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Blog Category: Donna’s Diary

Studio Sample Sale

9 November 2018

It’s the most wonderful, woolliest time of the year!

Every year, we open up the doors our Bethnal Green studio workshop for a pre-Xmas Sample Sale. We’re excited to announce that this year’s sale will take place from Friday 30th November to Sunday 2nd December, so save the date!

Shop one-of-a-kind samples, discontinued styles, and slight seconds of our much sought-after woolly cushions, printed cotton cushions, ceramics, cosy lambswool hats, scarves, mittens, gloves, mini blankets, and much, MUCH, more!

Please note: our sample sale usually attracts a queue, but we’ll be on hand with tasty treats and mulled wine to warm your paws. The early bird catches the worm, and we’ll have some extra special deals available each day (more info to follow).

Opening hours

Friday 30th November – 5pm to 8pm
Saturday 1st December – 10am to 6pm
Sunday 2nd December – 11am to 4pm

Some useful info

We accept cash and card payments – no cheques!
All sample sale purchases are final and all items are sold as-seen – we cannot offer exchanges or returns on any items.
All items are sold on a first-come, first served basis, and we’re unable to reserve any stock.

Please also note, we do not offer items from our current collection in the sample sale.

If you’d like to be notified of our sample sales nearer the time, please sign up for our newsletter here or follow us on Facebook or Instagram.

Tormented Textiles Podcast with Freddie Robins + Martina Margetts

8 October 2018

As you may know, this year is the fifteenth birthday of my brand, and we celebrated last month with a pop-up shop as part of Shoreditch Design Triangle, where we set ourselves the challenge of hosting fifteen events (I think we made it?!).

One of the main events was a Tormented Textiles panel discussion, where I was joined by textile artist Freddie Robins and contemporary craft expert Martina Margetts for a panel discussion on the trials and tribulations of living a creative life. As Martina pointed out at the start of the talk, we’re all connected by the Royal College of Art – both Freddie and Martina have taught there, and it’s where I studied for my MA in Mixed Media Textiles, which brought about the start of my career.

As artists and designers working with textiles, Freddie and I have had quite different, contrasting careers. Whilst I’ve spent the last fifteen years building a commercial brand, Freddie is an internationally renowned textile artist, educator, researcher and writer, whose work challenges the idea of knitting as craft. As one of my tutors at the Royal College of Art, and she gave me the confidence to approach the very first store to stock my Donna Dolls, Couverture and the Garbstore in West London – without Freddie’s encouragement, I would have probably been too shy! She’s continued to be an inspiration throughout my career, so I was thrilled that she could join me to reflect upon the last fifteen years.

As the editor of the Craft Council’s Crafts magazine for nine years and postgraduate teacher at the Royal College of Arts, critic and theorist Martina Margetts did an amazing job of leading the discussion, asking lots of thought-provoking, challenging questions.

What draws us all together – and what I hope comes through in our discussion – is our passion for crafts and making.

Here are a few soundbites starters, and you can listen to the full conversation and Q&A session on Soundcloud via the link below – special thanks to Alice Williams for the audio recording for this podcast, and also for my How to Start a Creative Business podcast with Yiying Wang of Noodoll.

There’s an issue of textile art not being valued as highly. We had a really big tapestry on display in the window [of the pop-up shop]. When the artist told me it was worth around £2,000, I thought ‘wow, that’s quite a lot of money’ – but if it were painting, no one would blink an eye. I think if people see how something’s made, and they see the time it takes to make it, they might have more respect for the value that’s put on it. – Donna Wilson

I don’t think there was anyone in Crafts Magazine’s Power List who worked specifically in textiles. The people at the top of the list, who were seen to be the most powerful, were writers – or if they were makers, they were makers who wrote and were very well published, like Edmund de Waal, or makers who make in hard materials. That tells me that textiles is still not received or heard as well as it should be. For me, that was a bit of a wake-up call. – Freddie Robins

The game is being raised all the time, from our release from a sense of automatic understanding of everydayness – because textile is textile – into a really carefully inflected appraisal of what textile is offering us. Even though we’ve got Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin, both heavily engaged in textile, we’re still not quite there yet. – Martina Margetts

I should also mention that Freddie collaborated with me on a gorgeous pair of gloves for my new Autumn Winter collection – the All the Time Gloves – and as a special treat, you can use the code TICKTOCK20 for 20% off via my online shop.

