Living in a material world: fabrics queen and Selvedge editor Polly Leonard champions under-the-radar designers and producers

Fabrics queen and Selvedge editor Polly Leonard supports skilled weavers from Wales to Nepal.
Walk down Archway Road in north London and you will find Selvedge. This textile shop is filled with fabrics created by skilled weavers from across the world, and each item has a story to tell, from Scandinavian linen dishcloths produced by Swedish company Växbo, which grows, spins and weaves the flax, to Alpaca blankets and cushions made by French designer Thibault Van Der Straete. There are also wool blankets by London designer Eleanor Pritchard, who has them woven at a small mill in Carmarthenshire in Wales.

Inside the shop, young assistants help customers choose a fabric, quilt or throw, while tucked round the back in her office, owner Polly Leonard is going through the proofs of Selvedge magazine, which has helped to put textiles back on the fashion agenda.
Instore or online: Polly Leonard's treasure store of fabrics in Archway

Leonard is a champion of under-the-radar designers and producers. If she finds something that isn't easily available in the UK, she will feature it in the magazine, then sell it as part of her online boutique.

Running an "upmarket haberdashery" store means Leonard, who studied embroidery and weaving at Glasgow School of Art before becoming a lecturer and editor, has seen fascinating developments in textiles for interiors. In a world of digital technology, she has spotted a new yearning for authenticity.

"I'm noticing lots of crochet in interiors and in fashion, possibly because it's more flexible than knitting," she says. "You can create a garment without a seam with crochet and, perhaps because it's a more immediate technique, you can learn it much more quickly."

She is particularly impressed by the works of Dalston designer Naomi Paul (, who recently exhibited big crocheted lampshades at interiors show Decorex.

A flashback to the Seventies are macramé-style wall hangings. "They are big on texture, so you can actually see the path of the yarn through the structure," explains Leonard. "You see it in weave and crochet, and you're getting images of it in print, too."
Light touch: Naomi Paul has created a range of crochet lampshades, including the elegant Vex shade. Products are made to order

There is also a huge interest in natural dyes. "Whenever we do anything with indigo, it's sold out instantly," says Leonard. She mentions new company A Rum Fellow (, which is taking fabrics from artisans around the world and reupholstering Fifties, Sixties and Seventies furniture.

Leonard believes that textile stories can be found in all cultures. "If you look back in history, it was the invention of the sail that initiated global trade," she adds. "It was the invention of loom technology that started the Industrial Revolution."

When she launched bi-monthly magazine Selvedge in 2003 — offering an overview of textiles across different sectors — it revolutionised the way materials are presented.

True to form, the name is inspired by fabrics, with "selvedge" meaning the edges of a piece of cloth as it comes out of the loom, while the square format of the magazine is based on the woven grid. It's clear that Leonard eats, breathes and sleeps textiles. She lives near the shop with her 16-year-old son, Phoenix, and daughter, Liberty, 13.

She also has the support of her husband, who funded the first-ever issue of Selvedge.

Leonard insists her house is no show home. But it is testament to her love of the handmade. Her staircase carpet from Roger Oates, which sells vibrant flatweave 100 per cent wool runners, is a pleasure to look at every day. Her sofa is upholstered in fabric from Welsh wool mill Melin Tregwynt, and rugs throughout the house are by Stitch by Stitch ( — a textile design studio that works with artisans from India and Nepal.

The team at the shop are now gearing up for the Selvedge Christmas fair next month, where you'll find more than 100 artisans and small businesses selling vintage haberdashery, festive decorations, homewares and antique textiles.

Leonard originally launched Selvedge to encourage "the fashion people to talk to the interiors people and show them how they could look at their materials in different ways". Today, interior designers often ring the shop asking where they can get a piece upholstered.

Leonard's strong design sensibilities originated in Yorkshire, where she grew up. She remembers the plain, bare landscape of the moors. Even now her colour palette is quite simple. "One day, I'd like to have a shop where I just sell red, white and blue things," she says.

Selvedge presents Artisan Christmas: December 3-4, Chelsea Old Town Hall, King's Road, SW3. Advance tickets £5 (£7.50 on the door) from The Selvedge shop, 162 Archway Road, N6 (020 8341 9721) 

Follow us on Twitter @HomesProperty and Facebook