A Look Behind the Scenes of Mad in England

behind the scenes mad in england

An ‘Inspiring Indies’ Interview with Mad in England.

For this week’s ‘Inspiring Independents‘ interview we took a closer look at Mad in England. Chatting to Creative Director Nicola Grellier, we found out more about their unique business and its contemporary needlepoint and tapestry kits.

What inspired you to start Mad in England? When did you begin?

My oldest friend, Georgina Holt (& Mad business partner) had watched me making one-off needlepoints over the years. I’m a painter/collage artist and have always liked my hands to be busy while my head switches off in the evenings. She convinced me that we could start a business making kits of the designs. The name Mad In England comes from an old collage of mine from 2005.

What can you tell us about your indie business? What sets you apart from your corporate contemporaries?

We make quite graphic and modern designs and try and produce them with a bit of edge, colour, humour and style. Our ‘mini mad’ kits are great starter kits – easy to finish and cool for kids. Our difference, I think, lies in our growing bespoke service where we can produce names & numbers/dates, one-offs to suit the clients décor, and our favourite little ‘Love Pillows’ taken directly from a child’s early writings and drawings to make a beautiful and unique keepsake. We have a very personal relationship with many of our clients with plenty of consultation to arrive at the best unique design.

What’s your role in the business? What’s your favourite things about your job / running an indie business?

My title is Creative Director but I cover pretty much every aspect of the business … admin, programming and packing included. My favourite activity is, of course, designing and sewing new designs but I enjoy networking and teaching occasional workshops too.

Are there other people in your business? What can you tell us about the rest of the team?

Georgina Holt is the co-founder of Mad In England and my oldest friend – since we were 5. She lives in Camber, East Sussex and I’m in Stroud, Gloucestershire so we have an interesting and inventive MO. She takes care of the core business and website and we speak many times in the day. We love running the business together and are a great sounding board for each others ideas. My daughter, Flo Grellier, has been working at Mad since September doing admin, social media and some designing. She’s off to do her degree in Fashion soon and we’ll have a new member in the team shortly. We also have some stitchers in the Stroud Valleys and beyond, including my eldest daughter Nettle who is in her final year studying Fine Art in Brighton. Our lovely PR Lizzie Gordon has recently come on board too.

Here at Piccadilly Lane, we believe that independents offer an amazing combination of unique design and high quality. Do you agree? 

Of course! The wealth of independents throughout the UK makes for a wonderful strength of design and quality. We believe in using the best materials and use all UK suppliers for every aspect of our kits so that we can offer great quality to our clients. We sew everything ourselves so the initial designs are all handmade in house. Customer & personal service is one of the most important aspects of our business.

You recently had a student undertake a work experience placement in your business. How did you find the experience?

Beth was great fun and keen to learn. She quickly picked up the method and had fun diving into our stock of images and swatches to make her own mood board. We have strong links with the excellent Stroud College and would love to work with other students in the future.

You currently specialise in needlepoint kits. What inspires you about this type of design? Do you plan to continue in this area or do you have plans to extend your collection? 

Designing and making needlepoint is similar to painting in a graphic way. I play with wools in the same way as paint and love putting together colour and pattern. It’s a slow process but incredibly satisfying with a lovely end result. It’s also very therapeutic and extremely easy to pick up and put down, creating very little mess so can be taken anywhere. I love that you can just get stitching with no great forethought. We’re finessing our kits business this year and hope to branch out into other products next year. Many ideas but not enough time now!

Your products look like they require a lot of development and testing to ensure they are easy to follow. What can you tell us about the process of creating a new needlepoint kit?

They do take a quite a while to stitch and I’ve got many more ideas for designs than I can currently fulfill but we are expanding our stitching family so hope to be producing more designs than before. We have to make sure each one works and has plenty of wool for the stitcher. There are several processes involved in a design being ready for sale after the initial sew: stretching & making up, programming for the printer to proof and print the canvas, photography for the website and packaging, packing the kits – mini kits include backing and trim. Our kits are all printed, or hand drawn if they are bespoke, so there is no chart or eye-watering counting to be done … making a rest for the brain and a quicker result. All wools are cut to convenient lengths and the larger kits have a colour chart for easy matching. We provide good instructions, a link to more detailed help on our website and large images to show the finished piece, a couple of needles in a nice little envelope and a postcard or 2 to send to friends completes the pack.

What can you tell us about the materials used in your kits?

We use gorgeous Appleton’s Wool – a long established British company who have a fantastic range of colours in 100% wool and great customer service.

The canvases are printed in Devon by the amazingly accurate Phoenix Designs, needles are from John James – the classic UK needle company.

We use various local photographers to take images of the finished pieces and style shots and have a great relationship with IBA graphics in West London who provide all our printed materials.

Why should people shop with you? What makes you different?

Mad in England brings a refreshingly modern edge to design with our kits, hopefully complementing current trends in décor and colour, whilst satisfying the quite traditional creative itch that is very ‘out there’ these days, we’re using a very old and known craft which many people remember their mother or grandmother teaching them as they were growing up. It’s a perfect craft to be passed on down the generations and we hope to appeal to a new generation of would-be stitchers with our contemporary take. Our personal service and efficient response aim to make the shopping experience more than just the click of a button.

We LOVE independents and think more people should be supporting them. Why do you think people should shop with independent businesses like yours?

Independents like us put their heart and soul into the product and process, often taking a big leap of faith to get their dream off the ground. These business provide often very unique and cutting edge product which goes beyond the run of the mill items available on the mass market. People who buy from Mad in England and similar companies know that they are buying a unique or rare piece of art/craft which would not be available without their belief and support.

Last but not least, what’s your favourite independent business and why?

We’re currently loving Molly Mahon – we’ve adapted a couple of her gorgeous block print fabrics into bespoke designs for her to stitch – great fun getting the colours right and lovely to have such a keen new needlepoint fan. Her designs look amazing all stitched up! It’s a crossover between two small businesses.

Thank you Nicola!

Now you’ve read the interview, pop along and see website.

Posted by Charlotte 10:00 29/05/15
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