Meet Caroline Gurtler of Curious Rose
If you love joyful, mouthwatering colour, you’ll love Curious Rose – the creation of Caroline Gurtler. Discover handmade hotties, wheat bags and eye masks all beautifully made in the UK using pure wool and recycled cashmere. Caroline shares her inspirations, the story behind her creative business and her dreams for the future. I hope you enjoy escaping to her colour-filled world for a little while as much as I did…
Please tell us a little bit about what you do and your story
I run my own company, Curious Rose, which has been going about 5 years now and is getting properly established. We make a range of pure wool wheat bags, and hot water bottles, using blanket fabric or recycled cashmere. My policy is to only sell things we’ve designed and had made ourselves, and not to offer any branding for anyone else. Everything is sourced and made in Britain, as far as possible, and I am passionate about the future of British manufacturing.
I love hot bright colours, which we can only get by working with the dyers ourselves to develop the exact shades I want … other ranges of yarn or fabric were just too sludgy. I have a background in textiles, so I wasn’t fazed by the idea of sourcing things myself, or working with people to get an original product range. I love it at the big Christmas fairs when people’s faces light up as they see the colours, having waded through a lot of beige in the rest of the room.
Curious Rose started from nothing but an idea and a casual conversation really, although it had always been in my heart to start my own business. I remember being at a seminar where we had to do a warm up activity, filling in a form with our dreams and interests etc., to get talking with others. I instinctively wrote that my dream was to run my own business, and I realised at that moment that it was time to put my words into action.
Coincidentally, my friend Sara had finished her previous job, and I knew we could work together. She is the ideal partner, as we are very different but both share a love of design. She’s the organised one, I’m the dreamer; I take risks, and she checks the practicalities. We are both quite outgoing, and we love working together at big shows, chatting to customers and bouncing off each other with banter. We’re just a bit jealous of women who get to this point in their 30s, it’s much harder in our 50s with less energy, but on the other hand our children are leaving home so we do have more time.
The journey to this point wasn’t always straightforward. I gaily thought all my ideas would sell, and we ended up with some strange things left that didn’t. I spent too much on the wrong resources, and not enough on others, and I didn’t get enough specialist help – I tried to learn everything myself to save money, but that is such a false economy. We would have reached this point much quicker if I had reached out to website people, photographers, factories and workshops – it’s no fun sewing hard all day and then trying to learn website programming at night. We painfully learned to stick to our own gifts, and now we have a lovely team of individuals across the country, all doing what they do best, that brings us much more satisfaction and joy overall.
I feel we are in a really strong place now, it’s been slow, but we’ve built a lovely business that is poised to grow – and it expresses everything I wanted to say about warmth and colour, real fibres and traditional textiles.
Please describe your products and what makes them special
Our products are all based around our vision ‘Creating Warmth & Comfort’, which we brainstormed one day to try and distil what we wanted the brand to be about. We wanted people to feel safe, reassured, and loved, by cuddling our products.
The products are focused on wheat bags and hot water bottles, sticking to the core values of pure wool and hot colours. We keep the vintage vibe that we started with – we used to make everything out of vintage wool blankets, and we have built on that by finding a traditional weaver who can make the same quality. Our suppliers and makers are British, as far as possible, and it’s really important to us to have that high quality traditional British ethos in our brand.
So we have wheat bags made of woven wool blankets, and long neck warmers made from recycled cashmere. Then our knitted products are created from pure wool yarn, dyed to the same colour recipes as the blankets – this lets us mix and match the products, and gives a clear voice to the brand. The first time the new yarn was delivered was a red letter day here, we had taken a big step forward in creating our own unique range. It is a slower route if you create your products by crafting the actual ingredients first, but it is so satisfying – and anyone wanting to copy our stuff will have quite a journey!
What’s your creative process?
Muddled would probably be the best word here – my studio is a mess, my noticeboard is rammed with sketched ideas, I have books sliding to the floor with torn paper marking things that made me think. I get inspiration from magazines, comedy films, wrapping from deliveries, you name it. Often it’s just that scraps of one colour were put down next to something else and it looks brilliant.
If I remember, I write things down, but it’s mainly in my head – I have a very vivid and clear filing cabinet up there! I can never believe when people say they can’t picture something without seeing it, I live more in my head than in the real world most days. If an idea won’t work past a certain point, I just leave it to simmer while I work on something else, because eventually light will dawn on what needs to be done with it.
I do match this kaleidoscope brain with a fair bit of discipline when I’m designing products though. I measure, I mock-up, I sample, and keep going til I really feel it works. Sara and I work together to decide when something is finished, there’s just a feeling if we have or haven’t hit what we were aiming for.
A lot of my ideas are frankly bonkers, but just sometimes we get something that we know will work. You have to feel free to make a lot of failures, that’s part of product development, and it’s one of the best things about working for ourselves, we don’t report to a committee expecting certain outcomes.
Favourite way to start the day?
