Maven: Polly Leonard

By Kathryn Clark.

Every now and then someone raises the bar for an entire design field. Someone steps back and sees the bigger picture. Someone, say, finds the best contemporary textiles the world over, connects them together and lays them out for us on beautiful, thick matte square pages.

Selvedge magazine.

This happens six times a year in Selvedge magazine, all of it wrapped up in a strong design aesthetic you rarely see these days. Who is it that makes all of this come together so beautifully and has an eye like no other? Founder and editor in chief, Polly Leonard.

Polly Leonard. Image by Richard Nicholson, 2012.

Based in London, Polly is a maven in the true sense of the word. She’s certainly an expert with a strong aesthetic sense, but she also packages up everything she learns about textiles and shares it with the world in the hopes of encouraging new ideas. Selvedge combines fashion, fine art, interiors, travel and history in ways we never imagined possible. She has the rare ability to notice the details while keeping in mind the larger picture. As editor for Embroidery Magazine, she had a firsthand look at the world of textiles, not to mention the magazine industry. She noticed the disconnect between the different textile fields, and in November 2003 she decided to do something about it. Six months later, Selvege Magazine was in print.

Article from issue 47, Sport. Image by Kathryn Clark.

What sets Selvedge apart from most magazines is its confident, strong focus and high-quality printing. “The idea was to appeal to a lot of people. It needed good quality paper, large images. It needed to be a thick read.” And it is. I can’t sit down to read a copy without a pen by my side. Selvedge is thouroughly researched and rich in imagery, and history and travel often intertwine with the stories.

But Selvedge isn’t just a magazine. There’s also a dry goods store, festivals and a website. How does Polly keep a consistent aesthetic? “It all comes from a strong core. Decisions are made easy with that.” It also helps to have a weaving background, which Polly has in basketry and fiber arts. “The weave is based on the grid, hence the square format for the magazine.” Every aspect of the magazine’s design has its foundation in fiber.

Article from Issue 27, Frugal. Image by Kathryn Clark.

Polly suspects her strong design sensibilities originated in Yorkshire where she grew up. She remembers the plain, bare landscape of the moor. Her great grandfather built a chapel on one of those hills. “I remember the stark interior, the quiet design. Textiles that were beautiful and not decorative.” Perhaps this led to her love of the Japanese aesthetics of simplicity and beautiful detail.

With a life that revolves around objects that she loves and admires, Polly must be having fun. “I love the day. I love just after press, one week later. We cut open the first copy and forget all the pain that went into the magazine. I love meeting new people, seeing new work, touching fabrics.” This, of course, is helped by selling some of the very products featured in the magazine. In 2007, Polly realized that her readers couldn’t find the items so she started the online store. In 2009, the Selvedge brick and mortar shop was born in North London (I’m jealous of you, Londoners!).

Selvedge shop.

How does Polly manage to make it all a success (did I mention she’s also a mom)? “I juggle, I’m obsessively driven and I do little else. Beth Smith and Clare Bungey also help out a lot.” And what inspires her? She’s always looking for colors, textures and strong graphics, especially when on holiday. And as she sifts through her email every day she finds “the odd gem that catches my eye.” Those gems often end up on the store’s shelves, from simple handspun linen thread to beautiful knitted and crocheted scarves by Sophie Digard.

Sophie Digard Scarf.

Most, if not all, of the products stocked in the shop are available online and ship everywhere. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ve certainly ordered my share. Back issues of the magazine are also available in case you are just discovering Selvedge now.

And still, this textiles maven can see room for improvement in the medium: “Textile designers are good at making fabric but not so good at making products. We have enough scarves and cushions. They need to team up with a good designer or get a degree in product design.” Think of the possibilities.

What’s next for Polly? She will be featured in the November issue of Where Women Create.  She’s also very busy promoting textiles, makers, and hosting fairs in addition to creating the magazine. The annual Selvedge Winter Fair happens November 10th in the center of London. “This will be the biggest festival yet, including antique textile dealers. We’ve also talked about a book one day but we need more hours in the day to make that happen.” We can’t wait!


Selvedge Magazine

Dry Goods Store

Selvedge Winter Fair

Where Women Create Magazine

Images courtesy of Selvedge Magazine.

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