Pillow Talk with Rosie Sparks
With the term grandmillennial leaving everyone's lips, one savvy Brit is giving the word its true meaning. Meet Rosie Sparks, founder of STUDIO SPARKS, specializing in frilly pillows handmade from vintage, preloved and unwanted fabrics. In the anxious times of lockdown, Rosie took to her sewing machine and began creating glorious decorative pillows that combine old-world sensibility with a sustainable edge.
As a fervent supporter of emerging creatives and staunch advocate for goods of high quality, when STUDIO SPARKS has launched the company was immediately on my radar as a divine resource. I had a chance to go behind the seams with Rosie who proved to be a dame after my own heart with her maximal and timeless style.
Read Rosie's thoughtful responses to my prying questions below:
Where did your idea for Studio Sparks come from?
The UK went into its third lockdown around November/December (I can’t even remember at this point!) in 2020 and I was feeling quite antsy. I needed a creative outlet whilst stuck inside during the dreary English winter. Come January 2021, I had a few ideas for what I wanted to make and I shared my ideas during some country walks in the New Year with friends. They were well-received, so I decided to at least try the concept. I had always thought about starting my brand and one particular friend pushed me to just test it out - there was nothing else going on after all - and they’ve been my biggest supporter since.
I was thinking about the number of textiles produced another wasted in landfills or not living their best lives in people's attics and had started embracing the slower pace of fashion even more during the pandemic. I believe this is necessary to help the planet regain some balance that’s slipping away so quickly now it’s scary. I’ve always embraced a more vintage-inspired look than modern and minimalist and thought there must be some fantastic old fabrics out there to put to good use.
An initial search showed me the potential out there, and the idea of using it to make frilled cushions clicked. It was the marriage of that old-but-new, grandma-ish-and-humorous, gaudy-but-good style that got me excited. I’m drawn to more traditional styles but with a modern twist so a vintage-inspired silhouette with timeless prints and colour combinations for the modern home seemed perfect.
I have an A-Level in textiles but studied Fashion Communication for my degree so I suppose my sewing skills were still there in the background. I had a few small crafty projects since uni – making soft toys and a dress for my niece, hair accessories, and the obligatory face masks for friends during Covid. Once I’d decided to create frilled cushions, I set out sampling to create the perfect (in my eyes, anyway) cushion with jumbo frill - extra wide! Piping was also a must because I wanted to have that framed, structured feel and thought it would be amazing to have contrasting colours, prints, and textures.
After a few weeks, and lots of unpicking, I had settled on the shape and sizes in January. I sourced gingham fabrics for the first drop around March, launched in June, and have done another small drop since. I wanted to make limited batches and one-of-a-kind styles so each feels special and personal. Knowing you have only one cushion of that style made is pretty cool.
I’ve started STUDIO SPARKS as a side project as I work full-time for a footwear brand based in London. Your normal 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday. The slow pace of dropping limited batches of cushions has allowed me to stagger my labor and dip in and out when I have the energy and inspiration.
I truly love my day job but I'm on a computer all day so getting the sewing machine out in the evening means I’m not tempted to spend the rest of the evening looking at another screen. It certainly keeps the practical and creative ideas flowing, and during a time where we’re all feeling a bit deflated and repetitive, it’s been thrilling to finish crafting something over an evening and think ‘hell yeah I made that!’.
How have you seen the brand evolve since its inception?
I'm not able to find a huge amount of time to invest in the project so I'm really happy with how it's gained traction so far. It's been slow but steady progress and I'm so thankful to have sent cushions out to customers in Europe and Australia. The power of Instagram, right?! STUDIO SPARKS has just over 900 followers now and it's reassuring to know that people are into the product. I've found great relief in not putting too much pressure on myself and the project. It can be easy to get sucked into the stress of social algorithms and engagement metrics, but it’s important to me to keep perspective and make sure I'm still enjoying it. It’s been great to do a few bespoke orders on the side, too. An absolute dream would be if an independent store or Liberty called to stock a limited quantity of STUDIO SPARKS cushions, though, I can't lie!
