Have you ever found yourself on Instagram, going down a rabbit hole of new accounts to follow, then found yourself completely impressed and inspired by one of your discoveries? Such was my reaction when I came across Sarah Laskow’s Instagram. My buddy Rebecca had mentioned her in a post (they’re working on a collab together…more on that in a minute!), which led me to her feed. What I found was a treasure trove — I mean, just look at the patterns above and below. Aren’t they beautiful? I couldn’t get over the detail, the colors, and found myself wondering, “Does she take custom orders?”
I clicked over to check out Sarah’s website (a sure sign of a converted Instagram fan), and lo and behold, home girl is a crazy talented embroidery and embellishment artist. She’s worked for some of the top fashion brands, and now, on her own projects and custom orders (brides-to-be, you may have just found your source for custom embellished bridal sashes!).
I was so interested in Sarah’s background and how she learned to make her incredible designs, that I got in touch with her over email. She was kind enough to agree to an interview for the blog, sharing more info on embroidery vs. needlepoint, learning her craft before and after design school, and what it was like to work for designers like Alice + Olivia. I hope you enjoy!
Q: Ok, let’s start with some basic vocabulary, because I’ll totally cop to tuning out when I learned about handicrafts in Girl Scouts. Is all needlepoint work considered embroidery? And is all embroidery an embellishment? What else falls in the “embellishment” category? And, what makes something crochet versus knitted?
SL: So embroidery is really the umbrella term. Needlepoint is a type of embroidery that is done on grided fabric using a cross stitch in each square. My work is not needlepoint, though I do sometimes use a cross stitch. The difference between embellishment and embroidery is more nuanced. In India, anything applied to the surface of fabric (thread, sequin, or beads) is considered embroidery. In American fashion we generally call thread work “embroidery,” and beading and sequins “embellishment.” Lastly, knitting is done with 2 or 3 straight needles, and crochet is done with one hooked needle.
Q: You attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and studied Apparel Design. How did you begin focusing on embroidery and embellishments, and specifically learn how to apply these techniques?
SL: While I was a student at RISD I had no idea there was such a thing as an embellishment designer. There were no classes about embroidery or beading. For my senior thesis collection, I drew inspiration from the Masai tribal beading in Africa (total appropriation, but I didn’t know it at the time) and spent weeks beading all my garments with tiny seed beads which you could not even see once the models were up on stage. The critics hated my collection and I felt like a failure. It would take me a few years in the professional world to figure out that my obsession with meticulously applying beads could be useful. I started as an Assistant Evening Wear Designer. We often had dresses that we needed to hand apply beads and stones to. I realized quickly that was my favorite part of the job.
More from Sarah, including her work for Alice + Olivia and sneak peeks at her upcoming collaboration with Rebecca Atwood, below!
Q: I actually really love that you had a negative experience but bounced back from it in such a big way. I think anyone who’s put their creative ideas out there (especially for judgement!) can relate to that — I know I can. But let’s back up from RISD even further. Where did you learn to sew? Was it a passion for you before you began school? Or, was there something that caught your eye in school that convinced you to focus on it?
SL: Sewing was definitely my first love. My mother was not a sewer but when my paternal grandmother died when I was 6, she left me her sewing machine. It was a 1942 Singer in sea foam blue. I just jammed the fabric through until I figured it out. I started with clothes for my dolls. Junior and senior year I sewed myself prom dresses. Last year I sewed my own wedding dress, and last week I just finished my little sister’s wedding dress. So that love has not gone anywhere. I had really good teachers at RISD and learned all the right ways to do things there.
Q: And post-RISD, it seems like you’ve had such amazing opportunities! I know you’ve worked for some pretty primo fashion brands. Can you tell us a little bit about the work you’ve done for designers such as Alice + Olivia, DVF, Marchesa, and Anna Sui? As an embellishment specialist, what was a typical project like? Any challenges when working for such big companies/brands?
SL: I was the first in-house Embellishment Designer at Alice + Olivia when the brand was just exploding. I worked closely with the designers as they developed their silhouettes for the season, and would help them design the embellishments to go on the garments. I had about 10 factories in India that would do embellished swatch developments, and then eventually prototype the full garments for me. It was not as hands on in terms of actually beading myself. But working with amazing Indian beaders meant I could make anything I designed a reality. The biggest challenge was making things both beautiful and profitable.
