I remember going through my mom’s closet a couple of years ago. She was a clothes horse in her day, and wore the latest styles of each era. When I was growing up, I used to be in awe of her wardrobe. That closet was a treasure trove, containing beautiful, vintage bags, clothing and very cool belts from the 60’s and 70’s. The materials and workmanship were so fine, they’ve withstood the test of time and look just as fabulous today. Do you have any great vintage pieces like that? It’s those enduring qualities that come to mind when I think of Tuck and Tula, designer Valerie Curran‘s label. Her sweet and very beautiful signature harnesses are truly keepsake clothing for dogs, the ones you’ll never want to give away.
I was introduced to Valerie’s work by another fashion industry colleague, and was so impressed with her skill and the intricate detailing of her designs, I knew I wanted to share it with you. Curran is an expert embroiderer and hand sewing marvel. I caught up with her recently to find out more.
It’s all done by hand, whether its embroidery, over dyed silk ribbon, thread or crystals.
BaS: Your harnesses are a dog’s version of fine baby clothes. How did you start doing this?
VC: Two years ago, I started making bows for Tula. I like those big bow looks in a little girl’s hair, so that’s what I was going for. I put them on Facebook and promoted them with the slogan, Go Big or Go Home. I got hundreds of Likes in a couple of days. I didn’t even know what a Like was then! Before long, I started selling them. People would request bows to match a harness they had. As bows caught on in popularity and more designers started making them, I began gravitating towards making the harnesses.
BaS: Tell us about the babies who are the namesakes of your company?
VC: [laughs] Tuck is a 5 lb male Maltese, and Tula is a 3.5 lb female Yorkie and the quintessential big sister and mommy’s little girl. She actually sits in my lap, while I sew. Thank goodness she doesn’t take up much room! They’re both around 3 years old. It just seemed appropriate to name my company after them. I never really considered any other name.
BaS: I know what you mean, Valerie. I did the same thing with Couture by Sophie. They’re our muses! Your heirloom harnesses have a very specific look. Where does the inspiration for them come from?
VC: Years ago, I owned a needlework company called A Stitch in Time. In the mid-90’s, I created a story sampler – stories told in embroidery and embellishments across a piece of fabric. We went to market in Charlotte, NC, and it was a big hit. In the old days, when children would learn how to sew, they would make story samplers. On the harnesses, I thought of nursery rhymes and stories I’d want to tell, but I wanted to create the samplers myself, instead of look for fabric that was already made.
I get my inspiration from pretty much everywhere. I try to stay away from looking at other designer’s things, because I don’t want that to influence me. Instead, I look at the unusual stuff, like one area of a print fabric. What I really like is when a client comes to me and asks me to do something. I’ll put my own spin on it and create something that hasn’t been seen.
BaS: How long does it generally take you to complete a harness?
VC: Fifteen to twenty hours. It’s all done by hand, whether its embroidery, over dyed silk ribbon, thread or crystals. Occasionally, I’ll use a pre-made embroidery pattern and then hand sew all of the embellishments. I go through my old stash of needlework supplies, which is awesome. I have all of the over dyed ribbons, silk and linen threads I collected from my vendors when I had my business. Even if some of these companies are no longer around, but I still have their product. It’s like going shopping in my storage closet!
I sometimes cringed when I cut them up, but then I think, why save them in a drawer? Why not have them on the back of Tula!
BaS: What’s the coolest material you’ve found in that storage closet?
VC: I love silk threads and over dyed ribbon. These processes are now done by large corporations, but back in the day, you’d walk down the aisle of the trade shows and these women had over dyed this stuff in their garages. They were mixing these colors by hand. Some of them, like Cece who had a small business – I was one of her clients – would create these amazing color combinations; ones you’d never think of. These were the first people to introduce this process; women like you and me.
BaS: What about your vintage collection? They’re gorgeous!
VC: The vintage line came about when I would travel to teach needlework at stores around the country. I would make a point of visiting antique or second hand shops and pick up little hankies or fingertip towels. I’ll riffle through a drawer, find one and it became an inspiration for a harness. Sadly, once these pieces and fabric are gone, they’re not as easy to replace. I sometimes cringed when I cut them up, but then I think, why save them in a drawer? Why not have them on the back of Tula! 🙂
BaS: What’s the most unusual piece a client has asked you to create?
VC: Darsey Mitchell, owner of Millie LaRue, requested a harness with a table filled with macarons and sweets with flowers on them. There was even a chandelier! And it was made in silk, which proved to be a really difficult fabric to work with for a harness. I don’t think I’ve used it again. Darsey’s request was inspired by a little bow I’d made called ‘Let Them Eat Cake.’ It, too, had little sweets and flowers on it, and was inspired by Marie Antoinette.
BaS: Your nursery rhyme harnesses are so adorable and special. Why nursery rhymes?
VC: I’d designed nursery rhymes in my story sampler series, back when I had my company. So, that came naturally to me. But, more important, I did it because Tuck and Tula are my babies. When I call home, I literally will ask, ‘How are the babies?’ I have four grown children but, to me, these are my little children now. So, nursery rhymes just kind of worked themselves into my line. I don’t do a lot of bling. I don’t do things they wouldn’t be comfortable wearing or I don’t think are practical. And, I just don’t walk my dogs in dresses. But harnesses, because their necks are so small and it’s so easy to scoop them up in a harness for safety reasons, are great. I don’t have a problem making a harness as cute as you can make it!
It’s a big misconception that wool can’t be used in summer. Light wool is actually a very breathable, thin fabric. It allows the body to cool, and it wicks off moisture.
BaS: You’re preaching to the converted, Valerie! Readers should also know you have seasonal scenes on harnesses, too.
VC: Yes! Christmas is my favorite time of year. I used to make my own ornaments for the tree. But, we have winter scenes, spring scenes, really something for everyone.
BaS: I thought this was interesting. You use wool for spring and summer styles, too. That seems counter intuitive. They’re not too warm?
VC: It’s a big misconception that wool can’t be used in summer. Light wool is actually a very breathable, thin fabric. It allows the body to cool, and it wicks off moisture. Most bikers’ undergarments will be made out of a light weight wool. So, choosing it for these harnesses is good for winter or summer. And, I like the poly or rayon wool blends better, because they’re more durable and sturdy for a dog harness.
BaS: Your Modern Elegance collection of harnesses and accessories are really beautiful, too. I see leopard, runway-sized bows and the Chanel. and Are they runway inspired?
VC: I’ve never been runway inspired. I don’t watch the runway shows; I’m not focused on or obsessed with having my items on a runway. Modern Elegance reminded me of my favorite icons, like Audrey Hepburn or Coco Chanel. They are known for certain types of looks. They inspired those pieces.
BaS: You founded an annual event that gives back to shelter organizations.
VC: We host, with some of our Facebook friends, a yearly raffle called Christmas at the Pound. We call our good friends and designers and ask for donations, to be raffled off for $5 a ticket. Last year, we raised $6,500.00 for Florida Yorkie Rescue. We have a small staff of volunteers that record everything, to make sure it’s all transparent. Every donation is posted; every dollar amount is accounted for.
BaS: How many years have you done this?
VC: This year will be the 3rd Christmas at the Pound, but the 4th raffle. The first we did was for a little dog who needed an operation. And, that’s when I realized the power of it. Within three days, we were able to get that dog the operation he needed, so he could walk. The next year we did it again, but for Christmas.
You can see Valerie’s designs and purchase at Tuck and Tula.
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