I’ve never quite met Donna Wilson. I’ve stood near her at many a design trade show, but somehow never quite managed to actually talk to her. But with the wonders of modern technology, I wasn’t about to let that, or the fact she’s currently in Japan, stop me from interviewing her! We caught up over email…
You’ve got a really individual style – how do you maintain confidence in that, and avoid getting sidetracked into what other people are doing?
I’ve always felt a little bit different! And I can see that people like to follow trends, so I feel it’s my job to follow my own path away from that. Sometimes I do things because I think people will like them, other times I try to be a bit more challenging and try to do something new – it depends how confident I feel!
What influence has being Scottish has on your work?
I think my childhood, growing up in Scotland has definitely had an influence. I would always be playing outside in nature, and making things. It was a very free and lovely childhood with animals and beautiful surroundings. I’m still inspired by nature and animals but this time I’m making my own world in my own language.
Which is your favourite of all the things you’ve designed and why?
Cyril Squirrel-Fox because he has become a mini celeb! And the Wooly Wood blanket – it’s so cosy, and appeals to men, women, children and older people!
I love the way you can construct something from a ball of wool and have complete control over the pattern, colour and texture. It’s also so instant – you can see it grow. It’s very creative.
What advice would you give to an aspiring knitter?
Learn the technical stuff. You can do so much with knitting and I feel disappointed that I didn’t learn all the stitches and cable, lace etc… Never too late I suppose!
Is a formal design education crucial to success in the creative industries?
No, I don’t believe so. I think if you are creative you will find a way no matter what, and being creative means you think in a round-about, different way! Although going to the RCA did help me enormously, as it gave me time to develop my own style, and access to many amazing tutors who challenged and inspired me.
How important are shows like Designersblock [Donna’s first public show after graduating from RCA] to young designers?
I think it’s a fantastic launchpad to show your work in a professional capacity to members of the public and buyers from amazing shops. They have a great reputation. It gives you an opportunity to speak to people about your work and get valuable feedback. And most of all it’s great fun meeting other designers in the same boat!
Do you suffer the same Christmas jumper curse as the rest of us?! What’s the worst knitted gift you’ve ever been given?
A felted hair piece that looked like bright blue dreadlocks! From my boyfriends mum!
I really want one of your grey lambswool robin cushions, but my other half says £70 is too much to spend on a cushion – how I do convince him he’s wrong?!
These are quality cushions. The soft lambswool we use is spun and dyed in Yorkshire before being knitted up in Scotland and finished in our studio in London. The whole manufacturing process takes place in the UK. We always try our very best to keep our prices as low as we can without compromising on quality and UK manufacturing. Oh, and it comes with a fluffy duck-feather pad!
I hope that people will treasure and look after them, not renew them every few years, and hopefully give them to generations to come.
Finally, what’s your favourite colour?
The bright green that crops up a lot in the collection, but it changes quite frequently. I love using and wearing colour.
Further reading for the especially geeky:
Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.
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