Donna x

Donna Wilson - All The Time Gloves - Caspian

All the Time Gloves - Appear Here

How to Start a Creative Business – Donna Wilson + Noodoll

3 October 2018

Thank you to everyone who joined us at our Shoreditch Design Triangle Pop-up shop last month to celebrate our 15th birthday – it was so great to meet so many of you!

One of my highlights was a session on ‘How To Start a Creative Business’ with my friend Yiying Wang, the creator of Noodoll. I met Yiying when I was studying at the Royal College of Art, and we’ve since worked together a few times, so it was really great to look back over the last fifteen years and reflect on how both of our businesses have developed and grown.

We had a full house, but for those of you who couldn’t make it we recorded discussion, along with the Q&A session afterwards – a big thank you to Alice Williams for making this possible! You can listen on Soundcloud via the link below – and if you have any questions for either Yiying or myself, leave them in the comments below.

And if you enjoy this, you might also enjoy listening to my Tormented Textiles podcast with Freddie Robins and Martina Margetts, also on Soundcloud.

Donna x

Donna Wilson & Yiying Wang

Donna Wilson & Yiying Wang

 

 

From Glasgow Women’s Library – Votes for Women

1 March 2018
When the weather is cold, what could be better than cosying up indoors with a book – or a book-shaped ‘Votes for Women’ Cushion?!

Last year, Glasgow-based curators Panel (Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan) invited me to be a part of their project with the Glasgow Women’s Library. Launching this month to coincide with International Women’s Day, From Glasgow Women’s Library is a collection of six products exclusive to the Glasgow Women’s Library shop. Each one explores the history of women in Glasgow and Scotland through the huge range of material housed within the Glasgow Women’s Library archive.

My knitted ‘Votes for Women’ Cushion was inspired by the library’s many treasures that celebrate the lives and achievements of women. From their lending library of ‘hard to find’ books by, for and about women, to their collections of knitting patterns, recipe books, Suffragette memorabilia and Radical Feminist campaigning materials.

After visiting the library, I went away and sketched ideas for a number of outcomes – including bags, jewellery, and ceramics. I’d been working on a series of knitted cushions shaped like book covers for my AW18 collection and just before a meeting with Catriona and Lucy, the idea of a knitted book cushion designed especially for Library came to me. It was the perfect fit! The title of the book – ‘Votes for Women’ – and the design of a stylised woman wearing a sash are inspired by the women’s suffrage movement and its role in securing the Representation of the People Act (which enabled all men and some women over the age of 30 to vote for the first time), exactly 100 years ago.

Each ‘Votes for Women’ Cushion has been knitted in Scotland from 100% lambswool, before being hand-finished in my London studio-workshop. I hope that my cushion appeals to the visitors of the Glasgow Women’s Library as a symbol of what it represents, as well as being a comfy, practical product that would fit in anyone’s home. It craftily brings together the inextricably linked ‘personal’ and ‘political’ realms of women’s lives.

You can buy the ‘Votes for Women’ Cushion (a limited edition of 30) and the rest of the specially commissioned products – including a fabulous Feminist Charms Bracelet by Ruth Ewan – exclusively from the Glasgow Women’s Library website from 1st March.

#FromGWL

Panko or Votes for Women (The Great Card Game. Photo by Caro Weiss.

Inspiration from the Glasgow Women’s Library archive: Panko or Votes for Women (The Great Card Game Suffragists v. Anti-Suffragists) (2010.76). 48 playing cards, featuring cartoons by E.T. Reed of Punch magazine, c.1910. Photo by Caro Weiss.

Donna Wilson - 'Votes For Women' Cushion. Photo by Caro Weiss.

