For the creator of a cult family of oddly shaped toys, Donna Wilson is surprisingly normal-looking: no outsize head, no ankle-less legs. Her studio is less so, but in a good way-it’s on the third floor of an imposing ’30s factory building incongruously stranded in South London’s Victorian suburbia. "It’s so bright in here and you can see the weather change," says Wilson, pointing out the dome of St Paul’s in the distance.
Those panoramic views contrast with the studio’s packed interior. Giant balls of lambswool yarn in Wilson’s trademark bright-and-smoky palette are stacked almost to the ceiling. From washing lines, fabrics of her own design-fresh off the hardworking knitting machine and out of the wash-are hung up to dry. From here they’re sent to workers who will sew them into shape. As we talk, a crate full of Angry Gingers, Sleepy Poms, and Charlie Monkeys arrives from Scotland. Once their labels and biographies have been attached (sample: "Hi, I’m Rudy Raccoon, I love rummaging…and dislike cats-they smell funny"), the dolls will be dispatched around the world; Murray Moss is a fan, and they’re especially big in Japan.
Wilson, who grew up on a farm in Scotland, studied mixed-media textiles at the Royal College of Art and found early success with long-legged dolls inspired by medical textbooks (conjoined twins, gigantism) and children’s drawings. Lately she has been moving into home goods with baby blankets, cushions for people and dogs, and an upcoming wild boar piggy bank for Thorsten Van Elten. In Milan last year she launched her first piece of furniture, a glorious rainbow-colored tufted pouf for the British manufacturer SCP, with whom she’s now working on a sofa. Meanwhile, the dolls still keep Wilson busy. The office’s centerpiece is an industrial sewing machine she uses like a sketchbook for creating shapes. In this hardworking environment, Wilson’s own desk is hard to spot. "We’re trying to be organized," she says, smiling gamely, knowing that the pace is unlikely to slacken anytime soon.
TEXTILE DESIGNER LONDON SQUARE FOOTAGE: 775 NUMBER OF WORKERS: 8
FIRST THING TO BE RESCUED IN A FIRE: Her motorized knitting machine. "My life changed when I got it. Before that I had to stand up and move my arm to knit every row," says Wilson.
DECOR ELEMENT THAT SAYS IT ALL: The washing lines strung across the office from which Wilson hangs fabrics and "anything that’s important-letters, documents, phone numbers. If you see it, you remember it," she says.
ON THE STEREO: Bill Withers (The Best of)
PHOTOGRAPHER: DAVID COWLARD