Interview with Designer-Seamstress Lucy Parsons of @byelsieb by @schulmanArt, Miriam Schulman
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I met Lucy Parsons when we both signed up for an online business course hosted by Handmadeology. Parsons hails from the great tradition of English sewing which may be my own prejudice from coveting Laura Ashley fabrics as a teenager. I worked in a Laura Ashley store during school holidays and sewed my own fabric pillows to decorate my dorm room. In addition, the few sewing books I own were purchased from London’s large department store, Harrods. As a result, I have great respect for the quality of English designer fabrics and tailoring. Lucy’s Etsy shop is one place where you can get that level of quintessentially British quality in hand sewn home decor. She chooses high quality fabrics for her designs and finishes each one with care.
SchulmanArt: So, am I being a typical American referencing Laura Ashley, or do you actually like those fabrics too?
Lucy Parsons: I grew up surrounded by Laura Ashley fabrics – my nursery as a baby was decorated in them. As a small child I spent hours flicking through the catalog choosing which fabrics I liked best. Probably one of my biggest influences.
SchulmanArt: I decorated my daughter’s bedroom and nursery with Laura Ashley! How did you learn to sew?
|nursery decor ideas found in her etsy shop
Lucy Parsons: I picked up a needle and thread at a very young age – around 4 or 5. My mother taught me the rudiments of sewing and encouraged my interest, sending me on some recreational sewing courses as a teenager. I initially sewed for my dolls – clothes, bedding, that kind of thing. As I got older I made cushions and my own clothes through my teenage years. My first paid job was working as an assistant in a bespoke curtain workshop – I helped make curtains for the stately home on which Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park was based. When I went to University I made my own ball-gowns and curtains for my student rooms. I love working with beautiful fabrics. I find that the fabrics are my inspiration for my designs. I find it quite difficult to visualize a finished object without seeing the fabric first.
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SchulmanArt: Why did you decide to start your own business?
Lucy Parsons: I was brought up on a sheep farm in a village called Welford, in Northamptonshire, England. I lived there until I was 18 when I went off to University in Cambridge for three years, then London for my first job for three years, then various other places before returning to my roots when my first child was six months old. My husband and I wanted to be near family as we brought up our family and it has been fantastic being home. Everyone around me wanted me to follow the conventional academic route. Every time I became enthused about how I might make a living out of my craft I was dissuaded by dispassionate rationales. However, I have a strong entrepreneurial spirit in my blood – my father’s family have been self-employed farmers for generations and my maternal grand-father set up a very successful printing firm from scratch. There is something in me that kicks against employment – I like to be in charge!
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SchulmanArt: How long have you been selling professionally on Etsy?
Lucy Parsons: I opened my Etsy shop in 2011. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I now see people opening their shops in a really serious, business-like way. I just wanted an outlet for my hobby – and a way to make it pay. I was lucky that almost by accident I made a steady trickle of sales from the beginning, even though I knew nothing about search engines, photography or social media. I have also sold at a few local craft fairs.
SchulmanArt: What do you focus on now?
Lucy Parsons: My best selling items are my personalized pillows. They are rectangular and show a name on the front. The name is appliqued onto a neutral background with each letter cut from a different, coordinating fabric. The edging is then made-up of all the fabrics shown in the name. They are very popular and have sold all over the world.
SchulmanArt: What do you use as your work space?
Lucy Parsons: I work in my dining room. We haven’t eaten in here for over a year now as it’s full of supplies, finished products etc. I have a lovely bay window which looks out onto the village street with some trees immediately opposite. It faces east so I get the morning sun.
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SchulmanArt: How do you manage to balance your work and being a full time caregiver for your young children?
Lucy Parsons: I stay focused because I have such limited time to spend on my business – being a stay at home mum as well. I often get frustrated that I cannot spend the time I wish I could on my business but often remind myself that these years when my children are young are so precious and I’m privileged to be able to spend this time with them.
I am first and foremost a mum. My day starts when my two young children wake. I check social media and all my shop-stats over breakfast. The morning is spent with the children – taking them to activities, playing or socializing. After lunch, my youngest goes to sleep and my older child has some quiet time. During this time I sew, write blog posts, research materials or read up on marketing. There’s more play and activities before supper and bed. After the children have gone to bed I either collapse exhausted or carry on with the most pressing tasks in hand.
also mentioned: @TheEnergyShop @handmadeology @timothyadam @LauraAshleyUK