My Favourite Things; Selvedge editor Polly Leonard
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Polly Leonard is the founder and editor of Selvedge magazine and opened the sister textiles shop on Archway Road seven years ago. She lives in Highgate with her husband, two teenage children, dog and two cats.
I’ve lived in Highgate for 20 years and I couldn’t contemplate living anywhere else. I moved here because I got a job teaching at Channing School, then worked at South Hampstead. I’m constantly surprised that I’m not a headmistress because that was my career path.
I left teaching when I had my son, Felix. I was at home and I’d sit there and say to him, ‘What shall we do now?’ I was bored so I started writing for a magazine called Embroidery, which was published by the Embroiderers’ Guild. Amateur guild group magazines promoted the work of their members irrespective of quality Selvedge’s remit from the beginning was to make a magazine that looked at textiles in a broad context. We look at fashion, interiors, travel... a wide scope.
I started the magazine 12 years ago in the spare bedroom upstairs but then it grew and started taking over the house so now the magazine also operates out of the shop on Archway Road. We really hit the ground running. I don’t know whether I’m an absolute optimist but I’m not surprised it’s done so well, I’m interested in textiles and I just assume everyone else should be. Once you get bitten by the textiles bug it’s such a huge thing, the interest grows and grows.
Also, at that time there weren’t any other arty quarterly publications. Now we have a lot of connected activities: fairs, the shop, we run workshops, we also support artisans on the website. It stimulates the whole community.
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We started running fairs about five years ago. I really like St Augustine’s Church hall where we’re holding the summer artisan fair with 30 designer-makers. The hall’s got a really nice atmosphere, almost like a village fair from the 1940s. High Tea of Highgate are doing the teas, it’s very local.
The Selvedge Artisan Summer Fair is at St Augustine’s Church, Archway Road, London N6 5BH on Saturday 21 May, from 11am to 5pm. selvedge.org
Large Cathness wool rug from Anta
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The rug is made by a company called Anta based in the Highlands of Scotland. I studied at Glasgow School of Art and I also grew up in the north of England so I’m really drawn to that bleak northern landscape without trees. I love Scottish tartans where the colours of the landscape are woven into the fabrics. She has a store in London and she also has a castle in Scotland, as you do.
One of the jugs is made by Nicola Tassie who has a studio in Islington, I’ve also got pieces by Akiko Hira, who’s based in Finsbury Park and Linda Bloomfield, who’s also London-based. I buy them from their open studios. I use them, I’m not a very precious person. I really love white porcelain. If you’re interested in textiles it’s nice to have something that’s just pure form, without any other elements of colour or texture. I gravitate towards jugs because I like the asymmetry.
David Cordwell painting
David also studied at Glasgow School of Art although not at the same time as me but he now lives in Hampstead and shows at the Hampstead School of Art. He has a Scottish colourist quality with mid-tonal value that those painters have.
The picture’s of my daughter, Liberty, just before she hit adolescence, the golden years before she became stroppy and difficult. She would have been 10 probably. She’s 14 now. She still plays the cello but very grumblingly.
Alpaca cushions from Peru
These are made by a French designer called Thibault van der Straete. We sell them in the shop, it’s the only place you can find them in the UK. They come in all the natural, undyed shades of alpaca from cream, through honey to chocolate brown, grey and black. The fabric is beautifully soft and alpaca wool doesn’t contain lanolin so they’re never itchy and you can use them even if you’re allergic to wool.
Astier De Villate scented candles
These candles are fabulous, we sell them in the shop. They’re made by two guys in Paris who also make ceramics. They’re real craftsmen, they’ll travel to the end of the Earth to find the exact clay for their ceramics. They keep one of the last litho printers in Paris going too. The scents aren’t floral, they’re the scents of different locations so the Broadway scent smells of bubblegum and Coca Cola. We spend our summers in Cape Cod and they do one called Providence Town, which just smells like sand dunes and holidays.
Copies of Selvedge magazine
No home is complete…
I’ve got one of all of them, two of most but some of the sell outs I couldn’t get my hands on in time.
What makes a best selling issue? Bright colours; indigo is a perennial favourite on a cover; something quirky and unusual. So, in one issue we covered the art collection of Missoni and the inspiration for their textiles; something about banana fibre; something about moths; and the Tate’s new re-hang of their galleries, which includes lots of textiles. That’s quite significant, there are far more than there’ve ever been before.
I love my Roberts radio. I’ve had it for 20 years. I don’t mind that they’ve become fashionable, I always think these trends come and go.
Textiles are always in fashion because they’re so varied. A decade ago pattern was the big thing, a lot of screen printing. Now weaving seems to be having its moment and basket making. At the moment there’s a real sense that as tech takes us further into the future, it allows artisans to reach a wider audience so they can almost go further and further back into the past. A few years ago we used to have hand weavers operating out in the country but now they’re all in London in workshops that are almost medieval. You can find hand whittled spoons on Shoreditch High Street! There’s a hand weaver called Amy Rever who’s making hand woven coats, very crunchy porridge-type weaves in shapes that a medieval tradesman would’ve worn. There are weavers with one loom in their attic like the Huguenots in Spitalfields.
Maybe it’s a backlash to Primark where you can get a new dress for the price of a cup of coffee, maybe people don’t want that anymore. My life regret is that I don’t make stuff. When I retire I’ll go back to weaving.
We adore America, we spend every summer in Cape Cod and have done for maybe 15 years. Cape Cod’s an amazing place, it’s completely undeveloped. There’s been no new building since the 1960s and you can’t go to the beach unless you’re a resident, you need to rent a house and then you get a beach pass so the beaches in August are completely deserted. I always come back from the summer with a case full of stuff. I sell these Shaker boxes in my shop. They’re made in the US on the east coast. I’m really drawn to that Puritanical simplicity and purity. I’m also addicted to Swedish design and Japanese design and I think they all share an aesthetic. With the magazine I always have that spare, simple, uncluttered look in mind, which is a bit weird for somebody who’s interested in textiles.