In our Open Studio Tour series, we step inside the creative spaces of Etsians to see where their process begins. Consider this a chance to get to know your fellow makers and find inspiration for your own space.
What’s your name and what do you make?
My name is Helen Rawlinson and I’m a textile designer. I hand screen print all my designs and make a range of interior products and accessories. My lighting range is where it all began!
Where is your studio situated?
Stoke Newington, Hackney in the East End of London. It’s a magical hideaway, situated just off a busy main road. Built in the Victorian era, the building was originally an old chocolate factory until 1959. My landlord, Keith Ashley, bought the derelict property in 1994 and converted it into artist studios, including one for himself. The new Chocolate Factory was born and after a further extension in 2007, it now houses 27 studios of creativity.
It’s set around a pretty cobbled yard with hanging baskets and potted plants of all sizes dotted here and there. Hard to believe you are in the middle of London once you’re inside its large steel gates. I feel very lucky to be part of a community like this. It’s so nice to be able to pop outside for a chat with whoever is around that day.
Do you think your studio reflects your personality? How so?
Very much so. I’m very untidy and that’s what hits you most mornings. There’s stuff everywhere, including my son’s toys which merge with everything else and often turn up as props in my photos. I’d love to have a clean white space, with everything in its place. I almost get there when we all tidy up for our biannual open studio events, but it soon goes back to chaos. I’m a complete hoarder, so if there’s no room at home, it comes here.
When did you decide that you needed a studio?
As soon as I left the Royal College of Art, I rented a studio with a couple of friends. I had some great interest from my final show and received some commissions. I had to make a decision to leave when my friends moved on to full-time employment. The Chocolate Factory was walking distance from my home and the studio spaces had just become available. I couldn’t resist.
Did you make any sacrifices to create your studio?
At first I missed the exercise with cycling to work as my previous studio was closer to Central London. This was also great for heading off to “town” in the evening. However, the convenience of being just around the corner from home, cheaper rent and the general vibe of my new studio setting, far outweighed these minor changes. I now cycle with my son to school on the way to work and I’ve realised that going out becomes a much more local affair as family life takes over.
What is you favorite tool in your workspace?
I’m torn between my two trades of screen printing and machine embroidery. I picked up a small vintage squeegee at a street stall on the famous Brick Lane many years ago; it’s been my printing partner ever since and I treasure it. My old Bernina sewing machine, on the other hand, is my stitching work horse. It’s plowed through many a lampshade and just keeps chugging on and I love the design.
Is there anything you would add to your work space?
A pinboard. I’ve covered the walls with so many shelves that I don’t really have a spot for all the notes and ephemeral inspiration that cloud my desk space. My studio has grown in a very haphazard, organic way over the years. I’d love to have a big clear out and start again, it’s just a case of finding the time.
Where do you find all of the objects that decorate your studio?
The vinyl winged chair that sits by the doors, I found dumped on our street. My old desk came out of a skip from college days. The little mirror cabinet which sits above my sink is currently on a 15 year loan from a friend. The old tin rocking horse tucked away on a top shelf also belongs to a friend who seems to have forgotten all about it. The bright patterned floor mats I bought in Mauritius. I love car boot sales, so the rest of my nik naks come from Sunday morning browsings and charity shops.
What object in your studio inspires you the most?
It can be anything from the inside of an envelope to a well thumbed book, a vintage toy to an old CD cover, whatever catches my eye that day.
How do your studio surroundings inspire your work?
I printed Look Left / Look Right tee shirts for my son, inspired by the traffic signs painted on the road going to and from work every day. My first lampshade design for Heal’s department store was from leaves picked up in a local street. You never can guess where the next idea will come from but I think you draw on your surroundings wherever you are.
Is there something in your studio that has a great story behind it?
My screenprint exposure unit sits quietly at the back of the studio on its chunky castors and glides along in a feather-like fashion whenever it needs a push. It was a chance purchase from a friend who was moving out of London and selling up. I was so excited about it, I didn’t think about the logistics of actually getting it into my first floor studio. It arrived one day in a large van and three massive men struggled and sweated to get it up the open metal staircase. I watched holding my breath at the top as it slowly advanced and the whole stairway trembled and sagged under the weight. For weeks I had mad thoughts of it crashing through to the floor below. I think it’s destined never to leave this studio, unless in bits, as I don’t think I could bear to go through all that again.