Shop Local: Tulusa
Brighten your days with block-printed pillows, table linens and wearable art.
Sue Henry’s path to entrepreneurship has resembled that of many working moms—trial and error until something fortuitously marries passion and industry. Five years ago, the Del Ray resident who studied sculpture and ceramics in art school found herself “sort of in between.” She wasn’t doing her life-size figurative sculptures anymore, and she had no idea what was next.
The answer, it turns out, was Tulusa, a line of handmade, block-printed housewares, along with wearable art like shirts and face masks, all ranging from $18-$150. The name—it’s made up—is one Henry originally envisioned as a baby name for a girl until her husband vetoed it (they had two boys, anyway). So she recast it as a business moniker.
The whole venture started when Henry remembered some prints she had created about a decade earlier and stashed under a daybed in her family room. “I just started embroidering on top of the prints,” she says. I didn’t know anything about sewing or fabric.”
Soon, she had transformed about 20 embroidered prints into clutches and pillows, and decided to sell them at a holiday pop-up in her home studio. They sold out, so she built a website. The rest is history.
Henry’s creativity is currently trained on carving shapes into linoleum blocks that she uses to stamp patterns on linen, and sometimes directly onto painted walls. Three designs are most popular—a large feather, a pineapple flower and a chrysanthemum—but she continues to add new ones to the collection. “Less than a year ago, I introduced a pattern called Chimera, using all those blocks and usually some sort of animal, overlaying pattern over pattern,” she says.
During the pandemic, she pivoted to face masks—making and/or outsourcing the production of her own designs to generate more than 13,000 masks by the end of 2020. She donated a sizable stash to homeless shelters and filled a contract order for 5,000 for the City of Alexandria. “It was nuts,” she says. “I’ve never worked so hard in my life.”
For someone who claims to struggle with organization and planning, she has big goals for 2021. “I’d like to start making wallpaper,” she says. “I’m also going to be doing more upholstery fabric and yardage for curtains or chairs.”