Love, Secrets and Birth – It All Stacks Up (the story behind a favourite design)

This is the story behind an image that has come to have resonance well beyond itself.

Today a brand new mama messaged me to say that she is wearing her Heart-stacked Tiki tee in hospital.

“Rocking my tiki tee in hospital today – soooo comfy! Hope your tummy nugget isn’t too far away!” – R. Fraser

I love getting news like this – and I especially love hearing news of my designs that end up having a resonance beyond being ‘just a t-shirt’. This design is especially close to my heart because I designed it with current baby in mind (due any day now it feels like…) and it has also been my favourite tee to wear for this pregnancy.

Where did the design come from?

When I was newly pregnant (in the ‘secret stages’ of the first trimester), I was teaching a year 10 Art Class observational drawing techniques and pattern-making skills. One of the sources for images to draw from was a book about Te Papa’s Taonga Maori (Maori Treasures) Collection.

Once I had set the students up and they were on task, I found a quiet moment to leaf through the book at leisure and this image of a Hei Tiki pendant  (1700 -1847) caught my eye. For some reason it really caught my attention.

I had never noticed that the mouth shape of traditional Hei Tiki is kind of a heart shape. I had never noticed that the outside shape is an echo of the internal lines. The more I looked it, the more ‘heart-like’ shapes I saw – each echoing the others – and I couldn’t stop thinking about them.


After class, I started doodling on the back of my roll. I drew hearts within hearts and hearts on top of hearts and after several sketches and loose looping forms, I ended up with this ‘heart-stacked tiki’ design.


I fell in love with it as it immediately came to symbolise my ‘secret love’ growing inside me.

When I look at it now, I see it differently every time. There are three different ways to look at it.

Sometimes I see a totem of two heads with heart-noses. Sometimes I see a mummy tiki made up of hearts holding another ‘heart/life’ in her centre.But I also see it in a third way – as a baby holding its new life as a heart inside a heart-shaped womb.

This design has been printed in green on white tee-shirts to symbolise pounamu in New Zealand (our native jade or green stone). I printed a one-off for myself in hot pink on a grey tee for myself as a designer’s bonus when I did the first print run (you can see this in the montage image below of Outie ‘kiwi’ motifs).

Since its ‘birth’, this design has become iconic for me. I have made it into a glass-domed pendant, a tea-towel design, and an emblematic ‘cross print’ fabric for a quilt to gift some friends who are about to get married (don’t look Kristy x) and I have started making a pendant for myself in sterling silver in a jewellery course too.

The Heart-stacked Tiki totem image seems to speak to others too.  I have even been asked if I give permission for the image to be used for a tattoo… I am even tempted myself I love it so much.


The design echoes its way around Outie and has joined the ranks of the Kiwi Baby and Royal Baby as Outie favourites – and below is a preview of a motif used to block out my latest quilting project.


Every design has a story. And this design now has a new dimension with it being the preferred post-birth tee to wear in hospital.

I love how Outie maternity tees play a special role in preparing for birth and beyond. I especially love hearing about the roles they play.

The little message I received today made all of my heart sing.

Love Katrina (Outie)


Tiki Baby thumb


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