When Daisy May Collingridge’s Lippydeema appeared onstage at WOW last year, the big, joyful wobbly creature was an immediate favourite. And not just with the audience – Lippydeema’s girth and humour impressed the judges as well.

A trousers, jacket, vest top, gloves and balaclava set made from hand-dyed jersey, wadding, and pellets, Lippy won not only the UK International award, but the International award outright. She was also runner-up in the Performance Art section as well.

She cuts a memorable figure, and Collingridge has since fielded plenty of inquiries about what the overstuffed, multi-coloured fleshy character represents. She’s one of those pieces where people see what they want; Collingridge has even had people say to her: “Ooh, that’s what I look like naked.”

“Always a bit awkward,” Collingridge says with a laugh. “I’m like ‘I hope your skin isn’t that colour’.”

Lippy can easily be read as a positive statement about body image – as a society, we’re still not comfortable with the beauty of women’s bodies at all sizes, and a happy, fat, dancing woman makes a powerful statement.

“A lot of people said it was a reaction to the way women’s bodies are portrayed in advertising and media, and yeah, you could interpret it as that – go for it,” she says. “But it’s not the reason I made it. It’s just meant to be quite fun. The best feedback I got from it was that it made people laugh.”

Humour is an integral part of Collingridge’s work, which also includes illustration. The 26-year-old British artist has a degree in fashion design from leading arts and design college Central Saint Martins, and textiles is her passion. She loves free motion quilting in particular, which she says is like drawing with a sewing machine. But she sometimes finds it hard to choose between that and another talent, illustration, as she figures out how to make a living doing what she loves.

“I’m starting a business as an illustrator, but haven’t decided which way I’m going yet as textiles and illustration are two very different markets,” she says. Two websites, daisycollingridge.com and dmcillustrations.com, showcase each of her talents.

“I think my real love is the textiles but it’s much harder to make a living; you have to get lucky and the right person has to see it and offer the right opportunity,” she says. “Whereas with illustration I can see a way where if I do the hard graft I can make a living out of it. I’m attempting to do both.”

Collingridge moved to New Zealand last year, and has a side job at Auckland Zoo as she housesits around Auckland, selling her illustrations and establishing herself as a working artist. Every artist has to balance making a living with making their work, and Collingridge is spending a bit of time experimenting.

She’s explored many career options. She’d love to do costume design, but she reckons there might be a lot of jeans and shorts involved and not enough mad characters. She loves making soft toys, but to make a living they’d have to be sold at an art price rather than a toy price, and mass-producing them doesn’t interest her at all.

Her whimsical, quirky drawings lend themselves to children’s books, and indeed she’s had two writers inquire already. She’s also landed some commissions, and last year, in the run up to Christmas, she attended markets around New Zealand with her illustrations offered as prints and on cards. She was pleased they sold well.  

“I was like ‘OK. I can make money from this’. This is the first year it’s working. I’ll always enjoy the textile side of things – I get to make what I want, and as long as I can maintain one side where I can be a selfish artist, it’s perfect. If I can make it where I can support my textiles with my illustrations that would be amazing.”

She was also delighted to receive good feedback about her work. “I have never gone out and shown people and spoken to them and gotten direct feedback, so it was really good,” she says. She also used a picture of Lippydeema and her WOW credentials as crowd bait. “That was a big draw,” she says. “Everyone knows WOW in New Zealand.”

Lippydeema is the second textile-based creation Collingridge has entered in WOW; her first, The Quilt Monster, won second place in the Open section in 2015. Collingridge entered WOW that first time on a whim after someone recommended she give it a go; the Quilt Monster was an experiment in free motion quilting that she made as part of her final year portfolio.

Lippydeema was made especially for WOW, as a way to take “really fat quilting with a machine” much further, with a bigger onstage presence. “It developed into this really big, squishy thing,” she says. She’s also produced a smaller, similar iteration, Nigella.

Last year was her first visit to New Zealand to see WOW, and she says the show was like nothing she had expected based on what she’d seen on the web and in marketing materials.

“Because it’s so far away, I looked at as much as I could on Instagram and videos, but you don’t get the full experience,” she says. She hadn’t realised quite what went on onstage with her first garment until she went to the National WOW Museum in Nelson and saw a video clip of how it had been choreographed.

“I said ‘Oh my God, I had no idea that’s what you did with it’,” she recalls. “It looked epic, the way the model moved.”

It cemented in her the feeling that with WOW, you have to be there. Last year’s Designers’ Day before the show was particularly rewarding, especially for someone who had just moved to New Zealand.

The Quilt Monster on stage in the 2015 WOW Awards Show

“It was really nice to speak to other people who make stuff,” she says. “The hardest thing I have found about New Zealand generally is that it has such a small creative industry, and it is really hard to find people who do that thing.

“A big part of making stuff is being with people who do that and are in that mind-set. At Designers’ Day you got to meet those people.”

Collingridge’s ideas all evolve from the fabric she works with. “I don’t often think ‘Oh, I’m going to make a really weird fat person’,” she says. “I start with bits of fabric and go from there; everything I have ever made has always come from the material. If I am stuck for ideas I will go back into my studio at home. I’m a hoarder so I collect lots of fabric and if I can’t think of anything I will sit at the sewing machine and start playing around. My ideas will always come from wondering how you can put them together in different ways.”

Collingridge is also interested in bringing her creations to life through performance art. She once filmed herself dancing in Lippydeema in an ebullient expression of the character’s naked heft – before the police asked her to move on from the heath.

“With my fashion background there’s always the element of someone wearing something and the effect of a body in fabric,” she says. “It’s something I really want to explore, but it’s that thing of allowing yourself time to explore it. There’s the whole balance of finances and time.”

Now she’s keen to enter WOW again, but she also wants to see where Lippydeema will take her.

“That’s the dilemma I’m having,” she says. “I’m not done with the idea at all but with WOW you need to do something completely different each time. I couldn’t enter a development of her, but I want to do more with the characters and some more video.

“Anything would be hilarious but my absolute dream would be proper acrobats doing balancing acts,” she says. “I don’t want to stop running with the idea.”

Photos and videos provided by Daisy May Collingridge and World of WearableArt™