Sometimes it really is amazing who you find on Twitter is it not? We just liked the little illustration of a castle that forms the basis of the logo for Small Castle, a Nottinghamshire based leather brand which led us on one of those rambling online journeys, lustfully examining Small Castles limited but perfectly formed range of attractive, useful goods. Small Castle believe that the products purchased from them to house your technology and so forth should remain useful for many years beyond the obsolescence of the gadget, they are designed in a way that they can be used and reused, evolving in function as quickly as you. The English leather they use is intended to age naturally, colours will age and patina will evolve with use, these are characteristics of Small Castle leather goods. Use them often, give them some love and they will hopefully grow old as disgracefully as you. We got in touch with founder and designer Rachel Lovatt and asked her just a few curious questions whilst we were at it…
So how did Small Castle get started. How did you actually go about getting the company up and running?
The first inklings of Small Castle set about whilst selling off my degree show pieces through the interior design shop Mint (Wigmore Street ,W1), a collection of cast glass, hardwood lamps and an assortment of concrete furniture, some with leather upholstery. These pieces were going to go into small scale production, when a daft bike crash shattered my collar bone and put an end to mixing concrete for a couple of months, in the meantime a full time job offer surfaced, so the project was mothballed. A lucrative sideline in redistributing bits of old Volkswagens, product photography, packaging design and a bit of barking up the wrong tree kept me out of trouble until I started running up a few cushions to adorn the new sofa. I had amassed a large collection of vintage silk scarves and was slowly turning these into cushions, when the smouldering remains of Small Castle proved itself perfectly combustible. I got hold of some Cabretta Nappa from Pittards and had fashioned a few articles, but then discovered the beauty of veg tanned leather with it’s unique wear pattern, and ability to produce that patina you just can’t fake. A collection was designed and prototype’d, and before I had even realised, Small Castle was a thing.
What kind of elements inspire you during your design process?
Running the show from my home can be a double edged sword of inspiration and distraction, with the accumulated priceless antiquities, old tat and collected ephemera of life, fueling the need to fashion objects as worthy as those created by others that I have chosen to enjoy and preserve. Yet it can be all too easy to find those same articles diverting the course of progress. What started as planning out a new camera strap, ended six hours later at dusk as the leaf shutter closed for the last time on that roll of 120 film and I realise I forgot to bring a cardigan out with me. As far as direct influence goes, Origami has been a fascination of mine for many years, and when the pattern cutting recommenced it clicked. Working out the construction of a piece for me is an exercise in the simplicity of a cut, fold and the beauty of intersecting angles and a modicum of stitching.
Where do you source your materials?
Thankfully some superb quality leather is available here in Britain, it took a little time, a lot of samples being run through the machines and some wear tests but eventually we found just the right stuff. All our hardware – buckles, fasteners and fixings are British made from saddlery suppliers.
How do you ensure the quality of your product? Where are they manufactured?
Every hide that comes in is inspected carefully, and whilst leather is very much a natural product with its variations and blemishes, if a skin isn’t up to scratch, it goes straight back. We make every single piece here in Nottingham, and on a warm summer’s day with the windows open, the sound of vigorous applause from the Trent Bridge ground is carried into the workshop on the breeze mingling with the gentle percussion of 1930’s Singer. All the sewing is performed using the same machines that Rolls Royce stitched their leather interiors together with back in those inter war years, and the machines are very much still up to the job, using them is a joy, and with them being hand cranked, you can physically feel the needle into the leather, it really is an ebullient process, seeing another product turned out by such an old yet capable piece of British engineering.
What kind production techniques go into making one of your garments?
One of the perils of designing such simple pieces is that there is nowhere to hide, so it has to be constructed perfectly as there is nothing to distract or divert the eye – so no really fancy business going on, it has just got to be cut right and constructed correctly as it is all on view. Every piece of leather is cut by hand using traditional knives and shaped punches, then stamped with the Small Castle monogram, sewn, trimmed, and finally the edges are cleaned and burnished using not much more than elbow grease.
What can we look forward to from Small Castle in the future?
I could hint at astonishing projects in the offing, but that may lead the reader to engage their imagination and conjure up thoughts of hover wallets, with self extracting pound notes – which sadly is beyond my skills, but fingers are in pies, and projects in motion, so evolution is very much evident.
You can follow Small Castle online if you like:
RL & JMN