Origin of Surface Art
I’m Moyra Jones and Surface Art Studio is my business. I’ve always loved fabric and sewing. I studied textile design in Scotland before moving to Australia in the 1990s. When I arrived in Sydney, I got a job with the artist Ken Done, translating his iconic Australian images into fabrics for swimwear, clothing, and accessories.
In 2000, I started my own business, Surface Art, designing, hand printing, and sewing products to sell at local markets including Paddington, Bondi, and The Rocks. It was all about making and selling original cushions, homewares, and fabric by-the-metre.
My fabric designs are inspired by nature and the environment, as well as the art and design movements that I love: mid-century abstraction, Scandi design, orientalism, 1950s interior design, and bold 1970s patterns. Whatever the inspiration, my fabrics always have a Surface Art-touch. They might have a unique colourway, a clever repeat, or be daringly oversized.
Market stalls are great for getting customer feedback which is how I learned that people wanted to wear my designs. I was selling fabric by-the-metre to home sewers, but I had lots of enquiries for readymade skirts and dresses.
I started making simple A-line skirts and tunic dresses that showcased the fabric. They were easy to wear and suited a range of body types. It wasn’t long before women’s clothing sales outstripped homewares sales.
As business grew, I began outsourcing the screen printing and some of the making to local suppliers, but I've always stayed very hands-on.
Clothing gets its own label: Essaye
As my Surface Art clothing business grew, I moved further into wholesale and online sales. I stopped doing regular markets, but I still do the occasional design market to meet customers and like-minded businesses.
With clothing developing a life of its own, I thought it deserved a brand of its own – Essaye, after the Surface Art initials. While I still make A-line skirts, tunics, and dresses in Surface Art original designs, my Essaye clothing range has expanded a lot and I now sell denim and plain garments to wear with my trademark prints.
Essaye is a clothing label not a fashion label. Essaye is not about tapping into or setting trends, Essaye is about well-made clothing that I hope you’ll love and want to keep wearing year after year.
I release a couple of Essaye ranges each year with new prints and styles, and there are some popular designs that are always available. For example, I know customers really like my mikko print so I have mikko tops and mikko A-Line skirts in the all-year-round range. I keep adding new colourways to keep things fresh.
I’ve started getting some designs digitally printed which gives me more choice of base fabric. Plus, there are things I can do with digital that weren’t possible with screen printing.
The essence of Essaye is quality Australian-made clothing in natural fibres (with the odd bit of elastane for stretch or shape) and easy-to-wear versatile styles.
Surface Art Studio
Since 2016, I’ve been based at 135A Catherine Street, Leichhardt in Inner West Sydney. I run the business from the studio: designing the prints, liaising with suppliers, filling online orders, responding to customer emails, and doing some cutting and sewing.
On Fridays and Saturdays, I open the studio to customers. The studio shop provides the opportunity for shoppers to try on various styles and to mix and match. It also gives me the chance to gauge feedback on the prints and shapes.
Theadora Jones limited edition
It was through encounters in the studio shop that the offshoot brand, Theodora Jones, was born.
Visitors to the studio saw me wearing dresses I’d sewn from other designers’ fabrics and asked where they could get them. After numerous enquiries, I decided to create an offshoot label using fabrics that I purchased. I named the label, Theadora Jones, as a tribute to my mother, Theadora, who inspired me to sew and create from an early age.
The Theadora Jones range started out as dresses, but now I offer the carefully selected fabrics as dresses, skirts, homewares, and by-the-metre. Theadora Jones allows me to indulge my love of fabric. I only buy small amounts of fabric, so once it’s gone it’s gone. You could say it’s a limited-edition range.