"My aim is always to make people smile": Q&A with Vikki Bird

Vikki Bird's designer page is a guaranteed mood lifter: full of cheerful kids' knits with chunky, perfectly coloured motifs. I'm not really a great fan of intarsia or primary colours, even for babies – they can seem really harsh and clunky – and yet Vikki gets it exactly right. Oh, and there are some lovely adult accessories in there too!

Vikki blogs at Bake Day Wednesday and can be found on Instagram as @vikkibirddesigns.

How did you get into design?

If you ask my mum she’ll tell you I’ve been designing since I was pretty small, certainly under 10, but then it was mainly using a sewing machine and making clothes for my toys, or making things out of paper and sellotape! I got into pattern writing as an adult by thinking of things I wanted to make for my children, but not being able to find a pattern that did quite what I wanted. And Ravelry made it possible for me to share those ideas with other people.

What motivates you?

My children. A lot of my designs are for them, or inspired by them. And a strange desire to fulfil the dreams of my seven-year-old self. I was seven when I learnt to knit, and was happily making intarsia jumpers for my sister by the time I was eleven. When I was seven I wanted to be a writer; I think she would be proud.

My mum is also a big motivator. I love it when she asks after my latest design and how things are going. She’s a good person to bounce ideas off.

You have two children – how old are they now? How did having babies affect your creative drive? How do you manage your time?

My children are 1 and 4, and are a large part of my creative drive. Before I had them I was someone who followed patterns, and after they were born something clicked and made me realise it was time to start following the dreams I’d had when I was younger but had put to one side to follow a more conventional and secure career path.

My design work is done in snippets here and there – some charting over breakfast, half an hour of writing while my daughter is having a nap, frantic writing and knitting when the children are in bed. As with all things when you have two young children, it’s a bit of a whirlwind! If I really need to get something done my husband is very good at entertaining my children for a few hours.

What did you expect to achieve when you first started designing? Do you think you’ve met those goals, or perhaps surpassed them?

I initially started designing to make enough money to cover my knitting supplies, which were hard to justify when my son was very small. I am delighted that I met that goal a long time ago!

My other goals when I started out felt like dreams – having things published in magazines, and maybe getting a book published. A book will have to wait until my children are a little older, but I’ve had lots of patterns published in magazines, which has really spurred me on to do more design, and I know my mum has a little stash of things I’ve published, which I am really proud of.

Where do you see your designs in five years’ time?

I’d love to write a book in the next five years. Twenty baby blankets featuring brightly coloured intarsia designs. If you give me a few hours and lots of paper I could probably sketch out most of the designs! It’s going to have to wait until I’ve submitted my PhD though...

And maybe some cable designs. My mum makes beautiful cabled jumpers for my children and I think it’s time to send a design her way.

You’ve got a wonderful, colourful, whimsical portfolio – I especially love all the blankets! Do you feel your portfolio so far is a full reflection of your design personality, or are there things you still want to explore?

My aim with my designs is always to make people smile. One day I might manage something I see as more sophisticated, but for now it’s all about colour and character and personality. Many of my designs fall into my head fully formed, and one day that might happen with a beautiful cabled jumper, but it hasn’t yet!

What’s your favourite of your own designs? And which one do you think is the most underappreciated?   

My favourite design is Fluffy White Clouds. It’s such a simple idea, but has struck a chord with so many people. My daughter sleeps under the sample every night, and it looks as beautiful today as it did the day it came off the needles.

Susie’s Rainbow is the most underappreciated. While it might be intimidating (the chart is spread over 6 pages), the knitting itself is actually pretty straightforward, and the finished blanket is so cheerful.

This is your second Giftalong, I think? What do you most look forward to in the GAL, as a knitter and as a designer?

I really enjoy the busy-ness of the Giftalong, and hearing lots of knitters and designers chat so enthusiastically about wonderful independent designs. I love new people seeing my designs, but also giving myself a chance to knit some designs by designers I’ve not come across before.

What GAL patterns have caught your eye? Are you making anything?

I’ve seen so many designs I love this year. Everything by Lisa Chemery – that lady makes the best children’s clothes. Aurelie Colas’ Hobby Horse for Little Knights (not that I’m letting my son see it – I don’t think the glass TV cabinet doors would be safe if he had one). IrishGirlieKnits mitts, all of them! And I love Brittany Wilson’s Vintage Fringe – it’s going to have to be knitted soon.

I’ll be making Sara Gresbach’s Tupelo slouch, which I bought during last year’s GAL, but ran out of time to knit. And some of Elizabeth Musselman Green’s Frankenfingers to use up some of the stash of sock yarn. And cheezombie’s Garden Slug will be knitted in time to put him on the crazy Christmas tree of handmade decorations.

What haven’t you done yet (in craft, in business or in life) that you really, really want to? 

I’m currently in the final few months of my PhD, and I can’t wait for that to be done – I started it before either of my children were born, or even thought of, and never expected it taking quite as long as it has, but I’m starting to feel like there might be an end in sight. And then the thing I really want to do is make knitting a full-time job, and get a book published. I’d also love to visit New York and Australia – they’ve both been on the list since I was a teenager but I’ve never quite made it.