Style Curious


Lisa Tilley and her curiously unique handcrafted designs

As a child, Lisa Tilley enjoyed creating fun things, from sea world scenes inside upturned cardboard boxes, to puppet theatre shows and oil paintings. She spent her childhood collecting the shiny papers and packaging that her mother considered to be clutter and waste – but that she knew would eventually come in handy to make something with. She also fondly recalls the textile techniques her beloved Nana introduced her to when she was young – and only now realizes what a major influence this helpful instruction had upon her. She says, “I design because it's what I love, I get a massive buzz from making something that I can look at and think Yes! Thats it!”

Lisa studied Textile Design at The Nottingham Trent School of Art and Design. The winner of several awards, including the Bradford Textile Society Competition, she was also awarded a trip to Premiere Vision and was subsequently invited to work in Paris for a woven fabric fashion house, designing fabrics for the couture market.

As well as her design work, she lectures on textiles at various schools and colleges in the UK and runs private weave and design workshops, whilst making up products for her own label – uoldbag! To date, a lot of Lisa’s work has come from private commissions – including some for quite well known clients, like Bob Geldoff. Now some of her unique, hand embellished vintage suitcases and boxes are available online, at ShopCurious (click on the images to view).

When she was working in Paris, Lisa was once told she was too curious and asked too many questions. However, she simply wanted to know more about the language of the weaving trade and technical factors about the way the company worked. She’s especially curious to know whether things can be done a better way, as she loves to push herself to “improve all the time, without becoming too complacent and just settling for how things are.” 

Lisa makes everything by hand in her studio, which is based “within a small arty area of Bedford.” Around the corner is an art gallery, old book shop and house clearance store. The latter is her “favourite shop in the whole world”. As part of her work routine, she visits the shop immediately she arrives at her studio to hunt out treasure, then on returns to her studio, puts on some music and gets to work piecing together her found objects to make stunning one-off pieces of functional art. 

Her design work is very much based on her love of collecting old things. She explains, “I collect all the time, visiting thrift stores, charity shops and flea markets. I'm like a bird gathering beautiful found things to fill my nest – which is how I see my studio. The things I find become the inspiration for my products. Mind you, the things I like are usually a bit crazy and kitsch – the most weird and wonderful ones seem to result in the best products, but if they’re a little too unusual to use, I sometimes just keep them for inspiration.” Lisa buys most of her suitcases and ornaments in England, but visits Lisbon a couple of times a year to source vintage magazines from flea markets and old book shops.

Not only does she bring back treasures from Lisbon, but Lisa draws inspiration from the Portuguese capital. She says, “I liken it to my work, as it has an old canvas adorned with bright and funky design details, like the graffiti on the walls and the many layers of graphic posters.” She spends hours walking the streets, taking photographs of the walls, and was quite disappointed, on a recent trip, to see that most of the walls had been cleaned up. She also sees “a lot of cool design in Lisbon. It has a funky, bright youthful vibe about it - and the decoration that adorns the street walls is also reflected in some of the small boutiques with eccentric interiors, which she loves to visit. She especially enjoys browsing the stores in the summer months, when they’re “filled with even more bright and fun things.”

After Lisbon, Lisa’s favourite place is Paris. Curiously, Iceland is a destination that she likes to think about, when relaxing. Lisa explains, “There are many more places in the world I'd like to visit, but from the the ones I’ve visited so far, Iceland is the somewhere I’d gladly travel to whenever possible. It’s the most amazing country, with the most stunning and varied landscapes that I've ever seen. One minute you’re soaking in a geothermal spa and then you’re inside a volcano, or walking on a glacier - dodging crevices… or you could be somewhere that looks just like Mars.”    

Lisa hopes to create many more multi-functional designs. She likes the fact that “Some people see them as fashion pieces, some as storage for interior spaces and some as purely decorative works of art.” She’s recently started experimenting with the idea of placing objects, such as ornaments and pop-up imagery inside the suitcases, “to create magical dream worlds” that she likens to the undersea worlds she made as a child. She’d love to see the works exhibited, particularly in the sort of spaces that merge fashion with art and interiors...

So would we, but meantime, we’re very pleased to be able to offer Lisa's curiously unique handcrafted designs at ShopCurious. By the way, Lisa’s ideal customer is someone who loves her work, “will tell all their friends about it, and treasure their old bag forever.”  Will you?