Sue Henry, an Alexandria, Virginia-based artist, started Tulusa six years ago. As a lifelong artist and sculptor, she took the plunge into the textile world by hosting a pop-up shop out of her home studio with hand embroidered block prints that were sewn into pouches and pillows. Her block-printed designs sold out in two days, and she decided to move things online, too. Step by step, Henry has grown Tulusa into a retail and wholesale brand of table linens, home decor, and personal accessories. Locally, you can find Tulusa’s textiles in Old Town at Boxwood and Red Barn Mercantile. In D.C., you’ll find table linens at Shop Made in DC and at other pop-ups around the metro area.
Tulusa’s studio in Del Ray is what Henry calls a “stem to stern studio.” They carve the blocks, mix their own inks and dyes, and stamp the designs on yards and yards of linen. They then cut, hem, and sew the cloth. While printing designs onto fabric most likely originated in China about 4,500 years ago, it was on the Indian subcontinent where hand-blocked fabric really blossomed into an art form with a variety of intricate pattern motifs. Indians had extensive knowledge of natural plant dyes, particularly with mordants (metallic salts that both create color and allow it to adhere to fabric).
In Tulusa’s studio, Henry and two other employees carve and stamp yards of linen, using non-toxic ink and organic heirloom-quality linen. Because of the techniques they use, each one of the pieces has its own character and uniqueness.
For Valentine’s Day, Tulusa has some heart-full designs, including heart sweatshirts with rays emanating from the heart. The ink in the rays has a metallic sheen that makes them shine in the sunlight.
“I want people to buy something that brings them a little bit of joy,” Henry says.
Tulusa crafts her products with materials that can be passed down from one generation to the next, and she wants her pieces to add a little something special to someone’s life. Henry particularly values this aspect of her art.
“Even with our two rowdy boys, we’ve always set the table with linen or cotton napkins,” Henry says. “Linen in particular will last a lifetime or two if it’s taken care of. It’s a little something that we can do to help save natural resources. Plus, when a table is set, it makes every meal feel a little more special.”
This year, Tulusa is also adding table linens and accessories made using a technique called shibori, a Japanese tie-dyeing technique, which produces different patterns on the fabric.
“We have gotten rave reviews on our shibori — it’s bright and colorful, and many of the styles have several layers of color which gives them depth and brilliance.”