Today we are spending a different sort of Day With Donna Wilson in her studio – we get a peek into studio life in Donna’s world and learn a little more about the wool loving lady herself from her team…
Donna Wilson has been quoted as being ‘wonderful with wool’, a ‘material marvel’, a ‘textile designer extraordinaire’ and even an ‘All round textile legend’. As these descriptions suggest, her distinctive designs have won her an army of dedicated fans around the world and given her a reputation as one of Scotland’s brightest design stars. Characterised by a playful nature, tactile aesthetic and multicoloured palette Donna Wilson’s work ranges from colourful knitted creatures to striking upholstered furniture designs.
Here are a few things you may or may not know about Donna’s world!
Donna has always loved making things, drawing and being creative, from an early age she wanted to be a designer. Donna studied Textiles at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen before gaining an MA in Mixed Media and Constructed Textiles at The Royal College of Art in London. It was during her time at the Royal College of Art that Donna enjoyed some early success with her first collection of knitted creatures. Being an industrious sort of person, Donna took the creatures to a shop called Couverture who sold lots every month, which paid her rent while she was at college!
a little wall of things Donna likes, colour, patterns, and artwork inspiration…
After graduating in 2003 Donna set up her own studio which now produces designs for sale in over 15 countries across the globe, which is a lot. As well as her collection of lovable creatures, the past 7 years have seen Donna produce blankets and cushions, trays, wooden dolls, scarves and socks, tea towels, upholstered furniture and even stationery and books. In fact there isn’t much that Donna hasn’t turned her creative hand to!
finding a home for the creatures, cushions and doilies…
Although she has lived in London for ten years now, Donna still takes most of her inspiration from memories of her childhood growing up on a farm in Aberdeenshire in the North East Scotland. When she goes home to visit her family she likes to walk through the beautiful landscape and breathe in the fresh air, which makes her very happy. Her love of the Scottish countryside has influenced her to use texture and organic forms in her work that remind her of home. By using handcrafted techniques like felting, sewing, knitting and wrapping, Donna creates a closeness and familiarity that invites people to connect with her products.
making ‘make your own monster packs’ – work in progress…
Not only is Donna passionate about creating products that people can connect with she is also committed to making things that will last. From her creatures to her upholstery pretty much all of Donna’s designs are made in the UK from 100% natural fibres like Lambswool, which is both highly durable and environmentally friendly. Although achieving this is not always easy, Donna likes to feel that she is doing her bit to keep the declining UK manufacturing industry alive.
the everlasting ironing pile…
By making all of her products in the UK, Donna knows all of her manufacturers personally and works with lots of people up and down the country. For instance, there is Bob and Elizabeth who do all of the knitting in the borders of Scotland. They are a husband and wife team in their 60’s who were recently remarried in Las Vegas!
Monster packs ready for delivery…
Then there’s Elaine in Orkney and Abby in Bournemouth who make a lot of the creatures at home. Donna sends Elaine and Abby a template and a sample along with the knitted fabric, which has been washed, dryed and ironed flat to get all of the greasy oils out. Elaine’s speciality is Cyril Squirrel Fox and Rill whilst Abby is fantastic at Ginge’s.
A week or two later, as if by magic, a box bursting with finished creatures arrives at Donna’s studio which is always a nice surprise!
As you may have gathered, Donna is a very busy person. To be good at being such a busy person she needs assistance, she couldn’t be as wonderfully busy as she is without her team of helpers at her London studio. Firstly there’s Erin, who runs Donna’s studio. She was thrown in at the deep end when she arrived at the studio straight out of college in Dundee. She manages the orders and makes sure Donna’s customers have their wooly treats on time, she is fantastic. She also knits, and sews, which as you can imagine comes in very handy!
Erin cutting the fox cushions…
Donna also has Kate who comes in to offer her special sewing skills two days a week. She is a very good sewer, her record is sewing 25 round covers in an hour! If you don’t know what on earth that means then just trust us when we say she is really, really fast!
Cyril Squirrel Fox’s home in the studio…
And the latest addition to the team, is Laura, who keeps the website up to date and works on the catalogues and price lists.
Donna feels very lucky to work with such great people.
Exhibitions + Achievements
Over the years Donna has done countless installations and shows as well as a few workshops. Recently she designed an exclusive pouffe for a show called ‘Made in Britain’ at the prestigious London department store, Liberty. In January 2009 Donna had her first solo show at The Lighthouse Gallery in Glasgow entitled ‘Escape to the Woods’. She filled the space with knitted trees and blankets to create her very own Donna World… some people got lost in the knitted world and haven’t been seen since!
Organised explosion of colour, pattern, and characters in the studio…
Most recently, Donna Wilson has produced a new range of beautiful ceramic Staffordshire dogs that were launched in January 2010. An icon of 19th century Britain, Staffordshire Dogs were traditionally sold as decorative ceramics for the mantelpiece before becoming the collectible items that they are today.
Donna’s new Staffordshire Dogs have been updated for the 21st century and are wearing their very own unique Fairisle sweaters which have been hand painted using a palette of bright colours and golden gilding.. Donna would love to re introduce people to the Staffordshire Dogs and make them popular once again.
Donna in studio space, East End London….
Author: Rohini Wahi
Rohini is a London based freelance journalist and trend forecaster for the design industries. She has worked for Elle Decoration, Living Etc, Houzz and Design Sponge amongst others.
She loves a period drama and keeps a tidy home. Launched in 2007 The Beat That My Heart Skipped focuses on home inspirations, design trends, lifestyle and food – coupled with an insight into Rohini’s work and home life – from key picks at trade shows to styled weekend soirees. To contact Rohini for queries, work for hire or just to say hi drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org