From gorgeous handmade doorstops and memo boards to dotty napkins and floral cushions, Butterfly Barn’s products are the epitome of the shabby chic trend. Now the company is calling on the region’s natty knitters for its newest collection, says Lindsay Jennings.

FLOUR has just been thrown all over Nicky Dent’s kitchen worktop and there’s a burst of laughter from her two-year-old niece, Ava, and her little friends Sylvie, Nina and Jack.

“Make sure you get some in the bowl, Ava,” laughs Nicky, as the three make cupcakes. Today is photoshoot day for Aunty Nicky’s business, Butterfly Barn, which she runs with friend Michelle Hoult. The children are wearing Butterfly Barn’s handmade gingham aprons, the latest additions to the business which is growing nicely thanks to a new website and a mention in the April edition of the fashion Bible, Vogue.

Nicky and Michelle make beautiful products from floral cushions, memoboards and bunting to dotty napkins, table runners and, of course, aprons. The materials they use are all vintage-inspired and British-sourced and handmade at their homes at Cornsay, near Durham City. Giant buttons and colourful ribbons feature strongly in their collections and they describe their designs as country style, shabby chic.

“It started off with the memoboards,” says Nicky, 30. “We couldn’t find any that we liked so we decided to make our own and then we moved on to doorstops. We developed it as a ‘mix and match’ collection, which is what we love in our own homes, and we’re inspired constantly by the County Durham countryside where we live.

“Most of the fabrics work together, whether it’s spots on pink or roses on pale grey, and it was really important to us for the products to be British. Even the cotton is spun in the UK.”

Nicky and Michelle, 25, began selling at small craft fairs before taking a stall in Durham Market. They bought their fabric from Laura Ashley initially and started looking for another supplier as the business took off. They’ve built it up literally from their kitchen table (the same one that is now covered in flour) and the orders are increasing every week.

The pair, who won Durham Markets’ Stepping Up competition in March, are hoping to get Butterfly Barn in to more retail outlets across the North and see sales increase via their website,

Nicky and Michelle pride themselves on using British materials and – aside from icing cupcakes and supervising toddlers at their photoshoot – they are on the look-out for a team of North-East knitters to help them create their British wool cushions for their forthcoming autumn/ winter collection.

“We’ve got a couple of knitters already, but we’d love to have a team making our handmade cushions,” says Nicky. “In London they’re having knitting parties all the time and we want to bring that to the North- East and to have a community feel at the same time.”

Butterfly Barn, she says, is more than a soft furnishings business. It has spun out of a lifestyle they have engaged in. The pair love vintage crockery, cupcakes, afternoon tea in the garden and shabby chic furniture.

Nicky is tottering around the photoshoot in high heels and a Fifties prom polka dot dress which swings as she walks thanks to an amazing net underskirt.

“I love having friends and family around for afternoon tea. It’s such a lovely atmosphere,” she says. “My mum has always loved baking and my sister loves making vintage-inspired products for her business. Our products have the feel of a bygone era.”

This love of British times gone by comes out in their handmade products which always arrive beautifully wrapped and with a hand-signed card. Prices range from £16 for a small cushion; £12 for a children’s apron and £20 for a set of four napkins.

And, given the cupcake cream which has just been accidentally added to Ava’s apron by Sylvie, the products are quite robust too.

• Visit Butterfly Barn at