Doing what comes naturally

Fashions come and go but Ian Mankin's natural fabrics are always in demand, reports Hester Lacey

VISITING Ian Mankin's fabric shop on London's Regent's Park Road is like stepping back in time. Fitted out with wood and brass and antique clocks, the premises are unsullied by anything so jarringly modern as electronic tills, barcodes or computers. Credit cards are not welcome and all receipts are written and stamped by hand. But if the shop is old- fashioned, the materials on sale are fresh and contemporary - even if Mankin still stocks some of the fabrics he did in 1983, when he first opened up.

Mankin was one of the pioneers of natural fabrics; the fad for ruching and tasselling brightly coloured chintzes and satins into elaborate swags- and-tails and Austrian blinds completely passed him by. His fabrics - traditionals like ticking, canvas and gingham - have understated class. "I'm not a fashion person," he says. "We're about style and substance. I've done the same thing since I opened - I've just refined it. But many of the original materials I sold back then are still here."

His new book is called Natural Fabrics, and the shop is a cornucopia of them. But while he has hundreds of different bolts of material all packed into one small emporium, the effect on the eye is harmonious - even though, as he says, nothing actually matches. "I don't produce co- ordinated ranges - there is nothing cutesy or twee here. But even the materials that are produced from different mills or in different countries go together." To prove it, he hurries to compare swatches and bolts of fabric against one another - it's true, they do blend happily together.

Natural does not necessarily mean neutral, although one of Mankin's newest lines is a range of heavy, cream, jacquard fabric embossed with selections of leaves and fruits rather than the traditional, dense, flowery pattern. His canvas weaves, repps and herringbones, calicos and tickings come in dozens of shades - jade green, deep blue, plum, mustard - but all are sumptuous rather than strident. "We do checks, stripes, plains and that's all. It's amazing how much they can vary. There is a strong vogue for bright colour at the moment, and we've had to get some bright colours in," he says, pointing out some tickings striped in mango or pink or crimson, "but I think they'll disappear within 18 months or so." As well as colours, texture is important - particularly for fabrics left undyed. There are chenilles, chevron weaves, textured stripes in different weights. All the fabrics have been names "with an English ring - Cricket Plaid, Wessex Check".

Mankin has worked with materials all his life; his mother was a fine- quality dressmaker and his father's business was textiles and trimmings. He studied at the London College of Fashion, but was interrupted by National Service. "When I came back I didn't feel like sewing. I drifted into my father's business first of all, then into working in the leather trade - you can't get more natural than that. All my linings were cotton, the fittings were brass, buttons were horn - I've still got the horn buttons on my suit."

The recession claimed his leather company and he moved over into natural fabrics, but his first excursions into the field were an economy measure many years before. "My father sold fabrics and one of them was linen scrim - marvellous stuff for polishing, window-cleaners used to use it. When I got my first flat, I was about 23, I made the curtains out of it - in those days it was about 30p a metre. These days it's not about cheapness, it's about the look. If you want to go for the look, you've got to be generous - cheap materials are very thin. It's easy to keep prices down by cutting quality, but I'm very much into quality." With a heavy calico, he says, even the dreaded Austrian blind can look good: "You get a wonderful sculpted look."

Today, he sources his materials from English and Indian fabric mills. "Look at this, it's Jermyn Street shirting, though you won't find it in Jermyn Street now," he says, pulling some soft, checked material from a cupboard, in glowing shades of red-and-white or blue-and-white check. "It would make wonderful curtains, or duvet covers, or pillowcases. It's from the last mill in England that makes these very super-fine poplins - very English. Our Indian materials are also very fine quality - I have them all finished in this country."

Mankin's book suggests curtains, cushion covers and loose covers, blinds, seat covers and pillowcases to make, as well as using the materials for upholstery. One of the greatest advantages of the natural look is that it fits everywhere. "My fabrics have been featured in very modern and very antique homes, and they worked in all of them, because they're so classic - completely timeless."

Natural Fabrics by Ian Mankin is published on 1 May by Ebury Press, pounds 17.99.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

    £10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

    £17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

    £32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot