Donna Wilson, textile designer

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.”