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How I work…Charlene Mullen

Trained in illustration and print, with an established career in the fashion industry, Charlene Mullen is an award winning designer of hand-crafted home-wares. Combining traditional techniques with fresh new motifs, Charlene works with master craftsmen in India to hand-embroider textiles that blend beauty, quality and durability.  Having designed an exclusive collection of cushions for The Conran shop, we took the opportunity to talk to her about her work, her studio and her life...

Talk us through a typical day...

My day starts quite early before everyone gets in and I make a To Do list. At the moment I have a lot of extra things on like visiting my new shop and office which I'm in the process of setting up. I then check if there are any internet orders and if so book them in with the courier and have them packed. If I am working on any commissions I usually try and get all the drawings done when the studio is quiet and the phone isn't ringing. Then they can be worked up for the samples and finished pieces on the computer. Colours have to be chosen and ordered and then all put together for the workshop to make. Sometimes the pieces come back and then have to go to be made up or upholstered.

If it’s a nice day I quite often take a break and walk around Ruskin Park with my friend and his lovely dog Aki, a labradoodle, and have lunch outside in the garden. In the afternoon I might have to go to a meeting to talk about a commission or to check on the studio and store. No one day is ever the same which is one of the things I like about what I do.

My studio is...

I am in the process of opening my first retail space that will also be my new studio too. The space is at 7 Calvert Avenue, Shoreditch and is such a lovely space with lots of great neighbours and good restaurants. The studio has a lovely feel and I'm just having tiles laid which I designed and had made in Morocco. Next week the office is installed and then that will be my base. The most important thing is having my reference books around me because although you can find a lot of reference on the internet I love the process of flicking through a book and ideas filtering through.

We opened the space for a couple of weeks for London Design Week and filled it with my things and other people's work I love and it made it so interesting to see how the space can work and be a showcase for me and others. I just can't wait to be there now and get started in earnest.

At work, I couldn’t live without...

Tea - Earl Grey which I pretty much drink the whole day. It gives me thinking time. Black felt tip pens, sharp scissors, Ralphie the cat, the radio and a sense of humour are also important!

What is on your desk right now?

My computers, lights, tracing paper, some samples I am working on for a big project, wool swatches, toy birds, radio, notebooks, pens, cutting mat, phone, mobile, glasses and of course a cuppa.

I listen to...

Radio 4 but if it has boring people on I swap to 6.

Tell us a bit about your inspiration and practice...

Inspiration comes from lots of different places. Big influences have been Illustrators Edward Bawden and Saul Steinberg for their fantastic drawings. Ceramicist Stig Linberg for his amazing pots with gorgeous patterns applied in great colours. I love them together which brings me to Blackwork - an embroidery technique dated back to Elizabethan times. The V&A  have wonderful examples and this was the starting point for the scenic drawings I made. I love folk art and Swiss paper cut work. Gee Bend quilts made by a black community in Alabama. English samplers, silhouettes. There's always so much to get ideas from.

Tell us about the exclusives you produced for The Conran Shop...

I was given a brief by the design team and the Conran pieces started life by looking at Moroccan costume and German samplers and finding a way they would complement each other and work in modern interiors. I think this is achieved through the drawing, colour and scale of the motifs. I love that the needlepoint samples look almost digital and upping their scale completely changes their nature. I worked closely with the Conran team and the colour story so they would fit. The hardest bit was making the final choice as they all looked good and we were very happy with them.

The yellow came out the best - it almost looks metallic gold but not and great with so many colours. We tried different embroidery techniques too - tapestry wool couched down or crewel stitching but the silk mix sewn on the machine by hand rather than digital looked right for that smart look you need when using ethnic imagery.


Feeling inspired?  Shop the exclusive Charlene Mullen collection online and in store now.


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