Alison Willoughby’s Skirts (and book giveaway)

by Stacey H. on 22/02/2008

in Art+Design, Books

‘My World: The New Subjectivity in Design’ Featuring the work of Alison Willoughby, Danny Brown, Committee, Doshi Levien, Neutral, Peter Traag, Wok Media (this review is limited to Alison Willoughby – 10 Skirts) at Pratt Manhattan Gallery (finishes Feb 23)

photo courtesy of Zacheta National Gallery

Alison Willoughby did her BA in Glasgow in Printed and Knitted textiles from 1996-1999 and her MA in London at The Royal College of Art in Mixed Media Textiles from 1999-2001, where she completed her dissertation on the kilt. Study of the Gaelic garment eventually led her to the circle skirt, a simple garment made from just one perfect circle. Lain flat, Willoughby saw this as a canvas for applying materials: badges, pins, pieces cut from fabric, silkscreens. When a circle is cut out of the middle of the original large circle, the flat canvas suddenly becomes a 3 dimensional wearable object even without subsequent shaping – a skirt.

Her approach is perfectly illustrated by the piece “One”, a 3’ tall stack of fabric circles cut from old bedspreads, shirtings, batting, corduroy, twills – all skirts-to-be:


photo courtesy of Zacheta National Gallery

This piece reveals the underlying concept of the 10 skirts in the exhibition (a part of “My World: The New Subjectivity in Design” at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery), which are hung from the ceiling of the gallery, all the better to witness Willoughby’s penchant for layering more than one circle for a petticoat effect.

Embellishment is what really sets her skirts apart, and she frequently carries the circle theme through by creating concentric circles of colored pin badges, or by sewing on smaller circles of fabric, or by sewing on other shapes of fabric in circles.

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

The show at the Pratt gallery is a nice opportunity to see her work in person, but Alison Willoughby doesn’t just want you to see her work – she wants you to make it yourself. Her new book, 49 Sensational Skirts compiles some of her ideas and techniques and makes them friendly to the home crafter – even to those with no sewing experience.

While first and foremost a book about embellishing skirts, the book does include a basic circle-skirt paper pattern, a glossary of sewing materials and simple machine techniques, and complete information on making or applying closures (ties, snaps, and clips). She also includes a tutorial on silkscreening, transfer foiling, and fusible webbing. The projects range from simple embellishment that can be done in a matter of hours to those involving hundreds of folded fabric pieces sewn closely together in geometric patterns.

Though she gives clear instructions on reproducing her designs, one thing that rings clear throughout is Willoughby’s desire that people make the skirts their own. She encourages the use of second hand ready-made skirts as a basic canvas and of being creative with embellishment. Though all of her ideas and the color photography illustrating them provide inspiration for wearable skirts with a strong sense of individuality, she wants you to use them as a point of departure for your own explorations.

Read more: Recent interview with Alison at Whip Up

To celebrate Alt Crafting month – win a copy of Alison’s book by leaving a comment here answering the following questions: (comments will close Sunday Midnight)

what is the most innovative way you have decorated/embellished an outfit?

If you decorated/embellished an outfit such as in the vein of one of Alison Willoughby’s skirts would you want to wear it or hang it on the wall?

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