Q&A with Isla Simpson

To celebrate the launch of my limited edition table linen collaboration with designer Isla Simpson, Isla and I discuss our collaboration - Isla's distinctive style, how the collaboration came about and the design process.


1. For those who don't know you, can you introduce yourself?

I am a London based designer & illustrator, known for my love of bows and chintzy, cottage style aesthetic. I am little bit stuck in the 90s, there’s a deep appreciation for a ruffle and a pie crust collar. 

2. Bows and ruffles lend themselves so beautifully to table linens. What is your design background? 

I trained as a textile designer at Central St Martins. But preferring product design to patterns, I went off to design handbags for Aspinals of London, Anya Hindmarch & Whistles (to name but a few) enjoying a niche 15 year career. 

By my mid thirties being a ‘design waitress’ had lost its appeal. I quit fashion, started posting my illustrations on Instagram and began designing bespoke events - everything from the stationery to the tablecloth. 


3. Your Instagram page is so inspiring - I love that your style is so true to self. Why were you interested to collaborate with my brand?

Five minutes into chatting with you, I knew I wanted to collaborate with you. You know when you can tell someone is singing from the same hymn book. I’d been designing bespoke table linen for weddings and loved it so much, I knew it was an area I wanted to pursue, so it was serendipitous you called! Covid slowed the process right down, and it took a year to launch. But all good things! 

4. I have enjoyed the process so much - even the challenge of embroidered delicate scallops! What was the inspiration around the collaboration? 

The collaboration is heavily influenced by the 90s cottage style I grew up with, now hailed as cottage core and grand millennial. I’m a deeply cosy person, who so enjoys the nostalgic femininity of chintzy cottage style. Details such as the scalloping are such a timeless look that I always return to.  And bows have become synonymous with my style, so a signature candy bow was in the range from day one!

I also wanted there to be incredibly special pieces like the swan table mats, that you can’t find anywhere else. During lockdown I took up cycling and saw a pair of nesting swans almost daily on my route. I felt very connected to them. 


5. The bow was the catalyst for me reaching out. I knew I had no chance of designing linens with bows as beautiful as your signature style! What is your design process?

As someone who used to work on a design team, I love collaborative exchanging of ideas.  

We identified the recurring themes in my work, like bows, swans, ribbons, shell scallops.  We showed each other the things we liked and discussed how all these ideas could be distilled into embroidered linen and table linen shapes and sizes. 

After a couple of weeks I returned with lots of drawings and sketches to show you.  We are both really interested in that very American tradition of novelty linen and keen to ensure the pieces were a direct translation of my drawings into thread  We wanted the placemats and napkins to feel incredibly special pieces and true to my aesthetic, which people would enjoy creating tables capes with. 

After deciding on designs, I worked up final specifications for the factory to work from. The designs are very detailed, so a few tweaks ensued to work around manufacturing the designs. 

After approving samples we chose colours, and we both knew we wanted a soft colour palette for most - there also had to be apricot ( my favourite colour EVER)!

The whole process is a massive labour of love, but seeing those samples gives you such a thrill. 

6. I always feel that the best designs are challenging - it shows you are trying to do something different. The combination of fabric quality, manufacturing quality and willingness to keep the range as accessible as possible but equally heirlooms of tomorrow - what we are both so passionate about - was difficult (with a pandemic added in for measure)! What tools do you use to make the designs?

I use my iPad to sketch ideas and draw out the embroidery patterns and initial shapes of the line. I have real a love affair with my iPad, it feels so creative because I mainly use it purely to explore ideas and create. 

I then hop onto my laptop to create spec’s (technical drawings) that the factory can use to translate my idea into a sample.  This is where my fashion design background is super helpful. 



7. You have created a fantastic online course teaching your design process and specifically in relation to table stationery which is brilliant - I cannot wait for my next big dinner party! It has influenced how I create my designs going forward too. Finally, the big question - which piece if your favourite?

Don’t make me choose...


REBECCA UDALL X ISLA SIMPSON will launch on rebeccaudall.com 21 April at 14.00 BST. Set your alarms! 


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