I am very spoilt, my husband is an early bird and brings me a cup of tea in bed every morning … he’s aready walked the dog and done several hours work himself! I have a sneaky look round my studio on my way to the shower, it reminds me what I’m working on, and lets the ideas start germinating for the new day. As I work from home, I can do a few jobs first, and settle down to work by 9 ish. Usually onto my third cup of tea by then.
I find I can concentrate best for the first part of the morning, so I try to do all management tasks first. Things like checking in with the knitting workshops, the new factory, packaging printers, emails etc.
Then onto the creative marketing side, playing with my photography in Photoshop, or writing and scheduling social posts. This lets me go over what I’ve been developing, how I want the brand to feel, and shows up the gaps – what I still need to make or do.
I have two main workplaces at home. One is my downstairs office, the converted garage, which is the only room with underfloor heating so no hardship spending hours at the computer! I love this space, I have copper industrial lighting, large windows, and fantastic bright blue planks wallpaper – people always touch it, thinking it’s real.
My real love is my hugely messy studio. The walls are mango or pink, there is one whole wall covered with pinboard that I use for ideas, inspiration, half-finished samples, scraps of colour, and notes. I have one table raised on wheels for photography, all set up with a growing amount of props and lights. My pride and joy is the huge oak table from ebay, that I painted cerulean blue and then turquoise over the top, all patchily sanded and scruffy, it came out just as I wanted. It’s usually piled high with things to finish, I’m much better at ideas than at finishing repetitive tasks….but my colleague Sara is a miracle worker, her main job is keeping me focused! The room is pretty rammed, we have at least 7 sewing machines, not all in use!, and shelves full of textile books or boxes of craft stuff. My friends tease me about the mess, but it’s the perfect place to have ideas.
What keeps you going through the day?
Tea. That’s the thing Sara and I rely on, lots of tea and naughty biscuits…she has to pass Waitrose on the way to work and usually arrives with sneaky treats. I find my best way to keep going is to vary the tasks, so I am on the sort of activity that suits my energy at different times of day. Quite often after dinner at night, I potter back into the studio ‘just to check’ and see a different combination of objects, colours, fabrics, that sparks another train of thought. Sara dreads what I’ll have come up with if she leaves me alone too long…
Top tips for enabling creativity?
This has been a long journey for me, for many years I kept my creativity in a small box. Only in the last 10 years or so (I’m 54 now), have I realised that this massive creative impulse isn’t something many others struggle with, it’s something I have to honour and develop in myself. It’s as though I had to give myself permission, and as I learned to value and express this, I have grown so much happier as a person.
Having committed to running a business gave me the framework to really develop my ideas to a finished state, and getting such lovely feedback from our customers is hugely affirming. So I would say the main thing is to allow yourself to be creative, and structure a regular habit to really see the fruit of your ideas. Reduce stress from other sources, to keep your mind calm to receive ideas. Get lots of sleep, take long walks, drink chamomile tea… all brilliant for keeping a peace in yourself that will let your inner creativity flow.
Oooh tricky. Not winter, but I love all the others, I just hate the cold. Probably my favourite is late Spring, early Summer, warm enough to not shiver but still cool enough to work. Once the hot weather comes I am totally useless, as I just adore lying in the sun doing nothing. Not a great strategy for business success unfortunately.
What do you love best about each season?
I do enjoy winter for snuggling by the fire reading, but I mainly hibernate at this time of year. Spring and Autumn are my most productive times, I love being able to go out with the dog and enjoy the changes going on around us. And Summer, I love lazy days, relaxing with friends and family, I love the long evenings when you can do jobs and still have time left to enjoy at the end.
What do you do when struggling for inspiration?
Oddly enough, I find tidying and cleaning good at this point. I’m not a great one for housework normally, but if I’ve run out of steam creatively I find clearing the decks brings me calm and freedom. Then I might just potter round for a few days, reading, or catching up with people, and when I next sit back down in the studio something will catch my eye and off I go. It’s as though I need a sort of blank time, to renew a bit, then creativity will flow normally again.
Greatest simple pleasures?
We used to travel a lot, and lived in the Far East for a while, but now one of my favourite things is sitting in my garden. It seems silly, but when I imagine a dream scenario, I’m just sitting reading in a beautiful garden. I’m not a passionate gardener, I tend to see it as another way of designing with colour and texture, but that can come to grief when plants need some conditions that I don’t know about. And I want everything to bloom at once, how I designed it in my mind, which apparently is asking too much. If I can sit in a deckchair, surrounded by nature and colour, I’m happy.
Any guilty pleasures you’d care to share?
I read too many novels, and have been known to keep chocolate in my bedside drawer to nibble when I’m reading. And I am very fond of gin.
What’s your approach to setting and achieving your goals?
I have learnt to be kind on myself, as I used to beat myself up about achieving. Now, I plan for the year, break it into three month stints, and sketch out the tasks for each week in a planner. This way I can just focus on the tasks in hand, and not worry so much about the future. If I work on the principle of 1% better, it goes in small stages, which can add up over time without the stress of being ambitious.
What do you like best about the area in which you live?
