Great Cornish Food Store Ltd is a company registered in England, No 9997008. VAT registration number 238095786. Registered office: Chapel View Farm, Coombe Lane, Bissoe, Truro, TR4 8RE, United Kingdom.
From her studio tucked away in Mount Edgcumbe, Cornwall’s ‘forgotten corner’, Helen Round designs and produces an array of stunning and sustainable handprinted linens for the kitchen and home. Here, she tells us about growing up in West Cornwall, the inspiration behind her beautiful line drawing designs, and how her handcrafted screen-printing and eco-credentials are causing a buzz far beyond Cornish shores.
Helen spent her younger formative years living in the shadow of a castle on a rocky outcrop off West Cornwall, cut off from civilisation twice a day by the tides. Indeed, she still has relatives and friends who live on St Michael’s Mount and, to this day, she considers this incredible tiny enclave her spiritual home even though she’s now based at the other end of the county.
“I choose to visit the Mount these days when there are fewer visitors around, but I still feel a strong affinity when I return to see friends and family,” she says. “My grandparents moved there seeking a complete change in lifestyle; my father was born there, as was Uncle Derek who remains to this day. I was Christened in the church too, and recall very early memories living surrounded by the sea, before our immediate family moved away. My Dad, who was in the Navy, was posted to Hong Kong and Singapore.”
Fast forward a few years when Helen’s parents were posted back to the UK, not far from Plymouth Sound. “I headed to Camborne College to study Fine Art & Textiles which is where I discovered my love of print making,” Helen recalls. “I married and had children, and soon returned to the classroom – initially teaching art to adults in a range of disciplines such as felt making, paper making and printing, and then delivering art programmes to primary school children in Devon and Cornwall. Both were fun and rewarding, but I yearned to be more creative and rediscover my passion for print and textiles,” she explains. And so Helen Round Designs was born.
“It was your typical kitchen table start up, back in 2012 – seeking inspiration from my beautiful surroundings to create some initial designs, and making a few things which I put on a basic website to see if anything would sell. A bag I made got spotted by Country Homes & Interiors magazine, which caused a little flurry of sales, and then The Guardian ran a piece about my designs when I was exhibiting at the Top Drawer trade show in London. That sparked another flurry,” she recalls.
It was at this point that Helen realised that she could make a go of it as a business. “I was stepping into something that I knew very little about – but I thought ‘I can do this’.” With help from various business support groups in Cornwall, which she still values to this day, she set to work and took on her first employee in 2014.
“From the outset, sustainability, green credentials, and being Cornish has remained at the heart of everything I stand for,” says Helen. “I’ve always been very careful with my possessions. I have some that I really treasure and I always look to reuse and recycle when I don’t need something any more. It’s really important to me that everything we make has longevity and value attached to it. I want to create things that feel fabulous and are truly sustainable, and this is why a fabric like linen is perfect. It’s derived from the flax plant which only needs rainwater to grow, it doesn’t need any pesticides, and every part of the plant is used – in oil and rope – too. We scoured many countries to source our linen. We’re supplied by a wonderful family business in Europe who have similar ecological and local values to us – we’re very lucky.”
Once the linen arrives at Helen’s workshop, each piece is cut individually by hand for the product which is going to be made. “Only then is the linen sent to our print studio – which means that every piece we make is unique, each with its own little piece of individual artwork,” Helen explains. “I don’t think many people realise how much is handmade. Once the linen is printed, it goes through the fixing process, where the fabric pieces are heated to a high temperature to ensure they are washable, and then the products are stitched, quality-checked, completed and packed. We use every piece of linen, as well as other sustainable products like bamboo, so that there’s no waste at all. It’s why we’ve created our eco collection – any mis-prints and pattern-ends can be used for our little pieces.”
Like all businesses, Helen had to adapt quickly to the pandemic and seek new ways to get her stock to market. “Our wholesale business fizzled out overnight, but I had an online store and an online following, so I felt relatively lucky. Fortunately, we have also nurtured a strong following in the USA which has helped to keep our sales ticking over, and I also started to offer online workshops which were fun. It gave people the opportunity to discover new skills. This sustainable way of working has meant that I was able to keep all my staff. Employment in this part of Cornwall can be hard to come by, and it’s always been important to me to create sustainable, year-round jobs for the local economy.”
So what’s next for Helen? “Well,” she muses, “When I’m not walking the stunning coastal path for inspiration and absorbing the sheer beauty of this part of the world, you’ll still find me at my kitchen table dreaming up new ideas. I love to come up with new designs for my linen prints, but I also love the whole product development process, working out how I’m going to make new items: patterns, sizes, how the print will fit etc. At the moment, I’m testing out larger bowl covers and bag holders; I’m also extending our range to sustainable wrapping paper and tape – I want us to be even more sustainable. We have to protect what we have and enjoy the world around us.”
And her quiet lesser-known corner of Cornwall allows Helen to do just that!
We’re delighted to stock a wide selection of Helen’s collections here at the Great Cornish Food Store… from sandwich wraps to Aga pads, from bread bags to bowl covers, and from tea towels to toiletry bags.