If there is a designer whose work is a go-to for kids with knitterly parents, Georgie Nicolson’s patterns are likely to win hands down. There might have been Gidday Baby cardigans for new babies, a Rainbow Dress for a toddler, an Olearia vest for kinder, Jane for summer cardigans and a Wallaby for a quick-sticks make in time for winter.
To date on Ravelry, there are about 10,500 Milos and over 1000 Granny’s Favourites floating around. And you can see why: if you’ve ever knit from a Tikki pattern, you know they knit up quickly; the sizing options are generous, often from babies to teens; they are easily adaptable; and being top down, they are easy to customise as you go. Plus, they are well tested, so you know there will be few surprises.
So, come and meet the woman behind these creations.
From childhood patterns for Barbie to everything from kids’ clothes, hats, adult cardigans and more – it has been quite a creative ride, Georgie. Tell us how Tikki Knits began and how it has evolved.
I published my first pattern quite by accident in the January 2008. I had purchased the most stunning 200 g ball of gradient yarn and was looking for something to do with it. This was back when gradient yarn really wasn’t readily available (I hadn’t seen it before) and there were no patterns. With some encouragement from knitting friends I set about designing a pattern, which became the Rainbow Dress.
It took me many, many years before I could call myself a designer; even now I feel a little uncomfortable with the tag. The knitting landscape was really different then, knitters didn’t really take the leap to designing as happens today.
Since then, my business has evolved significantly. It was my testers who convinced me that I should actually charge for Milo. I didn’t feel I had the design background or the experience to do so, but I am so glad they talked me around. I would have been happy to have sold fifty copies!
Ideally, I would love Tikki to be a self-sustaining business. In the last few years I’ve started teaching, which was a natural progression given I was a secondary teacher before having children. I love the opportunity to engage with other knitters and share my knowledge and skills. It balances very well with my husband’s teaching career, and we travelled to New Zealand for Knit August Nights last year. I’ll go back again this year too.
Your work is beautifully realised and well constructed – your techniques for button bands and sleeves are so neat that I’ve stolen them for other knits, for instance. Tell us what makes you tinker away at a sleeve or ponder how to get a band that sits flat and looks wonderful on the wrong side.
I think at heart I’m what I would call a lazy perfectionist. I like things to be as finished and perfect as possible but at the same time I’m kind of lazy and just want the process to be over. I don’t like having to darn holes under arms (which seems completely counter-intuitive to the concept of seamless knitting) or spend too long finishing things.
I like shortcuts and hate doing what I consider to be unnecessary, which is why I like to puzzle over things I consider aren’t perfect. Ironically I’ll spend a lot of time looking for a solution that will save other knitters time!
Some of my favourite finishes or techniques are really just lazy options as well. When I was designing Ziggy I wanted the jumper to have a folded and sewn hemline and cuffs, but when it came to actually seaming the fold, I decided it looked better as a rolled hem. Some knitters think the round of purl was deliberately used to stop the hem/cuff from rolling too far. It’s really a happy coincidence that it performs that function because it was meant to be the fold line!
From the ebook bundle Deception, where the colourwork is much simpler than you
would think. In most cases, only one colour is ever worked in a round, with much
of the colourwork created by slipped stitches.
And how do you know when you’ve got it? Is something ever finished for you, or do you still beaver away at published patterns?
Sometimes it’s really obvious, you get that a-ha moment that creatives love to talk about; others you’re never quite so sure. With Milo I really wasn’t sure, and when I finished the sample it took me a couple of weeks until I tried it on my wiggly baby. I was that unsure until I saw it on him. That really taught me to trust my instincts more.
Other patterns, you just know it sings even before you’ve finished knitting it. Bloom was definitely one of those patterns.
I like to treat a pattern as finished once it’s published. I’ll go back and correct errors or redo the layout but I rarely tinker with the pattern itself. You’ve got to step away and move forward. Your body of work says much about your journey as a designer, it’s testament to your own growth and development.
So many of us think the life of a knitwear designer is all about the knitting and dreaming up designs, and focus on that, even though we know it’s as much about numbers and troubleshooting and grading.
I had a friend drop over one day when I was grading, bits of paper spread everywhere as I tried to nail those last few figures. She’s a knitter but still had this weird idea that I spent my days sitting around knitting! She remarked, ‘Ah, so there’s quite a bit more to it than just the knitting?’ Ah, yeah!
My work day doesn’t begin until 11 or 12. I ride to school with my kids, then it’s my daily bike ride and the usual household drudgery. I work from then until 3:05pm when I have to collect my kids from school. In this time period, I generally deal with emails, write and grade patterns, and anything else that pops up. Sometimes I get the chance to sit and design. Usually it’s not until the evenings when I take my knitting out. Sometimes I’ll work after dinner, and there are days when I don’t knit at all.
On average, how long does a piece take from first swatch to publication/upload?
