47 Bags, Upper North Street

Photo:Steve Ridout with a Cameroonian ceremonial sculpture of a tribal minister and a hand embroidered Uzbek wall hanging

Steve Ridout with a Cameroonian ceremonial sculpture of a tribal minister and a hand embroidered Uzbek wall hanging

Full of oriental carpets and bags

By Judy Bow

Steve Ridout set off on his magic carpet quest from his first shop in London’s Covent Garden more than 20 years ago.  Since then he has weaved his way around the Orient collecting exotic and unique rugs and wallhangings.

Following a decade in Lyme Regis, where they became renowned for the inimitable craftsmanship of their kilim bags, Steve and his business partner Alistair McCready, finally touched down in Upper North Street.

Choosing the right spot for their specialist business was a balancing act between commerce and culture.  Steve and Alistair, who runs the bag design side of 47 Bags, saw the  area as an embryonic creative quartier.  Having scoured Paris and failed to find a suitable location, they homed in on this ‘specialist street’ with its stimulating mix of unusual businesses.

 ‘We could see it was a quiet street, but with a very interesting and up and coming stretch of shops,’ says Steve, ‘and we felt there was the right cosmopolitan atmosphere and culture for what we have to offer.’

The majority of the rugs and wallhangings in Steve’s collection date from between 1900 and 1950.  The rugs are tribal pieces from Iran and Afghanistan, made in the home by members of the extended families, for their own use rather than as a commercial enterprise. 

‘This is what makes the pieces so interesting.  Different members of the family work on different aspects of the rug depending on their experience and expertise.  You can see where the work is handed over to someone else, maybe a younger person being trained in the art.  It makes for irregularities in the patterns and gives the pieces character and beauty.’

Pakistan was Steve’s primary trading post, where he would meet up with local collectors, but the political situation has since changed dramatically and he is no longer able to trade directly as he used to.

‘I miss Pakistan hugely, but it is too dangerous to go there now.  My business was founded on the culture of trust in that country. People work differently there; your word is your bond.

‘On my first trip I met a family with an amazing collection of rugs which I wanted to buy but didn’t have the requisite £30,000 on me.  We made a verbal agreement and the rugs arrived in England without me paying a penny up front.  That was the start of my business.’

‘I still have pieces from those early visits, such as some bags I bought from a refugee family.’

Exquisite hand-embroidered wallhangings, known as Suzani, also form part of Steve’s fascinating collection. While the provenance of the rugs is almost exclusively rural, these textiles were made in Uzbek ateliers for rich urbanites who covered their walls with the richly coloured ornate cloths.  The background for the embroidered patterns is generally silk, and the overall pattern is worked on in separate strips by different teams of professional embroiderers.  The strips are then sewn together, so like the rugs, each piece is a unique work of art with its own particular nuances.

There are also a few whimsical pieces, such as the beaded sculpture of a Cameroonian Baumun minister holding a cornucopia (pictured), and his throne daybed.

Steve’s profound knowledge of his stock and the histories of his pieces makes a visit to his shop an illuminating journey into the world of textiles and their makers.

This page was added on 07/09/2010.

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