroom is a soft linen in oat shade that was used to make a costume worn by Joaquin Phoenix in the movie “Mary Magdalene,” Saunders said.

“She comes up with crazy stuff. She mainly does things for theater and movies. She does a lot of stuff for ‘Game of Thrones,’ where things have to look like they’re old,” she explained.

In addition to linens, she also sources Harris Tweed directly from the mill, which she turns into masculine, tailored throws and pillows trimmed in super soft plonge leather — perfect for a gentleman’s study.

Saunders’ background is in fine art. She earned a master’s degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, specializing art uses technology — cameras and copiers. She eventually became an art director for The Nature Company and for Portal Publications, a former Main-based company that specialized in posters, greeting cards, prints and other paper products.

She was attempting to branch out into a furniture line when the economy collapsed 10 years ago.

“No one was spending $8,000 on a sofa or $2,000 for a chair,” she said. But buyers were going for her line of decorative pillows made of linen with digitally printed designs she recreated from museum images or works from artists she knew.

For several hundred dollars, you could change out a look with a gorgeous pillow.

Even after the economy improved and she started expanding into high end textiles, she continues to produce the pillows, using designs by California architect Julia Morgan, and works from the Huntington Library in Pasadena.

What she’s doing is in many ways a new iteration of what she’s always done.

“I source and art direct beautiful things for your surroundings,” she said. “Art directors are always looking for a new and interesting ‘source,’ something creative, someone else who is making things. Beautiful and unique fabrics are my current genre of interest.”

While the decorative fabrics are part of what of what she does, it is also “the adventure of learning about fabric itself, particularly linens,” and working with natural fiber fabric mills to produce beautiful quality textiles — soft pre-washed linens that when sewn into drapes hang so beautifully.

“I have more than 250 linen fabrics,” she said. “It’s the thread, the texture, the color and each mill is a little different.”

Staff Writer Meg McConahey can be reached at or 707-521-5204.

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