Monday, October 12, 2009

Featured Artist - Susan Tharp of Sybil's Closet

I am pleased to announce that I will now be running featured artist articles each Tuesday. Since joining Etsy, I've met so many talented and innovative people. The more I get to know them, the more I realize that we all have so much more going on than our deceptively simple Etsy storefronts would suggest. That said, I thought it would be cool share some of these artists' stories with you. This week's featured artist is fellow EtsyNJ member Susan Tharp of Sybil's Closet, (The pictures above feature her beautiful one-of-a-kind pieces.) I had the pleasure of meeting Susan in person this September at the Art, Music, and Antiques Festival in Millville. Read on to find out more about this spectacular seamstress.

1. The Tote Trove (TTT): According to your Etsy shop profile, Sybil’s Closet began as a costume making business. What is the most interesting costume you’ve ever made? The most difficult?

Susan Tharp (ST): The most difficult and interesting was a Gothic Lolita dress. This is a style of dress that has a lot of tulle and detail, but it also had to impart a certain style. I did a great deal or research for that one, and the Lolita genre is one I would like to pursue further.

2. TTT: How old were you when you learned to sew? Who taught you?

ST: My mother made a good portion of our clothes growing up. Back in the days before Wal-Mart and Target, clothes were really expensive, and my mother had to stretch every penny. I learned a bit from my mom, but I never really had an interest until I was in my thirties. I asked my husband for a sewing machine for my birthday and had to relearn how to use it. My mother lives over an hour away so I am not able to get as much guidance as I would have liked in the beginning. (And it showed…) But now I have been at it for about five years and I am happy with the quality of my work most of the time. Although the first time I make a new item it ends up looking like a home-ec project. It takes me a few tries with new things before I make them well.

3. TTT: Who is Sybil of Sybil’s Closet?

ST: Having started as a costume maker, I envisioned creating pieces for people who are into Cosplay. These [Cosplay participants] are people who are into dressing up as anime figures or in historical dress the way some people play fantasy football. Cosplayers choose their character because it resonates with them in some way. They feel like they change into that person when they put on the costume. The idea of having many characters inside of them led me to the idea of having different personalities, which led to using the name Sybil.

4. TTT: How did you decide to turn your passion for making clothes and bags into a business?

ST: I could sew 18 hours a day if it did not mean completely ignoring any other responsibilities like speaking to my family, etc. I also have a bachelors degree in business administration from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and I have worked as an accountant for seven years. The idea of owning my own business never occurred to me until a couple of years ago when my husband and children introduced me to the idea of Cosplay.

5. TTT: What is your favorite item in your shop?

ST: My favorite item is probably the kimono. It is the most eye-catching and people respond to it the best. I also have a faux leather bag with a belt that is a bullet bandoleer. That gets a lot of responses, too.

6. TTT: What items, if any, would you like to add to your shop?

ST: I really want to make more kimonos in simple cotton print fabrics. Also, I want to explore the Gothic Lolita dress a bit more.

7. TTT: Describe your creative process. Do you follow a routine, create when inspiration strikes, or a little bit of both?

ST: I try to sew every day but sometimes I am just not able to. However, my routine tends to be taking care of business and paperwork in the morning and then sewing all afternoon and evening if I am able. I tend to want to do something business related every minute. Sometimes, though, I run out of steam and have to just sit and not do anything.

8. TTT: What is the best thing about running your own business? The worst?

ST: The best is having no one else’s process or schedule to dictate your activity. Coming from accounting, all I did was try and follow along after someone else. Now I can set every process and schedule my time exactly as I want. I love it! The worst part is that I sometimes get overwhelmed by the idea that everything needs to be done at once. I try not to dwell on that, though.

9. TTT: How did you discover Etsy?

ST: My husband showed me the Web site when I first started talking about making items as a business.

10. TTT: Do you sell your work in venues outside of Etsy (i.e, other sites, craft shows, etc)? If yes, then how does selling online differ from selling in person?

ST: I am building a Web site now, and I like to do craft shows. I enjoy talking with all of the people at craft shows and sharing experiences with other crafters. I welcome the idea of selling online because you can add content along with your product, such as on blogs and Facebook.

11. TTT: Who is most (emotionally) supportive of your business?

ST: I have a great support network, but my husband gets the prize for being the most supportive. He has spent hours working on the Web site and making the banners for me. He is a gifted computer guy and can do all of these things that would completely befuddle me. He’s a great guy.

12. TTT: Are there any new artistic/creative skills you’d like to learn?

ST: I am beginning to dive into quilting a little bit, and I plan to take some formal sewing lessons so I can learn tailoring and patternmaking.

13. TTT: Tell us about life outside Sybil’s Closet. Do you have a job in addition to your business? Hobbies? Family? Pets?

ST: Like a lot of people, I have been laid off from my job. (Please don’t feel bad-- it was a terrible job.) So, I am able to dedicate all of my time to Sybil’s Closet. I am also loving the time I am able to spend with my husband and daughters. My husband is a nurse at Kennedy in Cherry Hill, and my twin daughters are in college. Michelle is at Rowan University studying art education and Jennifer is at Camden County studying American sign language. I also have my little dog, a bichon frise, named William. We hang out all day. It’s great.

14. TTT: What are your hopes for Sybil’s Closet in the future?

ST: I would love to expand this business into a full retail site for handmade goods as well as a resale site for costume items, such as wigs and shoes. I would like to continue doing craft shows with my handmade goods but would also like to go to sci-fi and costume conventions.

15. TTT: BONUS QUESTION. Just for fun, if you were stranded on a deserted island and had to eat the same thing every day, what would it be? You can pick a drink and a dessert, too. (I find that dreaming up a whole meal makes this game more entertaining!)

ST: I could live on rigatoni with sausage and ice cream and iced tea. Now, I imagine if I am stranded on a desert island I would not have the wherewithal to make rigatoni with sausage or keep ice cream cold, but that is beside the point.

So there you have it, Sybil's Closet in a nutshell. I for one will be excited to view Susan's new Web site. You can find it, as well as her Facebook, Twitter, and Blogspot locations here:

Web site:




Please be sure to check back next Tuesday for another exciting artist feature. Interested in being featured yourself? Just email me at for details.


redlinc said...

great interview! I wish I could sew such beautiful things but thankfully there are talented people out there willing to share their skills with the world.

The Tote Trove said...

Same here! Sewing is one of those things I'd love to do but just can't seem to get around to learning.