Painted Linens by Sandra Constantine

These hand-painted napkins are a feast for the eyes.
Profile Of S.constantine

Photography by Doug Young

You’ll never catch Sandra Constantine setting the dining table in her Lenox Hill apartment with paper napkins. “Table linens should add delight to the dining experience,” says the artist, “and be an expression of who you are.” Accordingly, her hand-painted linen napkins are a feast for the eyes, adorned with her own fanciful free-form brushstrokes and line markings.

A native Iowan who holds a bachelor’s degree in fine art from American University, Constantine left a decades-long career as a fashion executive in 2013 to practice art full-time. After taking classes in various disciplines for several years, she began exploring the idea of working with textiles, which ultimately led her to launch her business, James C. Butterfly, in 2019. “I was organizing my napkin collection and found a hand-painted one that I had purchased many years ago,” Constantine recalls. “It was an aha! moment. I knew that this is what I should be doing.”

Vintage textiles, historical patterns, and shelter magazine clippings inspire her designs, which she paints onto precut 20-inch squares of stone-washed linen. Woven in Lithuania and available in shades ranging from neutral to citrine, the linen continues to soften with age and can be machine-washed or dry-cleaned between uses.

Constantine works at a small desk abutting her living room windows, treating each cloth square “like a blank canvas.” Using nontoxic fabric paint and specialty markers, she makes patterns composed of circles, squiggles, dots, and lines. “I don’t begin a design knowing what the end product will look like,” she points out. “I let each mark inform the next.” The finishing touch: She stencils the brand’s initials on a corner before hanging the napkin on a rack to dry and then heat-pressing it. “The world is challenging on every level,” Constantine continues, “so for me it’s about creating beautiful table settings for people to enjoy—just like cooking a delicious meal or opening a great bottle of wine.”

Read more about artists and artisans from New York who are making bold statements.