Interview with Alison Willoughby

by kath_red on February 1, 2008

in Art+Design, People

I am curious about why you have chosen to write a book and spill the beans on your designs?

Ha Ha thats what you think………The techniques I use are simple, and they can be taught, its having a certain style and skill that I have, or any other designer, that you can try to teach but everyone has their own style and you can’t teach that.

49 Sensational Skirts: Creative Embellishment Ideas for One-of-a-kind Designs by Alison Willoughby, published by Interweave Press (April 1, 2008).

A bit about your background – you studied textiles as an undergraduate and then Constructed Textiles – Mixed Media as a post graduate and wrote your dissertation on the kilt. Making these skirts you say was an inevitable outcome of your process – can you tell me a little about how you came from the kilt to the simple design A-line skirt that you use now as a basis for your designs?

A kilt is basically a wrap with fabric manipulation in the middle, a very simple shape, a strip of fabric. I don’t use an A-line skirt, I use a pattern that is a wrap skirt between a half and quarter circle skirt. Its the idea of a wrap and the fact I can lay a wrap flat on a print table, or a sewing machine and manipulate it with surface.

Your skirts are a canvas for your artwork, can you explain a little about how you are inspired to create each one – what is your design process?

I love the domestic and everyday, taking photos with my SLR camera and getting them developed at the printers is my luxury, and working from them, colour, line, shape, proportion, texture, placement studies from them photos and then applying the photos straight to skirts.

Many of your art skirts that incorporate unusual textures and materials, such as glass and pins, surely are not meant to be worn – how do you translate these gallery pieces into wearable art?

Of course you can wear them. You can buy a cover for the end of a hatpin/pin. The client I sold the glass piece to, hung it in her house, and when she wanted to wear it, she removed the glass, then later on bought a new skirt, I changed the scale of the glass pieces and density and we had rich dense glass sequins……beautiful. I hate the way people become so uptight about things that are couture. 90% of the population are conservative dressers and will never understand wearing a piece of clothing that I make. Thank God! My market is 8-10% of the population, very small and they wear them every day.

About the book – Congratulations its a great book – with a lot of detail on skirt construction and finishing. Of course the emphasis is on surface decoration and there is a large range of techniques used. Did you have trouble narrowing down what techniques you would use in the skirts that made it into the book? What would you say are the basic techniques that you use all the time?

No problem at all in narrowing anything down, a plunderchest, a jewellery box, a sweetshop of design and technique. And the basic techniques I always use are Straight Stitch and something I can’t tell you about!

The designs really range from practical and functional with flare to crazily over the top fancy. Some of my favourites are the ones that sit somewhere in the middle and that use a number of techniques like ‘ploughed fields’, what would you say are your favourite designs to wear?

Green Grocer of course

You say you are inspired by the disintegration and neglect of city areas – such as pealing paint and cracks in the concrete, rusted metal etc – how do you translate this into fabric?


Line, Colour, Texture, Shape, Placement, Proportion………..in very specific detail

You are constantly collecting unusual materials to work with, what would you say are some of the most unusual materials you have used in your designs and what are your favourite types of fabric to work with that you keep going back to for their versatility and ease of use?

Cotton, always cotton from every generation

Exhibition: ‘My World: The New Subjectivity in Design’ | Featuring the work of Alison Willoughby, Danny Brown, Committee, Doshi Levien, Neutral, Peter Traag, Wok Media | Pratt Manhattan Gallery | 144 West 14th Street, 2nd floor | New York, NY

[We will be publishing a review of this exhibition next month - ed]

Book: 49 Sensational Skirts: Creative Embellishment Ideas for One-of-a Kind Designs by Alison Willoughby, published by Interweave

Website: Alison Willoughby

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mrspilkington February 1, 2008 at 7:58 am

very excited about this book!

2 Kelly Darke February 1, 2008 at 7:42 pm

I can’t wait for this book to be available! I have been following her work for a couple years and even included her work in a research paper I wrote for graduate school. I am always excited to see new work from Alison Willoughby and would love to own one of her skirts!

3 Amanda Blume February 22, 2008 at 3:02 am

Very interesting but why ”90% of the population are conservative dressers and will never understand wearing a piece of clothing that I make. Thank God! ”?
Perhaps the general public don’t understand but why ”Thank God”? Let’s not be precious about what we do as the great unwashed underpin the whole couture market.

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