Vicky remembers collecting all sorts. Whether she went for walks, picking flowers to press, or hoarding stamps, she would while away the hours sketching, listening to music on her parents’ record player, organising, creating, filing and arranging.
Fast forward to the present day and she’s still doing a lot of that, but now it’s her profession. For Vicky, The Linen Garden is a place where she says she can easily lose hours, sometimes days.
Her ‘department store’ (a beautiful, ever-changing website) is set up with floors, departments and shelves where visitors often browse for hours, and revisit time and time again.
Inside is a fabulous array of her hoardings, new discoveries and pretty, unique items she has made in her studio.
There’s pottery, lace, artisan bags, plates, ribbons, styling boards, panels, cards; there’s even a shop window which Vicky updates every weekend.
Her Instagram bio @thelinengarden describes the business as “searching for the details that deliver an extra layer of happiness”.
Her customers range from stylists based in London that work for interiors companies, to grandmas making cushions for their grandchildren’s new home.
“At school, art was the only subject I was hooked on,” Vicky says.
“I felt like I had a connection with it. It was something I felt I was good at.”
The next few years saw Vicky progress to Cleveland College of Art and Design (now the Northern School of Art), where in her second year she specialised in textiles. She then took a degree in textile design, majoring in embroidery, at Loughborough College of Art and Design.
“In those five years of education, I was always stimulated by fashion and texture. I had found my niche in textiles. I love that it’s a mixture of so many things; you’re not just focusing on pattern and surface design, but can constantly experiment with the media you use, colour, scale, fabric, it’s so diverse.
“And that’s exactly what I love about the business I have now. It’s that styling element I have always loved, and it dates back to collecting and arranging things as a child.”
Vicky made some great connections from her degree show and for the next decade made a living from freelance textile work and teaching A level textile design at colleges in the Midlands and outside London. She also sold some of her drawings.
“Over that decade I decided I really wanted to work for myself at some point in the future, with my own business, so I was fully in control of what I was doing and for more security,” she explains.
“So, in the late 90s I took the plunge and moved back to the North East to be closer to my family. I’d saved up some money and secured a grant from the Prince’s Youth Business Trust.”
Vicky’s business soon took off, designing fabrics for interiors and creating handmade greeting cards, which was very much in fashion at the time and the largest part of her business.
Her biggest order was about 58,000 and at her busiest time Vicky had 11 people working for her in her Redcar studio. She also returned to Cleveland College of Art and Design, to teach.
Vicky won an award at a big trade fair at the NEC in Birmingham, sponsored by Liberty of London, which acted as the ultimate springboard for her business.
She was supplying big names like Liberty and John Lewis, received international orders and did freelance product development for M&S and The Pier.
She slowly reduced the business down to focus on having a family. Her daughters, Ava and Mia, are now 17 and 14 and it looks like creativity is definitely in the genes as Ava is studying photography at the Northern School of Art.
Now that Vicky has developed her Linen Garden business, she says the most important thing for her is that she breathes new life into old pieces. She loves to take something beautiful, like an old floral painting, a vase or a piece of lace, and put it into a new context, such as a modern home.
“I’m continuing the life journey of these pieces,” she says.
“They were originally created by an artist, a practitioner or an amateur, beautifully handmade with a lot of thought. In this highly manufactured world, we can sometimes forget to appreciate the older things. Whether it’s a gorgeous piece of hand printed textile, or a pot, it’s fabulous that it’s survived until now and goes on to live in other people’s homes. A vase that is now central to a table in a suburban semi, might have come from an amazing manor house. It’s a privilege for us to help continue that piece’s journey.”
The Linen Garden’s website is all about a journey too. An awful lot of thought has clearly gone into Vicky’s website, photographs carefully taken to appreciate the exquisite detail of a piece of handmade lace, or the layers in a painting.
A large part of Vicky’s business involves visiting trade shows, auction houses, car boot sales and vintage fairs – so inevitably, for the last year or so, sourcing new items has been very difficult with none of these events taking place. This is where her penchant for hoarding has come into its own!
“It has been difficult not being able to travel around the country finding new pieces, but I had plenty of stuff hidden away,” says Vicky.
“My house is full to the brim with gorgeous things I’ve found over the years. The girls and my husband are used to every room containing items that will eventually be sold on the website – there’s even an old press in our hallway. Sometimes I find a piece that I love too much to sell straight away, so it might live in our house for us to enjoy, for a few months – or even years – before I feel I’m ready to sell it on.”
Nothing is wasted by Vicky either. Recycling is a big part of her business.
“If I make cushions or bags, all offcuts are resold or remade into ribbons. Everything is reinvented. I love to make botanical styling boards which are made from pages of old, damaged books and pieces of leftover lace. When customers buy these, I encourage them to add to the boards, to personalise them and tell their own story.”
Despite the challenges of sourcing new pieces for The Linen Garden during the pandemic, the department store has continued to go from strength to strength thanks to it being an online concept.
Vicky is looking forward to being able to get back out there to find new exciting pieces to add to the store, and she also hopes to indulge in spending time creating some more of her own pieces of art to sell on to her customers.