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Cassandra Ellis is a furniture and homewares designer, interiors stylist and author. Originally from New Zealand, Cassandra's studio is based in SW London, She works with independent craftspeople across Britain who make her furniture, textiles and other home goods.

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The deity of the fabric world must surely be silk.

Cassandra Ellis

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It is both beautiful and luxurious, but also created without the intervention of man – divine indeed. No other cloth seems to garner the same emotive reaction as silk. It is haute couture for some and a cushion for others. It connotes weddings and births and grand country houses. It is beauty, history and modernity and in the cloth world we seem to covet nothing more than silk. It is fluid and delicate like no other and holds colour so that it looks almost luminous. It has clothed royalty since the 27 BC and when its secrets were unraveled, the Silk Route was born. It has been everything from currency and curtains, tapestries and ties to parachutes and pantyhose.

Fabric has always been the foundation of my work and silk - well silk is my talisman. It can be an expensive cloth, but nothing takes or reflects colour like silk and the tactility of a silk velvet covered chair or the whoosh of silk taffeta blinds - well it is just wonderful. I was hooked by Christian Dior's silk swathed goddesses as a teenager and Caroline Quartermaine was (still is) an unbelievable inspiration in the 90's. If you don't have her book 'Revealed', you should find it as it is extraordinary.

I've always used Japanese and Indian silks in our bespoke quilts and we hand dye silk velvet as cushions, curtains and as backings for the quilts. I'm fascinated by natural fabrics and how they are both made and the stories behind their creation. I often use silk, linen and leather together as the enhance each other and become patterns without being an actual pattern, which as I prefer quieter rooms where people provide the pattern, this works. I often use clothing quality silk fabrics rather than upholstery weight for curtains and blinds. It is more cost effective - but also is available in many colours and I often have it dyed, so that you can see the magical 'hand-of-the-maker'. You need to back all silk textiles to protect from sunlight and I never been disappointed with using dress-weight silk, once they have been lined. Lastly - antique or vintage silk saris make the best casual curtains - again lined for robustness and for blocking the light, but they are so wonderful for bringing life to a room as they have usually been hand dyed and blockprinted.

Silk is a unique and fascinating cloth as it is spun into existence by the silk worm, ready made and in one length. So fragile that it needs to be twisted into stranded lengths to make it strong enough to weave. Yet it is the strongest natural fibre - a steel filament of the same diameter will break before silk does. But it is also temperamental under sunlight (thus the need to line curtains or blinds) and doesn’t respond positively to mankind’s perspiration.

It is a natural protein fibre, very similar to human hair. It starts life as a liquid, which then hardens on contact with air. It mostly comes from the cocoons of the mulberry silkworm, which are now reared in captivity - a process called sericulture. Silk fabric shimmers due to a prism like fibre structure. This mean the fabric can refract light, which is why the finished cloth often looks like it is made of many colours – miraculous.

The worm creates a cocoon in which it pupates and covers itself in silk thread. Like all natural fibres there is a cost to this - in order to use the silk in its strongest and most luxuriant form, the pupae have to be killed whilst inside the cocoon. This is done by either dipping them in boiling water, or by piercing them with a needle. Unlike any other natural fibres, there is no need for chemicals, or a huge strain on natural resources. But of course it is still a cost.  If you don’t want to buy silk that has been created through sericulture, there is wild silk – or Eri silk, which I love. To create this cloth, silk cocoons are gathered in the wild rather than through concentrated farming. The pupae have usually left the cocoon, thereby tearing the thread into shorter lengths. As a cloth has a slubby feel, and is usually left in its natural colour. We use it for throws and cushions because it looks and feels beautiful.

I love silk - and I really enjoy using it on homes or products where I can - it isn't right for everywhere, but I think there is always a place in every home.

Kettles Yard – Living, not decorating.

Cassandra Ellis

I have visited Kettle Yard dozens of times over the last few years – six pilgrimages alone in the last few months before it closed for renovation. I was a little bit desperate to draw the soul of it into my conscious and my heart, nervous that when it re-opens, the very smart new visitors centre will slick it up, rendering it a bit Disney, or a bit too easy. I am genuinely moved every time I step past the jangly bell and are properly sad that it has been closed for two (or more) years.

There are only a handful of places that genuinely make me feel and think so fully  – and think about the purpose of interior design/decorating/styling. What is the point of this profession, this idea that one’s home must look incredible, as opposed to feel incredible. These places I visit over and over to try to connect the emotive reaction to the physical facts. They are all extremely beautiful places, but none are decorated for decorations sake alone and that I think is the key to me loving them - and Kettles Yard in particular.

Kettles Yard at its simplest is a smallish cottage knocked together from several, with a modernist and very large extension. It’s painted one shade of white paint and is both awkward and extraordinary in layout. The magic is that it isn’t officially interior decorated, it is instead a long and rambling poem revealing someone’s life. Story telling at the heart and a completely personal point of view. The house and people are manifestations of each other and everything chosen with their idea of beauty firmly held in solid gaze. You know what this family loves, what they feel and where they have been before. You can see and feel relationships, wear and tear and their unique priorities (which wouldn’t be the kitchen in their home) and that I think is the secret.

If I find myself swayed by a colour palette or fabric when working on any project, I stop myself and ask why. If it’s because it is a nod towards current trends, I put it aside. If it seems somehow attached the person or place and how they want to live, we move forward and the story continues.

An architect acquaintance once mentioned that his potential clients often want him to design their homes to be ‘so Kettles Yard’; complete with the mass purchase of pots, books, paintings and stones. He’s a very intelligent man so I hope he turns them down.

Images 1,4,7 & 10 courtesy of Kettles Yard

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