Molly Mahon is a printmaker based in Sussex. From her garden studio, she creates designs that are inspired by her rural surroundings and her travels to Jaipur, where many of her fabrics are block-printed by hand. Molly Mahon’s collection includes fabric, soft-furnishings, wallpaper, accessories and stationery. She regularly hosts block-printing workshops across the UK.
From top shelf down:
Charleston [the Sussex home of the Bloomsbury Group] is a celebration of colour and simple pattern and it has had a massive impact on what I do. I am fascinated with the Bloomsbury Group. I’m not so interested in their personal or political views – it’s the aesthetic that they achieved that I find so inspiring. I love the informality of it. They painted everything: the walls, the cupboards, the fireplaces – no surface has been left plain. From my first visit, I felt a total affinity with Vanessa Bell so I’ve painted the cupboard in my studio, I’ve painted our stairway and our stone fireplace. It’s a case of marking your home, I think. We live in a woodsman’s cottage that dates back to 1640. Many people have lived here before us and I’m sure people have done their bit to it as they’ve come along. I feel that it’s my right to do my thing to it, too.
I bring these squeezy bottles with me to all my block-printing workshops. They’re much easier to transport and you can see the colour instantly. They work brilliantly, provided you don’t shake them too vigorously! I am completely fascinated by colour and I choose combinations based on how they make me feel. I’m constantly interested in that response. I don’t adhere to any rules, possibly because I didn’t study art. I recently went on a natural dyeing course led by Kathryn Davey and I created my own book of colour samples derived from natural ingredients. I’m using these samples to build up my next fabric collection. I am partial to hot pink and red, but I feel that as one progresses through life, things change. My kids are getting older, and I feel like I’m getting older. When I started it was an explosion of excitement and I printed with bright colours I couldn’t find elsewhere. Maybe as I get more confident I feel a bit more grounded, which is being reflected in the palette I’m currently drawn to.
I use paper and tracing paper to come up with a new design for a block. Once I’m happy with a design, I send it to India to be carved. As soon as the block is returned, I cannot wait to get into the studio and start printing. I mix up the colour and print endlessly on to paper, experimenting with colours. Normally I find that certain patterns work in certain colours. I cut them up and keep the ones that I think are successful and throw away the ones that aren’t. All of this experimenting will feed into my next collection of fabrics. It’s also something I do with my children. I really have fallen into my mother’s shoes in that way. It was very normal on a Saturday for Mum to be doing something creative, and for us to join in with it. My kids often give me ideas because they put colours together in a really free way.
Personalised art box
My grandmother was an artist and this was a gift from her for my 10th birthday. My secret first name is Belinda. My parents wanted to call me Molly, but my grandmother didn’t think that was a proper name, so they called me Belinda to keep her happy. It’s such a personal gift, and I was so thrilled because my grandmother was quite scary, but she’d taken the time to write my name on it. My grandmother had a studio in her house until the day she died and always painted for pleasure. My grandfather used to weave rugs, and my mother is also an artist. My family have always been very good and doing things with their hands.
I don’t have a design background; I wasn’t even allowed to do art GCSE and I remember that being a real disappointment because nothing really bought me the same joy as actually being creative with my hands. As an adult, I continued my self-teachings, first with life-drawing courses and later with a block-printing course. I lived in London at the time, and the course I went on was run by Angel Hughes from her studio in Sussex. I was mesmerised by the amazing blocks she had and how quickly you could create something. That was where I first learnt about block-printing. Later, when we moved to Sussex I worked for Angel. I found block-printing incredibly soothing. It was really peaceful time out.
The fabric samples in this drawer are all from Jaipur. I first went to India five years ago to learn more about block-printing. On that first trip, I wanted to bring Jaipur back in a bag. It was that classic case of stepping out into the colour and joy of India and falling head over heels in love with it all. I went with my brother-in-law, who took me on a tour of Jaipur. We met so many fascinating characters, I soon realised there was so much to learn, and so much potential to create out there. Now, all our fabric is hand-printed in 20cm blocks in and around Jaipur. When I visit India, I go alone for a couple of weeks at a time. I’m very happy there by myself because I achieve such a lot creatively while I’m there. I become 100% the designer that I want to be.
This belonged to my grandmother, who was such a beaming character. It sat in the corner of her house for years. I remember her standing at her front door in Odiham, Hampshire, waving it at some royal event. Our grandparents were so patriotic, so proud to be British and I think I am too. This lives in our kitchen now and I bring it out at parties. It’s a wonderful thing, an old flag.
Bird and bees wallpaper
This roll of wallpaper represents the beginning of my business. Seven years ago, a friend of mine persuaded me to create the wallpaper for one of the shepherd’s huts she rents out on her farm. She has a beautiful woodland full of birds and bees, so I created the design based on her surroundings. I carved it into a lino block that was exactly half the width of a roll of lining paper that I bought from Homebase. I rigged up a hanging system in my garage and printed several rolls of it in Farrow and Ball’s Arsenic emulsion paint. The paper was hung in one of the huts, and when the hut was rented guests began to ask them where it was from. The business grew organically from there.