Since founding her label East London Cloth during the first lockdown of 2020, Gemma Moulton has been spearheading a soft furnishings revival. She talks to Jessica Jonzen about why we’ve fallen back in love with curtains
GEMMA’S BEDROOM AT HER HOME IN HACKNEY, EAST LONDON, FEATURING HER HANDMADE CURTAINS. IMAGE: MARC SETHI
If you’ve found yourself Googling ‘café curtains’, it’s safe to say that you’ve come across the beautiful images from East London Cloth. The independent soft furnishings brand founded by Gemma Moulton in the summer of 2020 has quickly established itself with those in the know as the go-to for handmade traditional, unfussy curtains, blinds and household linen.
To mark the launch of Gemma’s new Create Academy course, Gemma shares her inspirations and tells us why she thinks we’ve all fallen in love with soft furnishings.
GINGHAM TABLE CLOTH, EAST LONDON CLOTH. IMAGE: MARC SETHI
How did East London Cloth come about?
After starting out in fashion and then antiques, I retrained in upholstery in 2015 and stumbled upon curtain making when looking for more consistent work and did an apprenticeship in East London. After learning as much as I could I set up alone, but found bespoke work wasn’t really fulfilling my creative side. When a couple of jobs were cancelled at the start of the pandemic, it gave me time to re-brand and think about what I wanted to achieve, which is when East London Cloth was born.
How did you come to sewing? Is it something you’ve always done?
I learned to sew when I was really young, but I guess I didn’t appreciate (or need) its calming abilities. As life became fuller and busier, I started to pick it up again, sewing in the evenings. It was a great way to switch off and become immersed in something – like therapy, but cheaper! I really got a kick out of designing and creating something, so decided to try and make a career out of it.
Why do you think we’ve fallen back in love with soft furnishings?
Nostalgia can be a real stabilising force in times of crisis, so I often wonder if the return to more traditional styles of soft furnishings and interiors has a lot to do with the pandemic. There’s also something very comforting about filling a room with fabric, it changes the acoustics and makes everything feel cosy. Shutting the world out with a big pair of curtains might be just what we need when things outside seem a little unstable.
Who or what are your design influences?
I guess I look mostly to the Georgian and Arts and Crafts eras for inspiration, when things were less industrialised and the importance was placed on craftsmanship and longevity. I love the idea that everything in a house should be both beautiful but also practical. It’s not something I’ve quite managed to achieve myself yet, but it’s certainly an aim!
GEMMA’S LOVE OF FABRIC CAN BE SEEN THROUGHOUT HER HOME. IMAGES: MARC SETHI
You’ve really brought the café curtain back into fashion. What is it about that particular style that is so appealing?
The café curtain was made popular by the Victorians, who really valued their privacy. As houses were being built ever closer together, the café curtain would act as a veil from snooping eyes. Shutters are great but they can be so definite, so I think café curtains offer more balance between privacy and light, and also give a softer appearance.
What do you think is the secret to creating a beautiful and welcoming home?
A sense of self. A home is such a reflection of the people who live there, so having ‘stuff’ around makes it feel lived in and characterful. I think the key is curated, but not sterile.
What advice would you give to someone considering buying (or making) new curtains?
Remember that you’ll have to live with them for much longer than you’ll likely have to live without them, so where possible don’t rush decisions or compromise. Curtains (the fabric, more than the making) can be expensive, but done well they will last a lifetime.
Prioritise the rooms which need curtains or blinds for privacy, such as bedrooms and living rooms, and try and allocate your budget there. Making your own can be fun and so rewarding, and once you pick up the basic mechanics you can reapply them to create other styles. It’s a great skill to learn and to stretch your valuable budget.
You collaborated with Pentreath & Hall on a pop-up last year. Do you have any plans for new collaborations?
Pentreath & Hall gave me such a great opportunity and it’s something I’m hoping to repeat later this year. I also have a small, exclusive range with them, which is now available. I love working with other crafts people, and have been working on a range with the embroiderer Cressida Jamieson. It’s been a real process, but a great one, and we hope to have that out during the first half of the year.
(LEFT & RIGHT) DETAILS OF GEMMA’S HANDMADE BLIND AND CAFÉ CURTAIN IN HER KITCHEN. IMAGES: MARC SETHI
GEMMA MOULTON. IMAGE: CREATE ACADEMY
IMAGES: MARCH SETHI
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