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.
Donna takes us behind the scenes of her new woven throws and cushions, inspired by childhood memories of her most treasured place, Pennan.
The Pennan throws and cushions are woven in the UK, in a small mill in Bristol. Made from 100% lambswool, the Pennan design is based on traditional handwoven weaving techniques, and is inspired by a small Scottish fishing village on the Aberdeenshire coast near where I grew up.
A village frozen in time
Pennan is a unique place. Nestled into the surrounding cliffs, it can never get any bigger. It seems to have been frozen in time. My grandma used to take me there as a girl, and we’d spend hours walking along its long pebbly beach, collecting stones and sea glass worn smooth by the waves and exploring the abandoned fishing boats. Even now, Pennan is my most treasured place. It feels so remote, a million miles away from the chaos of London life!
Fruits of the Sea
The Pennan design, with its exaggerated floats and strands of chunky wool, is reminiscent of the sea’s waves, and its muted shades of green and yellow are inspired by the beautiful colours of the landscape of North East Scotland.
Pennan is also the village where the film Local Hero was shot in the 1970s. It’s a story about a rich American oil company employee who is sent to a fictional version of the village, Ferness, to buy up the town for his company, spelling the end of traditional village life.
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!
In my recent interview with Molly from Secret Linen Store we discussed bedrooms, lie-ins and ideal midnight feasts! It got me inspired to look at beautiful bedrooms and how to balance restfulness and still add your personality. In my own home I like to mix natural materials and lots of colour!
Have at look at my Pinterest board For Home for more.
Natural Wood I love natural materials and there is something so warming about exposed wood grain in particular. Plywood is such versatile material and so strong you could even build a little hideaway like this Brooklyn loft!
Photos L-R: Concealed nook for a restful sleep (photo by Sean Fennessy), A Cabin in a Loft, raw wood bedframe (photo by Mark Tuckey)
Pattern clash and mixing colours I’m inspired by patterns I find in my travels and use lots of colour in my work. I really think there’s no rules when it come to mixing and matching. There’s something so special about the combinations of colours in a patchwork quilt. Photos L-R: (photo by Laure Joliet). A room with a spectacular view Fogo Island Inn room designed by Isle Crawford, featuring our very own Bertha Chair. My signature cushions Dotty Cushion, Forest Woven Cushion, Robin Cushion.
Peaceful Pinks Photos L-R: a shelf with personal possessions (photo via Nuevo Estilo). Delicate lighting Akari 1AG (photo by Alexandra Angle) Dreamy pink cushions and patterned wall (photo by Studio rar)