‘Votes for Women’ Cushion by Donna Wilson. Photo by Caro Weiss.

 

Donna Wilson - 'Votes For Women' Cushion. Photo by Caro Weiss.

‘Votes for Women’ Cushion by Donna Wilson. Photo by Caro Weiss.

Spring Summer Launch Party

6 February 2018

Our new Spring / Summer collection is a playful celebration of pattern and colour, exploring new textures and techniques.

We toasted the launch of our new collection at our Pop-Up Shop (alas, no more!) in the company of press and stockists. A big thank you to fiddler Lewis Murray and his musicians who provided a soundtrack of Scottish folk music, to Pickled Plates for their Donna Wilson-inspired nibbles, and to Taran Wilkhu for capturing photos of the evening.

Here’s a quick tour of the collection…

Ceramic plates, jugs and mugs

Our familiar Dove, Tree and Acorn motifs have been added to bone china dinner plates, jugs and mugs to make beautiful tableware with which to dine with friends and family. And in a new direction for 2018, we’ve expanded our ceramics collection to include a series of handmade, shaped plates. Perfectly imperfect, each features a woodland design impressed into the clay, finished with a matte glaze for an earthy, organic touch.

Shop new ceramics.

Spring Summer 2018 Ceramics

Spring Summer 2018 Ceramics

Balloons and bonbons

Inspired by childhood nostalgia and children’s birthday parties, this season’s signature shaped cushions take the shape of colourful balloons and bright bonbons – the perfect pillows to give you the sweetest of dreams!

Shop balloons and bonbons.

Donna Wilson Spring Summer 2018 - Balloons

Donna Wilson Spring Summer 2018 - Bonbons

Silk scarves – coming soon!

New for 2018, these luxurious, 100% silk scarves complement our existing fashion collection with a pop of colour and pattern. Printed onto silk twill fabric, Donna’s bright and colourful motifs come in three designs, each one in two sizes, with two colourways to choose from.

Donna Wilson Spring Summer 2018 - Silk Scarves

Donna Wilson Spring Summer 2018 - Silk Scarves

Lionel and Richie

Not one but two lions join our ever-growing animal gang this season. Knitted from soft 100% lambswool yarn and crowned with felted manes, these friendly cats are fitting kings of the jungle.

Shop Lionel and Richie.

Donna Wilson Spring Summer 2018 - Lionel and Richie

Pickled Plates

The Creature Collective

24 October 2017

Donna shares the story of her creature collection, from long-leggy dolls to squirrel fox families – and all the weird and wonderful characters in between.

Once upon a time…

It all started when I was at the Royal College of Art in London, working towards an MA in Mixed Media Textiles. I started working on the knitting machines and really enjoyed the fact that the results were quite instant. I could create patterns and textures and everything as I wanted to, but I wanted to make them into something – a product.

Donna Dolls

In between my first and second years at the RCA, I started to make my Donna Dolls. Their bodies were made out of recycled jumpers – at first I started out using my own old clothing, then when I ran out I would trawl the local charity shops for knitwear in all different kinds of skin tones. They were quite simple. For the face, I gave them two eyes, leaving the rest up to the imagination, then I’d style their hair and make clothes for each one. I never got bored of making them because each one was so different. Their outfits would vary by season, so in the winter they had hats, scarves and bags, and in the summer they might be wearing bikinis!

Donna Wilson - Donna Dolls

Initially, I made just six dolls and took them into college. My tutor, Freddie Robins, suggested I show them to some shops and see if they’d be interested to stock them. My very first customer was the London boutique, Couverture and the Garbstore. Freddie gave me the confidence to approach them – I think before that I’d have probably been too shy. I took my dolls into the store and they asked me to leave them there so they could show them to the boss. I got a phone-call pretty soon after saying, ‘We love them and we’ll take them all!’

It was my first experience of selling to a store and a great learning curve. Couverture went on to buy around twenty dolls a month, which paid my rent through college. People would send me requests for bespoke Donna Dolls. I made giant Donna Dolls, dolls for famous clients – I made one for my friend Thorsten who I interviewed recently for the blog, sporting embroidered stubble and wearing his signature flip-flops.

