A while ago I blogged on Nestify about a lovely place just outside Cirencester, called The Organic Farm Shop. Run by Will and Hilary Chester-Master since 1990, it is essentially an organic and environmentally sustainable farm that sits alongside a beautiful garden, shop and café, as well as a cute little shepherd’s hut and some yurts. The shop sells stunning organic cotton patterned bedlinen and accessories, which are all printed by hand in a workshop in Rajasthan. They are just beautiful, and unlike anything else I have seen in the UK.
Whether you go there to do your weekly grocery shop (and if you live locally, you should – many new customers tell Hilary that, much to their surprise, their bills have gone down), to learn the art of gardening or block printing, or just to have a cup of tea and a sunny garden stroll, there is something for everyone – and all done the organic way.
A few weeks back I caught up with Hilary after her trip to visit the workshop in Rajasthan. It seems that, with our ever-increasing demand for low prices and high volume, her talented team of artisans is in danger of being driven out of work by the endless consumer appetite for cheap, mass-produced alternatives. But, as Hilary is the first to point out, hand-grown organic cotton, printed with individual love and care by a family who have honed their craft for generations – and which fully supports them economically – surely has the edge on our factory-made polycotton alternatives.
For one thing, the cotton is unimaginably soft. And for another, in all their bold and intricate beauty, the prints themselves are glorious. (Pictured – clockwise from top – Red/Green Lotus; Blue Stripe; Pink Provençal; Blue Elephant.)
“I choose all the colour combinations myself”, says Hilary, “and take inspiration from the age-old Indian designs that have been around forever. People are surprised to find that the butti (the flower used in traditional Provençal-style designs) is in fact Indian. These exuberant prints have been an integral part of their craftsmanship for hundreds of years.”
When visiting India on her travels, Hilary used to buy traditional bedspreads off the shelf, but – a disappointment we have all known – found that the colours looked garish and unflattering once home and out of the Subcontinental sunlight. Combined with a desire to give something directly back to the block-printing artisans whom she admired so much, and who – for the most part – survive on piecemeal work for their income, she decided to set up a workshop of her own, complete with a garden where the artisans’ families can grow their own veg and use their income in a sustainable way.
But they are lucky, and a growing rarity: “I am told that whereas there used to be 95 per cent block-printing workshops to 5 per cent screen printers, it is now the other way round; hardly any block-printing workshops are left. The skills, passed down from generation to generation, are dying out fast. Our workshop is more important than ever now, not only to keep our own craftsmen in work, but to keep these incredible skills alive in the modern world, where production rates are generally deemed far more important than employment and living art.”
And while, of course, it is always a challenging choice for the stylish modern-day homeowner to pay a heftier sum, when you take all these elements into consideration, it really seems a no-brainer. If this beautiful art dies out, and all we are left with are trend-driven graphic polyester prints, it will be cause for monumental sadness – and our homes (and wardrobes) will look the uglier for it.
You can buy the textiles online here – www.theorganicfarmshop.co.uk/organic-bed--table-linen – but if you’re looking for a different sort of day out, or are as intrigued to see the prints as I was when I first found them, go down to explore the farm and the shop and see what Hilary and Will are up to. I am almost certain you will come back with your hands full of gloriously soft and stylish prints. And so you should.