Above: Some of Sarah’s incredible work for Alice + Olivia
Q: Yes, when I first checked out your site, I saw that your biography mentioned some of those relationships in India. Did you work there for a time? Or hone your craft there?
SL: So after I left Alice + Olivia and was briefly working at Donna Karan Collection, one of the Indian factories that I had worked with contacted me and asked if I would work for them (but be based in NYC). Donna Karan was closing, so I jumped at the chance to design embellishment and work with lots of different designers instead of just one. I designed the factory’s embellishments that we would shop around to designers like DVF, Marchesa, and Anna Sui. Once the designer chose an embellishment, we would rework it just for them. I travelled to India to work in the factory and source materials. I had that job for a year and it was awesome.
Q: After working in the fashion space, what prompted the transition into home goods?
SL: Rebecca Atwood! She is my best friend since RISD and she was always encouraging me to branch out. Before she had her own line, I would do development for the lines she did for Anthropologie and Bed Bath & Beyond. I owe it all to her.
Q: Yay for real life friends that become our biggest career champions, too! It makes total sense you guys would want to collaborate together (more on that below!). Now, as a fellow designer, I’d love to know more about your process. Do you tend to sketch out designs before beginning? Do you use pen/paper, or work in digital programs?
SL: I might do a super rough pencil sketch, but mostly I see inspiration and hold it in my head until I can just make it. Most ideas are hashed out on the embroidery hoop once I start. Not very interesting, but I am always best just making something.
Q: After stalking your Instagram, I noticed you’ve been focusing a lot on embroidery. From both a creative standpoint and a workflow standpoint, how does the embroidery process differ from creating beaded works (if at all)?
SL: I think since I have mostly been employed doing the heavier embellished stuff (I am currently consulting at Elie Tahari on their embellished product for Spring ’17), I feel like I like to do the more simple, contemporary embroidery work in my own time. But thank you for calling this out! I need to be better about posting both!
Q: I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love seeing all the embroidery work — it’s beautiful! Speaking of which, tell us a bit about your upcoming collaboration with Rebecca. What has it been like collaborating with a fellow artist — and friend! — who works with paints and dyes? What can we expect to see in the collection? And of course, any details on when it will debut??
SL: We are still working on the details, but working with Rebecca has been really fun. She is a prolific designer. She is also amazing at focusing a project — taking the initial ideas and formalizing them into an actual collection. She is also so business savvy! I have learned so much from her.
Q: Man, based on your sneak peeks (like here, here and here), I can’t WAIT to see what you two dream up. Ok, I have to ask in case I decide to take up a new hobby — any advice for the average person who wants to learn how to embroider or create needlepoint works? Where should one start?
SL: I would start at Michaels Crafts. Get a medium sized hoop, some cheap soft white fabric and a bunch of colors of embroidery floss that you love. Start with easy things like letters or simple flower motifs. I find inspiration for patterns and motifs everywhere.
Questions about your business
Q: How are you hoping to grow your business in the next 5 years?
SL: I hope to continue connecting with other designers and brands on embroidered product. I would really like to connect with people outside New York! We tend to think we are the center of the design universe here and I know that is not true!
Q: How did you transition from working in-house at major fashion houses to running your own studio, focused on your own projects?
SL: I got let go from my job! Sometime life makes the decision for you!
Q: Any dream collaborations to put out into the world?
SL: I would love to do embroidery for hand bags one day. I love Anya Hindmarch! Her bags are whimsical but visually bold.
Place to travel:
Honestly… nowhere! I am a home body. I would happily never leave Brooklyn.
Project you’ve ever worked on:
My wedding dress.
Restaurant in NY/Brooklyn:
Bogota Latin Bistro (two words: coconut mojito)
Instagram account you follow:
@sarahkbenning – another contemporary embroidery designer with a very different style!
App or productivity tool you use:
Ekkk…I don’t have one. I don’t have many apps on my phone. I like making To Do lists in a regular ruled notebook. Nothing feels better than crossing something off even if it is just “water house plants.”
Source of inspiration:
Pinterest…it is really just the best way to gather images in an organized way. Sometimes it is a rabbit hole!
Thank you so much to Sarah for this interview! Be sure to check out her website here (and bookmark it for any custom embroidery or embellishment projects you might have), and follow her on Instagram here.