My Clerkenwell Life – Helen Yardley

Known for her bold, colourful designs, Helen Yardley has been producing rugs for more than 30 years. She describes the inspiration behind her striking work, the tufting gun that shoots yarn and her plans for Clerkenwell Design Week.

Is colour at the heart of your design?
Colour does come first, sometimes you are almost working as a colour consultant. We do a lot of rugs for reception areas, so you can afford to be quite bold.

Do you follow colour trends?
No, in interiors people don’t change their colours that fast, you have to be a bit outside what is happening. Oranges always work very well on floors – it makes the warm room, and it can be gentle and quite nourishing. Colour is completely personal, that’s what’s fascinating about it.

Do people respond to the artistic element in the rugs?
The funny thing is, because it’s an abstract people see things in them. A lot of companies hang them on the wall, which is quite fun.

How did you end up designing rugs? 
One of the things that started me making rugs was going to Istanbul – they showed me all these rugs and described the symbolism. Also, the idea of making a drawing that’s a product and on the floor is quite fun.

What do you produce in your Southwark studio?
We do prototypes here or particular commissions that we really need to pay attention to. You can’t always predict how colours will work together. Once it’s right, we’ve got amazing guys up in Yorkshire who make the rugs for us. We have knotted rugs as well, made in Nepal, and you can make quite intricate patterns.

What’s your connection to Clerkenwell?
We had a showroom space in Great Sutton Street – we were there for six years. It was just a box with a big glass front and we used it as a gallery showroom, because there were a lot of architects there.

Did you enjoy exhibiting in EC1?
Clerkenwell is wonderful, I would love to be there again if there was a space. Clerkenwell Design Week is the best fun. It is nice and contained, everybody is friendly. We did it for the first time last year and it was just a hoot – and it was really busy. You get a lot of architects and designers, and then you get a huge amount of people who live and work around there, which is great.

What are your plans for CDW?
The rugs are made with a tufting gun; you shoot the yarn into a backing cloth. We’re actually setting a frame up at Craft Central gallery, so that people can see how it’s done – and I guess they could have a go. It’s halfway between a sewing machine and a drill, the yarn is pushed through the tufting gun and makes a loop through the backing cloth, it’s quite dramatic. We will draw something up, tuft some of it and then make it at Craft Central.

Do you spend a lot of time in EC1?
There are so many little pockets of architects in Clerkenwell, so I was always going there, and my daughter was at school there. Being there for six years, I knew a lot of people, such as the furniture showroom Viaduct. I’ve done a lot of work with them.

What do you like about Clerkenwell?
It’s a place where things happen. There are interesting places to eat, there are lots of great shops and showrooms. I love the J+A cafe, Sublime in St John Street, and the amazing Magma. The other brilliant place is Clerkenwell Screws. That’s what so good about it, all these weird, funny little shops. Then there’s Smithfield, where there are chaps in white coats with half a dead pig over their arm, and there are beautiful old churches like St Bartholomew. It’s the history and the way the streets are laid out. If I could choose, I would live there.

Do you ever spot your work when you’re not expecting it?
You do sometimes see them where you didn’t know they were. We made a very big version of the Triptych design in greens, and it’s hanging on a wall at the bottom of Hatton Garden in a big commercial building. I was on the bus and I just saw it and went, ‘Oh wow!’.