a piece of home: with Gemma Drain of East London Cloth

Gemma, founder of East London Cloth, at home in Hackney. 


The tale of East London Cloth is one to make your heart burst with happiness in a year of such sadness. It reminded us just how resourceful people can be in tough times and we couldn’t help but beam as founder Gemma explained how she turned her own COVID-related catastrophe right round for her and her family...

If it seems like East London Cloth popped up out of the blue- their gorgeous ginghams suddenly splashed across your feed on your morning scroll- well, that’s because it literally did happen overnight. Gemma (working as a freelance upholsterer) and her husband (in aviation) both lost huge contracts of work with no warning and, adding insult to injury, had to cancel their long-awaited nuptials. So, armed with a deep appreciation of traditional crafts, reams of beautiful fabric and a whole load of talent, East London Cloth was born.

Like her delicious designs, Gemma's Hackney home is all about incredible fabrics, textures and pieces made to last.

Over to Gemma...

The kitchen walls are painted in Little Greene's, Slaked Lime Mid; aluminium sink sourced in Scandinavia; artwork from Oxfam in Victoria Park and vintage hardware

"We've lived in our house, near Victoria Park, since March 2019. The kitchen was the real selling point for us. It’s huge with such high ceilings and it was the perfect size to split into a kitchen/dining area. I had this romantic idea of the kids playing or doing their homework around the banquette while I cooked. It actually has become exactly that; we always eat dinner at the table and don’t watch much TV. We put most of our budget into re-doing the kitchen first. Luckily two of our friends are carpenters and came and fitted the kitchen for us! Some things I didn't compromise on, like the Sapele parquet floor. I used to work in a reclamation yard so I know floors can really make a room."

"I have learned so much from YouTube. We did all the panelling and built this banquette ourselves. I even know how to tile! It was either we did it or it wasn’t going to get done." 

"This painting is something I would save in a fire. It was painted by my nan. She gave me all my confidence to make things. She was the person who taught me to sew. I would go to her and say, “Nan I want to sew this,” and we would get some books out and just do it. She was the most incredibly creative woman; just so talented."

In Gemma's daughter's room; lamp fixture by Habitat; ELC cushion; pinstripe carpet by Carpetright; vintage sidetable found on the Isle of Wight

In the Master Bedroom: Pooky lampshade and antique lampbase found on eBay; chair reupholstered by Gemma (including the frame for her university project!) in House of Hackney fabric; silk screen print from Arch389 ; headboard reupholstered by Gemma in Sanderson fabric 

"I have a real obsession with the Huguenot townhouses in Spitalfields. I base a lot of my colours and style choices on them. My husband and daughter always joke that I am trying to turn this house into a museum. My design pet-peeve is when people rip out all the period details from houses and I also struggle with all-grey rental houses! I love Lonika Chande's style. The way she mixes pattern and print is genius. I would love to attempt a canopy-bed like hers." 

antique dresser salvaged from a house in Spitalfields, bought on eBay for £20; vintage crockery belonging to Gemma's grandma.

"I find all my best bits on day trips to weird towns in the middle of nowhere. The antiques and charity shops there seems to have a different character to London. Near where I grew up in Suffolk there is a village called Long Melford that is brilliant for antiques. There is also a huge six-storey antiques warehouse in Clare, Suffolk that I love."

 This original maker's mirror belonged to Gemma's grandma, hailing from Northwold Road Stoke Newington according to the insignia on the back; cabbageware pot, a gift from Gemma's parents from an antiques fare in Suffolk.

"I love making. My favourite days are coming back to an empty house, putting on some music, like Lykke Li, or a podcast and just sewing. I couldn't have asked for a better response to East London Cloth. It was supposed to be a slow-growing thing but it just blew-up! What has been lovely is discovering how much I love to work with my partner. Being in lockdown and running the business from home means we all get to spend so much more time together."