I’m not sure I have an average timeframe – I tend to get too easily distracted by new and shiny ideas! Some patterns have taken two years from first sample to publication, others have only taken a couple of months. I have a ridiculous number of sample garments where the patterns haven’t been graded or photographed or quite finished because something else seemed more urgent. But I do actually perform better and apply myself to the one task if there’s an external deadline hanging over my head.
Do your patterns come to you resolved or does the success of the piece lie in the countless hours of finetuning and working with test knitters?
I spend a lot of time finetuning in the design process: knitting, ripping and re-knitting, scribbling out notes and rethinking approaches. Before I even start knitting there’s a lot of scribbling and sketching and note-taking that goes on.
I don’t consider my initial concept to be the holy grail though. When knitting the sample it’s not unusual for me to change a design element dramatically; I’m very open to change through the entire process. But by the time the pattern gets to test knitters it is pretty much done and has been edited to within an inch of its life.
Working with tech editors really finetunes your pattern; they’ll make sure it is consistent throughout, all the numbers add up, check that your charts match the instructions, and that the instructions are clear, concise and will produce the garment in your photos. Tech editors are worth their weight in gold.
Test knitters really perform the function of testing the clarity of the pattern instructions: do they make sense when you actually knit them, and they may pick up minor things that have been missed, but that doesn’t happen all that often. They’re not responsible for any major changes to the pattern but are a beta-step, that last final test or a double clarification to make sure things actually work.
I love reading that you knit other people’s patterns, and your posts on Lila are so insightful. Whose work do you enjoy knitting? And do you knit them to the letter or finetune as you go?
I try to mix it up. Last year I knit two Lilas, a Vitamin D, quite a few pair of socks and even managed to crochet a couple of baskets. You learn so much more by actually doing – not just new techniques and little tricks, but the experience also helps clarify or reinforce your own work. I don’t really knit more than one design from a designer though.
I try really hard to knit them to the letter, as a mediative process, to get some of the zen/yoga feel that your normal knitter experiences, but often I can’t help myself. My brain finds it hard to switch off and not deconstruct. There have been a couple of instances when I’ve convinced myself that the designer’s way must be better, only to later regret it when the garment is finished!
What are the challenges to running your own business? How do you reconcile the business and the creative aspects?
Balancing time and sometimes even finding time for my business is a massive challenge. One of the issues with working in a creative field on your own is that it’s too easy to prioritise other aspects of life over your working time. The hardest challenge has been finding a working schedule that works for me AND sticking to it. I’m easily distracted and working from home doesn’t make it easier. Everyday life rears its head, and work takes a back seat. I think when you’re working from home in a creative field it is hard to convince people that you are really working.
I like to be deliberate about separating work knitting and pleasure knitting, which is why I knit other people’s patterns. Sunday is a no work-knitting day for me – I give myself time to knit whatever I like or work on my Memory Blanket. I also like to mix it up with other crafty pursuits, sewing, stitching or crochet. Keeping it fresh and mixing it up helps me keep it all in perspective and lessens the pressure.
How do you choose the yarn for your creations?
Traditionally, it’s been selected from my stash – yarn that I’ve purchased, quite often from indie dyers. I choose what best suits the design, what colour my kids will wear or looks good on them. Sometimes the yarn comes first and I’ve designed a garment to suit the yarn and its characteristics rather than the other way around. More recently, I’m consciously trying to select yarns that are more ethically and environmentally produced.
What and who inspires you?
Elizabeth Zimmermann and Barbara Walker are both great inspirations. While EZ’s approaches to construction and tips on everyday knitting are pure genius, I love Barbara’s book Knitting From the Top Down very much – so many lightbulb moments while reading that! I’m also inspired by the fabulous work of some of our local wool producers who are doing amazing things in the field of ethical sheep-raising and promoting Australian wool.
Nan from White Gum Wool is an absolute treasure and her approach to farming fills me with hope for the future of the Australian merino industry. People like Nan and the Dennises from Tarndie inspire me to work with local yarns and to support our industry. Yarn with a strong backstory and history really resonates with me, as I’m sure it does for many other knitters. That’s also why I love Shilasdair, which comes from the same isle as my paternal ancestors.
What can we expect from Tikki Knits in the future?
This year, I’m going to release more patterns, teach lots of people about the joys of knitting and maybe even learn a few new techniques myself. I’m hoping to publish at least twelve patterns and transfer all the existing ones to a new layout. I’m also hoping to work on special projects that celebrate the diversity and dedication of some of our smaller Australian yarn producers – there are great stories there that I’d love to share.
I’ve also been developing a range of patterns – gum leaves, native Australian wildflowers and wind turbines – for a community art textile project called WARM, one of the most enjoyable but challenging projects I’ve worked on. The project explores why the earth is warming and what we can do to make a positive change. It launches in mid-March and will be exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ballarat in September. Community knitters are knitting and contributing elements that will be used to construct a giant landscape created by artist Lars Stenberg.*
* You can participate and contribute to the work; just click on the WARM link above for more information.