Rachel first enjoyed the world of textiles as a small child, learning the art of lace making and weaving at just 7 years old and making a patchwork quilt at 9. With her mother and relatives to help she learnt silk painting and embroidery samples which were often given as early Christmas presents.
Throughout her childhood weekends were spent browsing the local antique centres, fairs and stately homes. At 16 she knew she wanted to work within the arts and left mainstream school to specialise at art school.
A taste developed having the opportunity of each birthday spending the day in Liberties carpet and textiles department and immense book shop where she first started her collection which she still owns and cherishes.
Rachel went on to Farnham art school where she specialised as a weaver, learning to spin, dye weave and design, here she specialised as a rug weaver. During her second year and interviewing leading rug weavers it became clear it would be ‘difficult’ to earn a living as a western weaver and so she decided alongside her degree to do a textile conservation course at weekends.
Here she found taking iron spots out of christening gowns was not her forte but mentioned her love of rugs. The teacher therefore showed her the art of rewhipping (securing the selvedge) on a rug fragment. Rachel was hooked, and went on to spend her college holidays doing work experience with restorers across the UK.
In 1994 from her meetings and contacts during this time when she graduated as a weaver she fell into her first part time position in a rug gallery in Kew. This is where she learnt that to restore was only part of the work, she also had to learn her geography, history, culture, regions, prices and quality of materials. This was when the world of antique and new rugs became so fascinating and continues to do so to this day. There is always a rug which dealers discuss as to its exact provenance, age etc.
While at Kew Rachel met a Persian ‘runner’ of the trade, he specialised in antique and decorative rugs supplying other UK galleries and exposed Rachel to a greater style and variety. Always being self employed trading as Rachel Bassill Oriental Carpets, Rachel took herself to Konya in Turkey to learn and worked with many specialist dealers throughout the UK, exhibited at many London and country antique fairs before sharing her first studio in Battersea with a fellow antique rug dealer and then branching out on her own in 2000.
As said originally trading as Rachel Bassill Oriental Carpets, Rachel expanded and formed The Rug Studio in August 2000 with her first studio in Hampton Wick, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey.
The Rug Studio Hampton Wick worked mainly with trade and some private clients which had been built up at the many antique fairs that Rachel had attended in Pimlico. Chelsea, Kensington and surrounding areas. Rachel continues to this day to be active within the few antique fairs that are still left and continues her presence at many of the interior fairs which she first built up in 2000.
The team became 12 strong and enabled Rachel to travel and gain great contacts and experience travelling and working in Europe, South America, Egypt, Turkey and finally for 6 years she led and trained a team in India for large scale restoration projects.
Her work in India was in the magical setting an hour along the main GT road between Delhi and Calcutta, overlooking the Ganges near Varanassi. The workshop was selected from a variety in Deli, Panipat and Bhadhoi but the setting despite not being the most advanced was set amongst orange trees and one could hear India in the back ground while personally in sat in tranquillity.
The experience of teaching and restoring in India, sharing techniques learnt from Turkish, Persian and Western restorers gave Rachel the skill of teaching and passing on knowledge successfully within the UK team.
Bespoke projects also took on their own identity. Persian silk sumacs, to contemporary natural dyed kilims and hand knotted gabbeh. Sun burst circular rugs to a runner of foot prints in the sand. Rachel has learnt that each country if given the same design will translate it differently. She jokes that India will be 98% as one wanted it, Egypt 95% and Iran perhaps 80-90% but Rachel shares the attitude that Persian rugs are still the best so let the weaver translate and see how it evolves. Bespoke orders are still taken and hand woven kilim, hand knotted and hand tufted can be ordered.
After the studio in Hampton Wick closed in 2006 and the many experiences it led Rachel to it was time to take stock, stop and see where the business would take her. Rachel had 4 children and The Rug Studio led a very low profile with Rachel working from home in her old farm house. Small local fairs kept her hand in with the local market and suppliers while restoration kept her hand in. After 7 years of travel, marketing and staff appraisals Rachel was disillusioned.
Rachel continues to restore and sell antique rugs circa 1850 – 1920, semi old carpets circa 1930 – 2000 and new traditional and contemporary rugs with a small collection of textiles since 1994. Her policy is not to restore a rug until she has found the client who wants to buy it, this way her antique rugs can be affordable to a greater audience.
Due to the fact a hand tufted rug also described as hand woven are not possible to restore they are not stocked at The Rug Studio but only to order. Vintage and retro rugs are also to order only with samples only being kept in house.
Her aim is not just to sell you a rug, but when interested help share her in depth knowledge and understand the history, the quality of the materials and the making behind it. She says ‘A rug makes a dramatic change to a room, it will outlive all our other soft furnishings, why therefore do so many people leave it to the last item in the room rather than value it, love it and create round it, surely make it the first?’
Today restoration projects are either carried out by her personally 2 days per week or other staff members the remainder. Rachel insisted when she reopened the shop after having had a few years out to have her 4 children that she continued to restore personally. The studio also has a trained weaver and textile artist in house to share the work. In addition Rachel will upholster furniture, create cushions and draft excluders and mount textiles. Rachel works with skilled restorers and craftsmen in London, Turkey and Pakistan always choosing the right restorer and country for the job.
The shop in Uppingham is the central hub while the warehouse in London helps keep Rachel on the cutting edge with fresh antique goods and transitional and contemporary trends. It also means even if she personally is unable to be there that her many London clients are able to visit and continue to work with The Rug Studio without having to travel to Uppingham.
Her work continues to involve research across the many trade and antique fairs and travel is still at the forefront of her world. Lectures are still held regularly and Rachel loves nothing more than to share and impart her knowledge and experience within the rug world. Workshops are still to be redeveloped.