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.
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.
‘Votes for Women’ Cushion by Donna Wilson. Photo by Caro Weiss.
‘Votes for Women’ Cushion by Donna Wilson. Photo by Caro Weiss.
As we launch our new AW17 cushion collection, Donna strolls down memory lane to look back at lambswool cushions past and present.
From creatures to cushions…
After the success of my knitted creatures, I wanted to have something else to that would appeal to the same kind of design shops who had been stocking them. I was looking for something woolly and knitted, so cushions seemed like an obvious choice.
My first lambswool cushions featured repeat patterns. I designed the Small Faces motif first – around 2006 – then Dogs, and then my signature Rainy Day and Blah Blah patterns. The transition from making something by yourself to working with a manufacturer is really hard when you’re starting out. I’d been making the creatures by myself, knitting all the fabric on my machine and stitching them together on my sewing machine, then taking them home at night to stuff them and embroider eyes onto them. I couldn’t physically make the cushions myself as you need more high-tech machines for these. I was really lucky to find a great manufacturer, a husband and wife team working in the Scottish borders. They were willing to produce small quantities – 50-100 – rather than 500-1,000 minimums that most manufacturers ask for.
Big in Japan (and beyond)
SCP and Indish, both interior design stores based in London, were two of the first retailers to stock my early cushions, and have been really supportive of me and my work right from the start. Australian stores Safari Living and Space were also great and stocked my whole range.
2006 was also when I first went to Japan. I had an exhibition there, arranged by our now-distributor, Trico. Things really started to take off in Japan after this, with stores placing big orders for my creatures, cushions and blankets. I remember the brown Dog Mini Blankets, in particular, were really popular. The people who bought them told me they really liked them, as there was nothing else like that for babies at the time – just the usual pink and blue.
When you know, you know!
From there, I developed the first of my more commercial designs, the Owl Cushion. This was the cushion that went on to be stocked by John Lewis and Heals around 2009. It took me ages to get the Owl Cushion just right, but as soon as I did, I knew that it was going to be successful. There was something about it – it’s graphic and modern, yet nostalgic – and I thought ‘That’s the one!’ It was right before the whole Scandinavian trend happened, so the timing was perfect.
Birds and beasts
I went on to design a series of similar graphic animal motif cushions, and they’ve stayed a part of our range for some time now! From my Owl Cushion, I then designed a Fox Cushion – everyone loves foxes! Next I added a Robin Cushion, then a Badger Cushion, and then a Dog Cushion, as well as a Rabbit Cushion exclusively for London interior store SMUG. It was hard to better the success of the Owl and the Fox Cushion though, and along with the Robin and Badger cushions, they’ve remained part of our range to this day. For a while I would see the Owl and Fox Cushions everywhere – sofa adverts, in people’s houses on TV, in estate agent brochures!
Alongside the square cushions, we’ve always had our shaped cushions too – clouds, houses, mountains. I think people have generally always come to us for something you couldn’t get elsewhere. Our cushions are a bit different, a bit special. If you can’t afford a new sofa, you can always go and buy yourself a new cushion to refresh your room.
The first woven cushion I designed was the Nos Da Cushion, made exclusively for SCP. The idea came from Sheridan [the owner of SCP] wanting to do a modern take on the traditional Welsh blanket. He wanted it to be made entirely out of British yarn, so he got in touch with the British Wool Marketing Board. They’d been trialing a new yarn, which Sheridan had spun and dyed especially for this project. We wanted the cushions to feel like those old-fashioned, dry, Welsh blankets, to have a vintage feeling. Everything I’d produced up to that point had been soft and felty, and Sheridan wanted these cushions to feel quite different. He really invested in the project and we had lots of bespoke yarn colours dyed – it was quite a lot of work really! The cushions were woven and produced in Wales, and were named Nos Da which means ‘goodnight’ in Welsh. And the Bora Da, which means ‘good morning’ in Welsh were our follow-up design.
Everything I’d produced up to that point had been soft and felty, and Sheridan wanted these cushions to feel quite different. He really invested in the project and we had lots of bespoke yarn colours dyed – it was quite a lot of work really! The cushions were woven and produced in Wales, and were named Nos Da which means ‘goodnight’ in Welsh. And the Bora Da, which means ‘good morning’ in Welsh were our follow-up design.
And now for something new…
My 2017 cushion collection taps into the recurring theme of nature, with playful shaped Mushroom, Acorn, and Leaf designs, plus the more graphic designs of the Flower and Geometric Cushions. This is the first time we’ve featured a flower motif on a cushion. This design has featured before in blankets, but we’ve taken the image and blown it up.
This collection also includes the very special Pennan Cushion, which has been inspired by traditional hand-weaving techniques. It’s important for me to use a mix of different techniques throughout my work. The Geometric Cushions are knitted using a jacquard knitting technique whereas the Flower Cushions, like the animal cushions, use a knitting technique called intarsia. It’s quite unusual to use this in soft furnishings – it’s more commonly used in sweaters and fashion – as it’s more costly as it takes longer to knit, but it’s the best solution if you want to have motif in the middle of the cushion. Over the last few years we’ve also started to make cushions from the same fabric as our woven blankets – like our Forest and Mountain Moon Cushions.
There’s something for everyone in our new cushion collection – we hope you love them as much as we do!
You may have seen this fab BBC2 TV documentary series Amazing Hotels: Life Behind The Lobby currently available to watch on BBC iPlayer. I was delighted to stumble upon the episode about Fogo Island Inn a stunning luxury hotel which is located in Newfoundland, the most northerly region of Canada.
Did you know I had a hand in creating this magnificent place?
The modern building itself sits on a rocky ledge, facing the brutal North Atlantic Sea. I was so honoured to be invited by Ilse Crawford to be part of her team of designers to help to create warm and welcoming interiors for the hotel. Our team travelled to Fogo Island with the architects in 2011 and met the wonderful owner Zita Cobb. You can read more about my unforgettable trip to Fogo Island here.
I was so inspired by extreme weather conditions and the wildlife on this remote Island, This Caribou blanket was an idea I had from witnessing the wild caribou roaming free.
I created some exclusive designs that are available to buy from the Fogo Island Shop
Bertha chair sits in some of the guest rooms. I designed this with a yellow birch wooden frame which is inspired by the traditional boat-makers on the island and upholstered in my specially designed Shingle lambswool fabric. I love this pattern with it’s slightly wonky angles and repeated geometric shapes. It’s inspired by Brett House. You can buy this Shingle scarf here.
I’m so delighted to see my new collaboration with Makoto Kagoshima is finally on display at Isetan Shinjuku store, Tokyo Japan. I wish I was there to see the live mural painting by Makoto and meet all my fans in Japan. Find out more about this collaboration in last week’s blog post.
I’m really excited to announce a new collaboration with one of my favourite ceramicists Makoto Kagoshima. You may have seen coverage on my Instagram page. I first discovered his work at Gallery Eclectic in London and I fell in love instantly. Every piece is an artwork featuring delicately, painted illustrations inspired by the natural world. I just love the animals.
We created a series of limited edition knitted creatures, some of my favourite creatures have been brushed with Makoto’s signature floral patterns. Find larger-than-life lotus flower cushions for your home and delicate flower bag charms that add a touch of colour to a beloved bag. The limted edition range will be available to buy exclusively from Isetan department store in Shinjuku, Japan only from the 5th April. There will be an exhibition of all the products alongside British ceramist John Julien.