Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview with a Designer: Nikki Van De Car


I'm a knitwear designer wannabe. I'd love to be able to design my own patterns and create something other people can make. So when I discovered some wonderful new designs on Ravelry from designer Nikki Van De Car, I just had to find out what her inspiration for designing was (and if she had any tips for those of us who want to walk in her shoes). She's been designing the most adorable clothes for newborns and toddlers and I can't wait to knit some of these garments for all the babies people keep having around here.

Nikki Van De Car was born in Hawaii and now lives in New Jersey. Her blog, What To Knit When You're Expecting, chronicles her day-to-day life with her daughter Maile and all the crawling, teething and knitting that goes on. She also has a significant following on Ravelry. Her book, What To Knit When You're Expecting is named after and based on the blog, and is a collection of 27 knitting patterns for babies ages 0-12 months.

What’s your name?  Nikki Van De Car 

Where are you from? I’m originally from Volcano, on the Big Island of Hawaii, but I’m now living in Jersey City, New Jersey. 

How long have you been designing knitwear? I designed my first pattern, Autumn Leaves, in 2008, as a gift for a friend’s baby, and I continued to dabble in designing for a couple of years after before really diving in. 

What made you want to start designing? I think I saw it as the next obvious challenge—I taught myself various different knitting techniques through trial and error (though colorwork scared me for a long time!) and I wanted to see if I could design, too. There’s also something extra special about giving somebody that you have not only knit for them, but have designed specifically for them. 

What inspires or influences the pieces you design? I draw a lot of inspiration from place—Hawaii, most often, but also from people. My Maile Sweater pattern, for instance, is named after a vine that is worn traditionally as a lei, but it also happens to be my daughter’s name, and I designed the sweater for her when she was two months old. For my book, I continued to think about children I know—nieces, nephews, the children of friends—and I designed sweaters specifically for them. 

What is the most fun and most challenging aspects of pattern design? Oh, lord, the math. There is knitting software that I could buy and use, but I’m afraid that it might make me a little less creative (I would also feel like maybe the program was designing instead of me—I live in fear of The Matrix). On the other hand, it might keep me from making so many mistakes! I am not very good with math, and so often I have to turn to my husband for help—I’ll sketch a diagram and have him help me fill in the blanks. 

What yarn do you prefer to knit with? Oh my, how to choose. I love Malabrigo Worsted, I love anything by Madelinetosh, a lot of Rowan (though they keep canceling my favorites!) I also really like a lot of Knitpicks yarns. 

Do you look up to any other designers? Who doesn’t want to be Kim Hargreaves when they grow up? I also love Kate Davies, Ysolda Teague, Heidi Kirrmaier, Anna and Heidi Pickles…the list goes on and on. 

When did you first fall in love with knitting? I was taught to knit by the owner of a shop I worked at in college—Shar Jacobsen was sort of knitting guru in town, and her teaching methods were very hands-off. She taught me to cast on, she taught me to knit, purl, and cast-off, and then she left me to it. My first project was a little dog blanket that I kept accidentally increasing—it was extremely lopsided. 

What is your favorite type of project to knit? Somebody else’s design! I love knitting my own designs, but sometimes it’s nice to let somebody else drive the car for a while—and I always learn something new. 

What’s on your needles right now? Now that Maile’s almost three, I’m working on a bunch of toddler-sized sweaters. I also have a Paper Dolls languishing in a closet somewhere that I really want to finish. 

Do you do any other crafty things in your spare time? I would love to learn to spin! But I haven’t been able to tackle it. I’d also love to sew, to quilt...someday. 

Any advice for new or aspiring designers? Well, this is what worked for me: start with free patterns. My learning curve was a bit high, and there were a number of things I would have gone back and done differently with some early designs (and I got to!) But knitters can be very forgiving if your pattern is free, and they’re happy to give feedback—and it’s a good way to build an audience. Who doesn’t like free?

What’s coming up for you that you’re most proud of (or that you’d like to highlight)? In case I didn’t mention it earlier, I have a book! What To Knit When You’re Expecting is a collection of 27 patterns for babies ages 0-12 months. The patterns range from first trimester projects (which are moderately advanced, since there are months to finish) to second trimester (when most parents can determine the baby’s gender and prepare for a boy or girl), to third trimester quickies, when time is short. It’s available in the UK here and will be coming out in the US in October. There will also be editions coming out in Finland, France, and a French Canadian edition as well, though I’m not sure when exactly those will be available.

Thanks, Nikki! All the best luck in the upcoming book launch. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy! 

You can find Nikki on RAVELRY and at her blog What To Knit When You're Expecting

So, what do you think? If you're a knitwear designer, do you have any advice for knitters who aspire to design? If you're in my shoes, what do you think of Nikki's advice?          


  1. Oooh, I adore that baby blanket. The color and pattern are beautiful together!

  2. Lovely interview :-)