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Junior Meets: Designer, Donna Wilson

From four-eyed bunnies to squirrel-foxes, Donna lets us into her unique world of quirky handcrafted toys

Posted: 24 January 2013
by Amanda Pauley

Donna Wilson

Some might say that, with their oddly oversized limbs and lopsided eyes, Donna Wilson’s strange creature crafts have faces that only a mother could love.

And yet there’s more amiability than mean-spirited malice in her merry band of misfits that includes cute critters like Giant-faced Edd Red Head and hairy-chested Angry Ginger.

What’s more, Donna has found a merry band of admirers who appreciate her craft. When the Scottish designer lovingly created an off-the-wall woollen menagerie for her final show at the Royal College of Art, where she was studying an MA in mixed media textiles, the collection was a sell-out.

Ten years on, Donna has become one of our best-loved designers, branching out into glassware, stationery and furnishings, being crowned Designer Of The Year at the British Design Awards in 2010.

Her latest project is a delightful book of craft projects entitled 'Creative Creatures' (Kingfisher, £9.99). 

Her toy story began on a farm in Aberdeenshire, where she spent her time playing with an orphaned black lamb and crafting with her grandmother, Laura. “She taught me to knit and crochet when I was young, but I didn’t really have the patience for 
it,” says Donna. “I remember knitting a little owl 
at school, and finding it very difficult. It had loads 
of holes in it! Knitting wasn’t an instant hit.”

But this imperfect feathered friend led to others, with Donna learning to embrace the quirks. And just like some of our most beloved fairytales, Donna drew inspiration from the darker, more unusual places.

“Canibdoll was inspired by a story in the news about a German cannibal who advertised to find a mate to eat, and got a few applicants,” she reveals.

“I usually do sketches in a notebook – tiny bodies with huge exaggerated heads. I get their look and idea on paper first, then start knitting. Occasionally I’ll make some creature out of scraps or off-cuts and sometimes these rejects are just as successful 
as the ones I’ve planned.”

Given her farming roots, it’s not surprising that Donna  prefers to work with natural yarns, mainly lambswool. “I love the colours you can get wool in, as well as its felting properties,” she explains. And while she sticks to a rigid pattern to ensure quality while making the creatures’ bodies, Donna insists on hand-stitching their features.

“Embroidery is like drawing with a needle and thread,” she says. “The proportions and placement give each character a different look and that’s why I enjoy making them. People ask me why 
I don’t get them mass-produced. It would certainly be less time-consuming, but, for me, I think they would lose their charm, unique identity and oddness.”

To find out more about the deisgner or view her collections, log on to her official site

Why not try creating a member from Donna's odd squad:

Don't miss... The Junior Meets hub of exclusive interviews, inside scoop interviews and quirky Q&As, with exciting interviewees including: Tommy HilfigerSir Paul SmithStella McCartney and lots of other influential fashion designers, authors and illustrators including Quentin Blake and Jeff Kinney, great business minds including Lord Alan Sugar and, everyone's favourite fashionable frog, Kermit.

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