How do you go about sourcing fabrics to use for the pillows?
I source the fabric for cushions from independent sellers on eBay but I’m also looking into designers and warehouses that are getting end-of-line or remnant stock off their hands. Quality fabrics are important so ones from established, heritage brands like Laura Ashley or Sanderson are usually my go-to searches.
The most recent STUDIO SPARKS drop used Laura Ashley ‘Dandelion’ floral cotton featuring orange and green block-print-style florals from the 80s. I loved it as soon as I saw it and a few people have mentioned it brings back memories of curtains or wallpaper in the same print from decades ago, which is lovely. My mum had it as wallpaper in her student house when she was in nurse training. That's iconic to me. And shows the power of a truly ageless design.
STUDIO SPARKS cushions featured in Appetite Studio debut collection campaign
Describe your style in three words.
I would say colourful, patterned, and timeless for STUDIO SPARKS cushions but it's the same for my fashion and interior taste, too.
A historical figure you look to for guidance?
Okay, not historical at all as she’s continuing to slay to this day but I admire Zandra Rhodes. I first heard about her in my school textiles classes and she’s since blown me away the more I looked into her work as an adult. Have you seen this interview where she’s sat in a butterfly-shaped chair in her home and there’s just so much to get distracted by in the background? It’s a wild frenzy of colours, shapes, and themes and her work is brilliantly bold.
Her Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey is unsurprisingly painted hot pink and orange outside and has terrazzo-style flooring featuring a constellation of colour and sparkles – it’s my favourite museum to go to in London.
Zandra Rhodes with Princess Diana in 1997
A design movement or period you feel most closely connected to?
My first job coming out of university was at maximalist interiors brand House of Hackney. Not only did it kick-start my interest in interiors (particularly their Victorian-on-acid style) but the genius team was working on a reimagining of prints by Arts and Crafts don William Morris at the time – that was unreal.
His work instantly connected with me and particularly his patterns from the movement are some of my all-time favourites. I don’t bore of it. Especially when modern brands interpret them in their way. Recently the Ben Pentreath collection with Morris & Co. was amazing. Morris' designs have that timeless beauty and we're lucky to see them always evolving. I hope new colourways of William Morris designs are created every decade.
Ben Pentreath for Morris & Co.
Honestly, I don't read much at all as I’d rather watch a film, documentary, or series. I used to wish that I could just be that person with the whole library and good recommendations, but I struggle to get into it. I did devour 'Women Don't Owe You Pretty' by Florence Given this summer, though, and I've had 'The Body Keeps The Score' on the go for the last nine months because it’s a heavy read. It’s by psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk and about how trauma physically and emotionally lives inside those who experience it. Not cheerful at all but it’s captivating.
Continuing the non-fiction theme - I also waited five months to get my hands on interior designer Beata Heuman's debut book. I have had a quick flick through the photos but will be waiting for a free Saturday to delve into that properly – give myself a proper self-indulgent weekend!
STUDIO SPARKS Inspiration Imagery
What’s next for you?
At the moment, I'm working on the next drop of cushions that will be going live in autumn and am particularly interested in using different materials like velvet and satin that speak to the new season. My favourite colours are earthy, autumnal tones so this has me even more excited than the first summer drop.
Researching for STUDIO SPARKS has helped me curate my stream of interiors inspiration and I'll be completing the process of buying my first flat in North-East London soon. I can’t wait to go back to the inspiration collected over the last year and fill my very small space with all my favourite things.
With Rosie's fascinating perspective and alluring range of aesthetic reference, it is not hard to see what makes STUDIO SPARKS a brand to watch.
Follow STUDIO SPARKS on Instagram: @studiosparks
Follow Natalie on Instagram: @natalieealdridge
Shop STUDIO SPARKS HERE.
Images: Rosie Sparks, Appetite Studio, Getty Images, and Elle Decor.