Creature Feature

After the success of the Donna Dolls, I started to think about how I could develop them into a new product. Although they weren’t traditionally ‘pretty’ dolls, they were still quite conventional in form. I was inspired by how you draw as a child – when it doesn’t really matter how many legs or arms or eyes you draw; it’s just creative and free. I liked the spontaneity and freedom to just design a shape, and the idea of making a doll that was all-inclusive – it wasn’t about being perfect, but more about being imperfectly unique.

Donna Wilson - Early Creatures

The very first creatures I made were amongst my weirdest and most wonderful. Cannibdoll, for example, was inspired by a TV documentary I’d seen about a German cannibal who was looking for someone to eat. I  just thought that was the weirdest story ever! He was joined by Edd Red Head, Angry Ginger, Peggy Long Legs and Bunny Blue, who were all equally peculiar in their own unique ways.

Perfectly imperfect

Making my creatures by hand means that they all imperfect. You could never make two exactly the same. Even now when we make a big batch of Cyril Squirrel Foxes, they will all have a slightly different expression. What I love about them is that you might see two slightly different Charlie Monkeys in a shop, but one person will be drawn to one, and another person will want the other. The amazing thing about the creatures is that they appeal to adults just as much – in fact even more so in some ways – as children. They’re not too cute, but I didn’t want to make them too ugly or scary either. They’re somewhere in between, and that’s what I think has made them so recognisable.

Donna Wilson Creatures

It’s what’s inside that counts

It’s always started with the design, but right from the beginning the creatures’ names and personalities have been very important to me. Each one came with a tag or keyring where I’d write a little about them. It was as much about that as it was about the actual creature. I wanted people to know who they were; what they liked and disliked.

As I embroider their eyes and features, drawing out their personalities with a needle and thread, each creature tells me what type of character they are. The name comes along afterwards. I still look at them and think about their personalities – whether they’re sad or angry… I think that’s why people like the cats, for example, because they’re not cute cats, they’re quite grumpy cats.

I’m not picking favourites but…

It’s hard to choose a favourite, but I think Cyril Squirrel Fox is my long-time love. He’s my own interpretation of an animal. I didn’t want to make just a normal squirrel or a normal fox – I wanted to do my own take, so I thought I’d merge the two together and see what came out. Around 2006, Cyril was born. I made him a friend, Rudy Raccoon, then they had babies – Ralf and Rill – who had different characteristics from their parents. In Japan they think Cyril is a girl. It’s all open to interpretation.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Ed Redhead too – he has a giant red head with a tiny brown body. He’s just so weird – and kind of multi-functional in that he’s a creature, but also a cushion.

Donna's Favourites

Handmade with love

We still make the creatures now as we did when I was making each one myself – knitting the panels on a domestic knitting machine out of soft lambswool, which is felted, cut and sewn into shapes and then hand-embroidered and stuffed. That’s a process I never want to change. I think that’s what makes them unique. Any little imperfections make them what they are, and the handmade process imbues each one with a little bit of love. It’s just as important as the finished product.

What has changed, is that today I don’t make them all myself. We have a full-time seamstress in the studio, Lora, who is a one-woman creature factory, and we also employ outworkers in the UK, who make the creatures in their own homes. There are three or four in total, but the longest-standing is Elaine. She lives on Orkney, a small island to the north of Scotland. At last count, she’s made close to 3,000 Cyril Squirrel Foxes, along with many other creatures, which she sends to me at my London studio. I love it when the creatures arrive and jump out of their boxes!

I don’t think I’ll ever stop designing and making my creatures – they’re a huge part of my story, and I love that they are so often the thing that people are first drawn to when they see my collections.

Donna Wilson in her studio

If you enjoyed a sneak peek into the history of Donna’s creatures, you might also enjoy learning about her cushions in her blog post, The Cushion Collective. You can also see and read even more about Donna’s work in the book Donna Wilson: Odd Objects & Textiles.