Our first studio visit in New York takes us over the Williamsburg bridge and into Brooklyn where we find the Coral & Tusk studio. Housed in what used to be a pleating factory building, the studio is a bright, sunlit space where Coral & Tusk pillows line the walls and fabric birds appear to fly in front of the windows. Coral & Tusk founder, Stephanie Housley, welcomes us in with a warm smile and a big grey dog by her side. She introduces us to Paco, the four-legged Coral & Tusk unofficial mascot and gives a quick tour of her space, introducing her team along the way and describing each of them as an absolutely integral part of what makes Coral & Tusk successful. It’s clear that Stephanie’s passion and energy have a lot to do with the success of Coral & Tusk. She’s the kind of person who immediately makes you feel welcome and comfortable, like you’ve known her for years. She’s excited to share her story and we are eager to hear it.
Stephanie comes from a long line of Appalachian women who were always involved in some kind of handiwork. Born and raised in Ohio, Stephanie speaks fondly of her mother, describing her as the kind of mom who was always encouraging imagination, exploration, and creativity. Her first exposure to hand-embroidery was what Stephanie describes as “hillbilly hand embroidery” or “tatting” – something her mother and grandmother did often. Growing up in a creative environment, she attended a creative arts high school and went on to graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design – the first in her family to earn a college degree. After graduation, Stephanie worked as a designer for a textile house, traveling to India for extensive periods of time each year to oversee production and create textile collections.
While creating a hand-embroidered baby gift for a friend, Stephanie became inspired to find a way to create embroidered textiles that wasn’t so time-consuming but still allowed her to achieve her stylistic mark-making. She discovered a state-of-the-art embroidery machine that enabled her to scan images of her drawings and re-create them, stitch-by-stitch on the computer, achieving an impressive amount of detail that was once only possible with hours of handwork. It was then that Stephanie realized that what she considered to be a hobby could actually be a viable way to make a living, and Coral & Tusk officially began. Despite the technology, the process is still time consuming. It can take Stephanie up to two days to transform an illustration into an embroidery pattern, stitch-by-stitch. Once the pattern is created, the fabric is embroidered in India in a small production facility and then shipped back to Brooklyn where everything is hand-finished by Stephanie and her team.
Stephanie remembers being fascinated with animals ever since she was a child. It’s obvious in her designs that the child-like fascination is something that has stuck with her. The whimsy and wit in her illustrations create a style that appeals to an array of generations. She describes her process as a constant game of trial and error, always trying to find new ways to tell her magical stories through stitch and fabric. Her signature process, coined ‘hand-crafted machine embroidery,” allows Coral & Tusk the freedom to introduce their hungry whales, circus bears, bow-tie wearing penguins, and teepee-dwelling foxes to a larger audience. At the heart of every Coral & Tusk pillow, napkin, and tea towel is a wonderful mix of quality materials, mystery, and magic.
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