Interview: Nikki and Danni McWilliams, fashion designers

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C ustard creams. Owls with huge whirling eyes. Moustaches, clouds, teapots. Combine these with a smattering of Swarovski crystals and a Tutti Frutti colour palette and you begin to get the idea of Tights For Sore Eyes, Scotland's latest and most bonkers brand of hand-printed hosiery.

Everything from the design to stapling packets is done by cousins Nikki and Danni McWilliams, who have been messing around with textiles since they were little girls. Nikki, 24, was always making comics and stitching toys for the younger children in the family. The pair have happy memories of commandeering an uncle's industrial sewing machine for an early dress-making experiment.

"We stayed up all night, watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off, drinking hot chocolate," Danni recalls. She made a top that was "reasonably successful" and a pair of snakeskin-print denim trousers, which were less so.

Fast forward a decade or so. Nikki has a degree in fine art from Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee. Danni, now 22, studied clothing design and manufacture at Heriot-Watt. By the time she graduated, Nikki was already printing textiles to make pictures, cushions and badges that reflect her love of vintage cafes, chocolate biscuits and tea.

She was organising a craft sale in Dundee when Danni rang. Why not, she said, make some things together? They kicked a few ideas around. Clothes? Too expensive. What was small, pocket-money-priced and easy to screenprint? They alighted on tights.

The first session was tough. "We made," Nikki recalls, "so much work for ourselves." Every pair was different. As well as the flocks of birds there were huge, black clouds, pots of tea pouring down the back of legs, scissors and stationery. The packaging was hand-drawn and coloured in.

On the evening of the sale, they set up their stall with Nikki's badges and cushions on one side, the tights on the other. Tights For Sore Eyes were the hit of the evening. Half their stock was snapped up by other stall-holders. By the time the sale ended, at midnight, they realised they had hit on something.

"There are a few people doing tights but ours are different," says Danni. "They are really graphic, really kitsch, they make a strong statement. I don't think everybody would feel they could pull them off but anybody could wear them."

However, she is the first to admit her fashion industry tutors would not be impressed. "The way we process them is not a commercial way of producing anything. They are for people who appreciate one-off things: hand made, hand screen-printed. It's all been done on a local level. Anybody can get tights from Primark."

This is not strictly true and the discerning hosiery shopper, the kind who wants minky-brown, mid-length pop socks dotted with real Swarovski crystals, will have a long, lonely search through the mounds of cheap leggings. But for anyone who loves a visual joke, a wild coloured leg and can carry off a moustache beneath their knee or a bold black pylon on their yellow ankle, Tights For Sore Eyes will have them kicking their heels with glee.

Six months on, Danni and Nikki, are working on their third run of tights. They have branched into two and three-colour printing and embellishment. As well as selling their tights at cool craft and vintage fairs, they are available online and at a pop-up boutique, The Spider and the Fly, in Edinburgh.

Given the huge amount of work involved – these are truly haute couture tights – the prices are extraordinarily reasonable. The sparkling pop socks, perhaps the sauciest item in the range, are 8. Nothing costs more than 15.

"We wanted to make something that was unique and affordable at the same time," says Nikki.

www.folksy.com/shops/tightsforsoreeyes;

thespiderandtheflyedinburgh.blogspot.com

This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday on Sunday, 5 September, 2010