I live in North London, in a fairly green suburb, and actually this is brilliant despite the bad name suburbia is normally given. I can be at a gallery in London in half an hour, or on a woodland walk in 20 minutes. I can have a large garden, but walk to meet my friends at a pub without feeling isolated in the countryside. It lacks a beach, that’s my only complaint.
Share a real hidden gem with us – the sort of place we’d never find in the guidebooks
My current dream location is Gwithian Beach in Cornwall, although I’m sure others have discovered it. I would love to live there, and I have a photo as my computer wallpaper, to keep my vision alive. An English beach is so varied, rocks, pools, driftwood, waves …I’ve been to many a tropical beach that looks perfect but has far less of interest to a creative mind.
Best place to watch the world go by?
I think I’d probably say train stations. I love a long train ride, you feel kind of anonymous, and no-one is expecting anything of you for a couple of hours. There’s lots of time to have a coffee, and sit and watch the variety of people going by, trying to imagine who they are and where they’re going.
How important is seasonal living to you?
I’m not hugely attuned to the seasons, living in London, and working at home. I do welcome each season, I love the joy of unearthing favourite jumpers or pretty sandals that I’d forgotten about. I enjoy cooking with seasonal food, so I’m probably more tuned in to that on a day to day basis.
I think at the moment Anthropologie, I love their mix of household treasures and jewellery, they seem to have an unusual selection and I love a quirky find. I’m more a fan of a vintage fair, and there’s some good online options at the moment where sellers are selling one-off things through social media.
Most treasured possession?
I have some beautiful 1930s china from my grandmother that I really cherish. It is patterned with nasturtium green and orange, one of my favourite colour combinations.
Our local woods, there’s always something new to find, and I have happy memories of going there with the children. I can’t resist a leaf or a pinecone, they have to come home to the windowsill, waiting to be drawn if I get time.
What are you passionate about right now?
Two things really, the pollution of synthetic fibres and British manufacturing. I taught textiles in the past, and still read a lot about fibre and textile production. People don’t realise when they buy clothes, that the polyester is mainly made in China, with really poor environmental controls, and that’s just making the fabric never mind the fast fashion appalling work conditions. The latter is getting more publicity recently, but the actual fibre production is a major pollutant. Wool is the answer, my friends are bored of me banging on, but it’s true, wool is totally sustainable.
And British manufacturing, all those people who voted out the EU but who still buy imported clothes or food stuffs. Britain has a proud textile history, and we should support that, and buy food locally without the mass transit pollution and add on costs. Grrrr.
What measures do you take to support plastic-free and zero waste?
We are absolutely committed to this approach. Every last scrap is reused or recycled, we are always trying to come up with ideas to use up more offcuts. We bag up our textile waste and it gets picked up by a brilliant recycling firm, one of the largest in the UK, and very friendly despite our business being such small fry for them. I visited them in February and had a tour, 5 or 6 sheds the size of B&Q, all filled and emptied every week, such is the rate of textile waste in this country. More grrrrr.
Our packaging is all recyclable, printed with eco-inks, and posted in compostable bags.
How/why did you start to use recycled cashmere and upcycled wool in your designs?
We have used recycled materials from the beginning. When I was teaching, I used to get the children dyeing squares of wool blanket, which is easy to dye in the microwave, and very instant for them to enjoy. Then I finished that, and was left with bits of blanket in gorgeous colours, so it was natural to design products using those. We went to a large charity warehouse to collect more blankets, and were staggered about the vast amount of cashmere that passes through, also in gorgeous colours. I can’t walk past such a massive free resource and not design something to use it, so it went from there.
Favourite other UK makers?
I love various people making stunning velvet & wallpaper, such as Timorous Beasties (above), Blackpop (below), or Susie Bellamy. Probably because I’m planning my dream extension at the moment, and it’s going to be hot & quirky.
How important is ethical production to you?
This is important, but I think having a commitment to using British suppliers does remove a lot of the concerns here. I have visited all our suppliers, been shown round knitting factories, weaving sheds, sewing workshops, all full of happy craftspeople trained and well paid, in good conditions. Some in the textile trade are 4th or 5th generation owners of these firms, I felt quite humbled to be included.
Best piece of advice based on your experiences so far?
Don’t give up, don’t quit. Having ideas is essential, but after that it is really hard work bringing them to fruition, and not giving up takes real strength of mind. Also ignore other people’s husbands. As a female entrepreneur it seems to be open season on being given business advice, in pubs, parties, dinners, you name it. I’m sure they’d hate it if a woman tried that.
Favourite book of all time and why?
Probably still Pride and Prejudice, I first read it when I was 12. I love the really faint sarcasm, and how she saw real people behaving, it’s just the same today.
Secret to being happy?
Not taking on too much, and enjoying doing a few things well. And tea.
Your goals for the future?
I am really enjoying the stage we are at the moment, Curious Rose is just starting to get properly established, after a few years of building up the products, the quality, the production process, and the brand voice. I hope to have a few years of seeing this do well, and adding to the product range with all my extra ideas. And then there’s that cottage in Cornwall…
Find Curious Rose in the Textiles section of our Directory.
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