It’s always seemed to me that being Donna Wilson is indeed as much fun as it looks. From her Aladdin’s cave of a studio in London’s Bethnal Green to her colorful, vintage fashion sense, Wilson actually does live and breathe her work. On the rainy November afternoon I visited her studio, which is filled floor-to-ceiling with bits and bobs of yarn, I asked what she might do if she had any spare time. She pondered: “I think I’d like to travel to Scandinavia and probably get a dog.” Which led into a discussion about the possibilities for a range of Scandinavian-style dog sweaters, as everything usually comes back to the knitting. Of course, though Wilson made her name creating woven poufs and rugs inspired by the Fair Isle sweaters of her youth in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, it’s not actually just about the knitting anymore but also about bone china, linens, melamine trays, totes, piggy banks, ceramic Staffordshire dogs, biscuits, packaging, furniture and more. At this point, there isn’t much that Wilson hasn’t turned her hand to.
I first met Donna in 2007 when I worked at SCP and she was designing her first furniture pieces for the brand, but by that point she was already well on her way to becoming the undisputed queen of knits. She studied textiles at London’s Royal College of Art, and it was there she began creating the dolls made from old sweaters that were the precursors to her now-famous Creatures: knitted, polyester-stuffed, often misshapen, sometimes two-headed cushiony creatures with names like Edd Red Head (dislikes sports, loves cuddles) and Cyril Squirrel-Fox. They’re huge in Japan, but they have a quirkily British feel which has won her a fan base at home as well, selling out at local department stores like Heal’s and John Lewis.
Wilson never had any plan to be the next Orla Kiely or Cath Kidston. In fact, she had no intention of emulating that scale of success, which is perhaps why she seems so continually surprised at her own popularity and delighted that people enjoy the things she makes. “It all just seemed to kind of happen,” she muses. This month, in addition to a solo show at New York’s Future Perfect and windows at Tokyo’s Isetan department store, it was announced that Wilson had been named Designer of the Year by Elle Decoration’s British Design Awards. Things have been extra busy ever since; her latest commission is a knitted piece of royal wedding memorabilia, which Wilson and her team are busy brainstorming. (Kate and Wills tea cozy anyone?) But she’s found a happy medium: “I really like the people I work with and I’m happy at the level we’re at,” she says. “I think the bigger things get, the less enjoyment you get out of it. Having said that, I never expected to be where I am now five years ago and I’d like to keep challenging myself to keep things interesting.”
Los Angeles designer Tanya Aguiñiga already had two studios when she took up a third this summer: the first in the backyard of the Atwater Village bungalow she shares with her husband and two sisters, and the second six blocks away, in a converted industrial-park-turned-artists’-community near the train tracks. But in early July, Aguiñiga picked up and moved her shop 2,000 miles south to the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, for a five-week residency — the first in a project she calls Artists Helping Artisans. “I had gone to Oaxaca and Chiapas in 2007, and there was so much amazing stuff being produced by the women there,” she says. “People aren’t aware of it because the skills aren’t being passed down anymore and because people are scared to travel within Mexico. There’s isn’t enough tourism or income to sustain these crafts.”
As I walked the Tendence gift fair in Frankfurt this summer, Iris Maschek appeared to me like an oasis of glam in a desert of practicality. There she was, surrounded by clocks and soaps and clever ceramic jugs with customizable chalkboard labels, dressed all in black and perched in a cool mid-century rattan chair against this gorgeously baroque Rorschach-like backdrop: A specimen from her very first wallpaper collection.
For Anna Murray and Grace Winteringham, pattern is everywhere — in the flaking paint of street bollards and the crisscrossing beams of scaffolding, in the fashion photography of Mel Bles and the banded stiletto heels of Parisian shoemaker Walter Steiger. Together, Murray and Winteringham run Patternity, a studio and online resource for pattern imagery where each photo is curated, sourced, or taken by the designers themselves. Spend some time on the site, and their obsessions become clear: One week it’s rocks and strata; another it’s the vivid African textiles that line the stalls of the Ridley Road street market that runs daily in Dalston, the East London neighborhood both women call home.