My Chat with Sarah Fulford of Up The Stairs Designs

I cannot even begin to say how incredibly STOKED I am about today's post. Seriously, it has been a couple months in the making and I couldn't be more pleased to bring you an interview with my dear friend and colleague, Sarah Fulford of Up The Stairs Designs.

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Betty: So, who are you and what do you make?

Sarah Fulford: I am a baker of pies and maker of fabulous things! I am a garment draper and pattern cutter.  I pattern and create original garments and costumes. I work as a costume pattern draper in the Seattle Theater community as well as owning my own small garment making business, Up The Stairs Designs. This past fall I completed an original fashion collection of six looks called Mudlark. The majority of the items in the collection where made with free, recycled or donated materials garnered from the fabric stashes of friends, family and coworkers. 

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Photo by Sander Vinberg

The word “Mudlark” is a Victorian slang term used to describe someone who collects junk off the mud banks of the Thames and then sells it to Rag & Bone shops. It seemed a fitting title for a collection made with unwanted or unused materials.
— Sarah M Fulford

Betty: Tell me about how or why you began as an artist & maker?

SMF: I have always been a maker of things.  I made my first costume sometime before kindergarten. It was a steepled henin (pointy princess hat) made out of rolled up construction paper and a silk scarf purloined from my Mom’s scarf drawer.

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Betty: What got you started on Mudlark?

SMF: After a year of fruitless job searching following completion of my graduate course in London, I had to get very serious with myself about where my portfolio and resume needed improvement. I realized my portfolio did not include any original design work since my undergraduate degree.  It was a hodgepodge of beautifully patterned Victorian ladies dresses, a sequin tiger costume worthy of Liberace and the precisely executed designer knockoffs I had made in grad school.  It was all good technical work but the design work was not my own. I set my self the task of designing a cohesive fashion collection that reflected my aesthetic as a fashion designer rather then costume designer.

 

Betty: How long have you been working on Mudlark?

SMF: My loft dreams of getting everything designed, patterned, fit and made in just two or three short months turned out to be unrealistic, (to put it mildly).  The project took me the better part of a year to complete.  I had to fit it in between a full time job, side project for private clients and my feeble attempts at a social life.

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Betty: Are you able to create full time? If not, how do you make time for your creative work?

SMF: Do I create full time? Absolutely! Do I create full time making things I want to be making? Sadly no.  My own projects get fit in between the rest of the hustle and bustle in my life.  I don’t sleep a lot and my idea of a rollicking Friday night often involves getting to work on my own thing until 2 am.


Betty: Where do you get your inspiration?

SMF: My aesthetic has always leaned heavily toward the silhouettes and colors of the 1960’s and 70’s.  I am a sucker for a harvest gold refrigerator or an avocado green Formica counter top. Because the materials I was working with where also mostly found, that heavily guided the direction of the project.

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Betty: Do you have a signature or favorite piece you have created?

SMF: I think my coats are the strongest pieces in the collection, particularly my short coat with the asymmetrical collar.  My trademark seems to be very structured garments.  I like things with shaped yokes and big buttons.  I also love including tiny finishing details such as hand stitching on linings and decorative topstitching.

 

Betty: What direction do you see your work going in the future?

SMF: Who’s to say? I could be the next contestant to cry on Project Runway, or I could become a very contented pattern-cutting instructor at a trade school or perhaps I will run off and make costumes for the circus! Oops! Already done that one!

 

Betty: Tell me a little about your workspace

SMF: It is surprisingly organized.  Occasionally things can get out of hand and the floor disappears for a few days…or weeks, but for the most part I have a hard time working in chaos. I am also a collector of weird things, so, for example my sewing room also houses my extensive collection of Last Supper depictions as well as Jarvis, the taxidermy gazelle head.

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Betty: What do you feel has been your biggest challenge (creatively or otherwise) with your work?

SMF: In the eight years since graduating with my bachelors’ degree I have concentrated on working on my technical skills as a stitcher and pattern maker.  Designing the garments proved to be my biggest challenge as that muscle has not be exercised in a long time. Add to that that my background is as a costume designer; so making the switch to designing fashion garments was a challenge.  With out the context of a character to design for I really had to work hard to find the line between all the garments that connect them.

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Photo by Sander Vinberg

Betty: And your greatest reward?

SMF: Sleeping? No, but really, the best thing was seeing my clothes on my friend, my effortless model Lizzie Diehl. The clothes are lovely on a hanger, but they really come alive when they are on a body.

 

Betty: What hobbies or other interests do you have? How do you find balance in your life?

SMF: There are other hobbies to be had ASIDE from sewing until your fingers bleed? Does cross stitch and embroidery count? I love to cook. I bake pies that make grown, beardy men cry! I am also a musician. I studied classical music for eight years and then left that to the wayside in college and started playing more folk and bluegrass. I am a songwriter, but a very reluctant performer. Two of my songs have been covered by my dear friend Coty Hogue (check her out HERE) on both of her albums "To The West" and "When We Get to Shore". She is amazing and worth a listen.


That is Sarah! I encourage all of you to check out her Etsy shop (the link is above but here it is again: www.upthestairs.etsy.com). Her work is stunning and, as always, I am annoying you to buy local & handmade. 

 

As always, I love you comments and suggestions! Let me see what brilliant things you find out in your neck of the woods with the hashtag #BettyStyleTester