This story is one of a series focusing on local makers. In 2022, The Review will be finding out what local entrepreneur-makers are creating, will explore the how-they-do-it aspect of what they do and of course, we will be asking them why they do what they do. This week, we speak with Lisa Sparkes. Since moving to the area in 2010, Sparkes started her home-based business in 2017 and has joined a local choir. You may have met Sparkes at a local market during the past few years, smiling a welcome as she stood surrounded by an array of fabric bags, wallets and accessories that she makes and sells. And now, her story.
Sometimes, one can trace a new idea back to its original spark.
For Lisa Sparkes, it was a spontaneous trip down what she calls a ‘rabbit hole.’ She was browsing on Pinterest and looking at colourful quilts. Aside from sewing what she refers to as a terrible pair of shorts in Grade 8, she had not been sewing. Now, with a young daughter at home, she felt inspired. She made a few baby quilts.
“I figured I could sew something with straight lines,” she joked.
But the beautiful fabrics inspired her. “I got to thinking how most bags were brown and black or boring. But these fabrics were so bright and colourful.”
Sparkes made a few bags and as family members started asking for them, she began selling on Etsy, a website known for selling items made by hand. The name of her new company? Fire Sparks Creations.
“We would sit around a campfire when I was a kid and when the sparks flew up from the fire, my dad would always say, ‘Look at all those sparks,’ as kind of a joke because that was our last name. So the name just seemed to fit, she said.
Following patterns made by others, Sparkes’ skills began to grow, as she read and learned more about the art of making bags. “I really started paying attention to how things are constructed,” she explained. She took note of interfacing, the idea of cork bottoms to give bags a shape, and created her own design for a coin purse. Sparkes makes and sells fabric wallets, small cosmetic bags, beach totes, coin purses, belt bags, over-the-shoulder sling bags, infinity scarves and other accessories.
Since the closure of a local fabric shop in Vankleek Hill, Sparkes has had to go further afield to find quality fabric. She orders online, but aims to order from Canadian suppliers when she can, for not just the fabric, but for what she calls the hardware (like zippers).
The stitching on Sparkes’ products is flawless. “I’m a perfectionist by nature,” she says, adding that she always does a trial run when she is making a new type of bag.
Sparkes and her husband have a nine-year-old daughter and they also work full-time in the biology labs at Vanier College from August until May.
Her newfound love for making bags melded into the idea of selling the bags on her own website and attending local markets to sell her products.
“During the pandemic, everything was different. We traditionally prepared everything needed for the labs, but now, we had to digitize all of our slides, for example,” Sparkes explained. Sewing provided an outlet from work. “Working with new fabrics, new designs and even making the same bags but using different fabrics — I think it releases a lot of endorphins,” said Sparkes, who compares the feeling to singing in a choir because while you are sewing, or singing, you cannot think of anything else.
When it comes to fabric, Sparkes leans toward florals, line drawings and she loves modern, abstract designs. But she tries to use a mix of styles so that her products appeal to everyone. Some people lean toward particular colours, and Sparkes noted early on that she buys more reds, pinks and purples, so she now takes care to consider the full spectrum when she purchases fabric. Popular these days are what Sparkes refers to as ‘sweary’ fabrics — prints with slightly irreverent words written on them. “They sell out right away,” Sparkes says.
Sparkes’ husband and daughter often accompany her to markets on the weekends. And she tries to pace herself, alternating weekends at markets rather than being at certain markets every weekend.
Sparkes thinks about her aunt and her grandmother each time she sits down at her Singer model 237 sewing machine, which dates back to the 1960s.
When family members gathered in Newfoundland months after Sparkes’ maternal grandmother had passed away, Lisa had not yet sewn anything but a conversation about fabrics, sewing and a comment about needing a sewing machine was overheard by her aunt, who piped up to say she had a sewing machine to give to Lisa.
Lisa recounts that years earlier, her maternal grandmother (Edith Harding) convinced her daughter (Lisa’s Aunt Debbie) to purchase a second sewing machine that they had come upon at a secondhand shop.
“My aunt told me that my grandmother had said that you never know when you might need a second sewing machine.” It was as if that sewing machine was meant to be mine, Sparkes says.
Sparkes and her husband moved to the area in 2010 from Montreal. A coworker who lived in Bainsville, Ontario kept telling them to move to Ontario, Sparkes says.
“It was a big change. We are surrounded by agriculture and we are in the country. It’s so quiet here,” she said.
To connect with Lisa Sparkes, you can find Fire Sparks on Facebook, visit her website or email: [email protected] Her products are also available in Vankleek Hill at Indigo Hill at 26 Main Street and at Arbor Gallery at 36 Home Avenue. Sparkes is a regular at the Vankleek Hill Farmers’ Market on alternate Saturdays (check the market schedule, which is posted on Facebook).