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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 Ed Redhead, 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.

Donna Wilson x Land Of Nod

17 November 2016

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! We can finally share Donna’s exclusive collaboration with US brand Land Of Nod. The perfect pieces to deck the halls!

We love Land Of Nod’s unique approach to designing products for children and families, with a nod towards the past and re-exploring childhood favorites. Donna’s Holiday Helpers feature on decorations, stockings, a fabric advent calendar and even tree skirt to sit your gifts. Find your nearest Land Of Nod store here.

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Donna has also created special designs for Land Of Nod’s classic Executive Nod Chairs. These are comfy mini chairs created for especially kids. Meet Moose and Polar Bear.

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Go For Gold! Olympics Rio 2016

5 August 2016

Go For Gold! The Creatures are off to #Rio2016

We are buzzing here at the London studio for the beginning of the Rio Olympics 2016. Can you believe it was only 4 years ago that London hosted The Games right, and right on our doorstep!
We hope these thrilling events encourage you to get active and sporty. Check out our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter daily to see what Donna’s colourful Creatures are up to at the Games!
This month we are offering something really special to celebrate. . .

When you buy any
#DonnaWilson Knitted Creature you will receive a specially designed gold medal! Everyone is a winner!

#DonnaWilsonOlympics #RioOlympics #Design #Animation Animation by Oliver’s Island 

Now Showing: Goose The Bear with Ljubljana Puppet Theatre

27 April 2016

Did you ever want to see Big Ted come to life? Well this month in Ljubljana, Slovenia you have the chance to see him walking, talking even swimming!

Friday saw the premiere of children’s story Goose the Bear, the first puppet show to feature Donna Wilson’s wonderful woolly creations.  Goose the Bear is a heart-warming German tale written by Katja Gehrmann. A bear gets more than he bargained when he rescues an egg from the jaws of a hungry fox. The egg hatches a confused little gosling who believes he is a bear, and tries to prove this to his newfound mother the bear.

We feel so privileged to have worked with Lljubljana Puppet Theatre on this project. We hope our lovely fans get the chance to visit. Tickets are still available to buy here.

 

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Ljubljana Puppet Theatre specialises in puppet shows and drama performances for both young and adult audiences in a grand building with 6 in-house venues with almost 1000 seats overall. The Theatre pays special attention to the cultural education and care for the Slovenian puppet heritage.

When you step into the cosy auditorium, you are greeted by our tall signature knitted trees. You will find that absolutely everything from the stage, to the surrounding walls and ceiling is dressed in our brightly patterned lambswool. Look out for the Hungry Fox, the Mischievous Squirrel and of course the stars of the show Big Bear and the Little Goose!

 

 

Donna was so thrilled for this unique opportunity when she was approached by the Lljubljana Puppet Theatre last year. She has been very much involved in the production process from the beginning and even flew out with the family to Ljubljana to check out the rehearsals. Everything has been knitted in our London studio whilst the Theatre’s skilled team of performers and makers in their spectacular workshop made the magic happen on stage. We hope we can take the show on the road soon!

Photo credit: Urška Boljkovac, Donna Wilson, @jajanjaja

It’s that time of the year again: our annual Sample Sale is here!

13 November 2015

Once a year, we open up the doors of our East London studio and workshop for a sample sale!
You’re invited to our next sample sale taking place 26th – 29th November; please join us for some holiday shopping with winter cocktails, cheery Christmas music, and many a bargain!

Dates & Hours:
Thursday 26th November, 6-8pm
Friday 27th November, 10am-8pm
Saturday 28th November, 10am-6pm
Sunday 29th November, 11am-4pm

Location:
Donna Wilson Studio
17 Pundersons Gardens, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9QG
We are just a couple minutes walk from the Bethnal Green tube station on the Central line.
Click here to view in GoogleMaps.

We will be offering one-of-a-kind samples, discontinued styles, and slight seconds of our much sought after woolly cushions, printed cotton cushions, ceramics, cosy winter hats, scarves, mittens, gloves, mini blankets, and much more! Please note that we will not be offering any stock from our current collection.

Visit our Facebook Event Page for sneak peek photos leading up to the event of what we will offer at the sample sale.

For our friends around the globe who will not be in London, we will have an online sample sale at the end of February. Please keep an eye on our Facebook page for details closer to the time!

And please sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this page or follow us on Facebook if you’d like to be notified of our sample sales nearer the time.

Talk & Workshop at CCC Gallery in Japan

28 October 2015

The opening weekend at the Center for Creative Communications included a talk and workshop with local fans and students led by Donna.

CCC Gallery’s objectives with the talk and workshop this weekend were to explore Donna’s inspirations behind her magical wonderland and the ways Donna has built her independent brand while maintaining its focus on handmade quality and craftsmanship.

Take a look at some of the snapshots from the weekend’s talk and workshop – what fun!

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Click here for more information about the exhibition and related events.