Designer Spotlight: Talitha Kuomi

Talitha is the designer behind the Joya Vest, this week's free pattern featured in the Web-Letter, as well as multiple designs in our Spring 2012 collection. Learn more about Talitha on her website and blog, and be sure to check out her other designs on Ravelry. Read on to learn about her creative process, how she got started, and to hear her advice for aspiring knit designers! Visit the CEY website to sign up for the weekly Web-Letter, delivering free patterns, news and more to your email inbox every Tuesday. 

How long have you been designing?
I was a painfully shy kid who spent hours and hours in my room alone cutting and hand sewing outfits for my Raggedy Ann doll. It sounds very girly-girl, but actually I was sort of an introverted tomboy who loved riding my bike to the foot of a climbing tree so I could scale its trunk and nestle quietly in the branches to read a book. Surely Raggedy Ann needed new clothes, I thought, because how would she be able to have any fun in her long dress and white lacy knickers? I grew from that to writing poetry to say the things I couldn't find a voice to say. Then on to singing, eventually writing for and fronting a local blues rock band, all the while altering my clothes to make them just what I wanted them to be. I was eventually trained as a bridal seamstress and designed custom wedding dresses for a couple of years. I moved that business to the little work room at home when my babies were tiny. When they started outgrowing their daytime naps, curious fingers (often coated with jelly) didn't mix well with white satin and sharp pins. It was then that I returned to something I had always loved to do in my spare time, knitting. And because I have always had ideas of just how things should fit and drape, writing patterns my own way soon followed. So I guess, really, that I have been creating or designing in one way or another for most of my life.

How did you get started?
As far as publishing my first pattern, I was pushed. Really. I had been knitting alone at home at night and decided to find some other knitters to knit with. I wound up at the Taunton Stitch'n'Bitch where they welcomed me like an old friend. As we got to talking over the weeks, it came up that I had written some little patterns. They all but begged to see, they gushed when they did, and then they egged and prodded me on. I really might have just remained frustrated that my family was outgrowing my bridal work and not known where to go from there if it wasn't for these knittahs lighting a big encouraging fire under me.

The Loved crown, Talitha's first design
What's the first piece you ever designed?
My first knitting pattern was the result of my 7 yr old's imagination. She came to me one day and announced that she had been invited to a birthday party at the end of the week and she wanted to give her friend a princess crown that was two different colors and had points that ended with little balls at the top. When I asked her where she thought we might find just such a princess crown in only 4 days, she looked at me like I had quite lost my mind and said, "Mama, you're going to knit it. Of course". Her fierce confidence in me inspired me to create 'Loved'. It was hot off the needles as we wrapped it, in the car on the way to the party, but I did get it done and it was exactly what she had wanted it to be.

The Merida Pullover in Solstice, from Knitscene Summer 2012
What is the timeline for one of your designs, from swatch to pattern to sample? 
This is so variable. I've gone from yarn arriving in the mail to knit sample on the way to a photo shoot and finished pattern done in 12 days. I also have ideas that I swatched a year ago that haven't gotten beyond a quirky little square tacked to one of my bulletin boards. Sometimes I'm on a roll and it all comes together at nearly the speed of light. Sometimes I muscle through propelled solely by the hot breath of a deadline on the back of my neck. And there are about a hundred different timeline scenarios that fall in between those two.

Approximately how many patterns do you publish a year? 
When I first started, I published 7 nearly at once. These were all accessories which required very little sizing and were things I had done before I decided to "officially" design patterns at all. Then I spent a year figuring out how to size garments and released 15 patterns in the midst of working out the twists and turns of that. As I started to publish patterns with yarn companies and publishers, there was a delay that comes into play. It's about 6 to 8 months after the deadline for a pattern and sample being completed that it will actually be released by a bigger company. So, most of what I wrote in 2011 is being released now. The current number of new patterns of mine that will be released by the end of 2012 stands at 37, but the year's not over yet.

The Tremont Cardigan in Provence, from the CEY Spring 2012 booklet, Gatehouse
Do you use test knitters?
I have a friend and neighbor, Jean, who both test knits and knits samples for me. She knit the sample of Cedar in the CEY photos. She's super flexible and an amazing knitter. My patterns are always better because of her experience and suggestions. A good test knitter is not always easy to find and I recently met up with two more, which is very exciting. My friend, Kat, also does tech editing for me. She has a great head for details and a meticulous eye. Sometimes what makes perfect sense in my head doesn't come across plainly when I write it out. A second, or third, set of eyes is such a crucial thing. I really depend on all of them for their honesty and their willingness to share their ideas of how to make my work better and clearer.

Can you guess which CEY Spring 2012 design this came from?
What is your "design process"?
Do some people really have a cut and dried answer to this? I'm so all over the place. Still, I guess the generalized nutshell version goes something like this. I am walking my way through any ol' day. I might be in my little workroom in a 'designing mood', but it is just as likely to happen out and about in the world at large, when something catches my attention. Could be the smell of cornbread or the shadow my son's tricycle makes on the cement. Maybe it's unexpected laughter from my youngest girl, my friend Steve's newest guitar riff or the welcome return of a happy memory. It could even be the way a certain branch intertwines with the next or something from a magazine page at my doctor's office. The receptionist there is no longer surprised when I approach her with my fingers marking two or three pages of the newest addition to the waiting room reading material, asking if she would please photocopy pages 17, 23 and 41 ... but I digress. Whatever it is that catches me, I suddenly feel a bit energized and the urge to 'capture the moment' in some way overtakes me. I scribble down any words I can recall to remind me of the feeling. I sketch on the nearest scrap of anything paper-like. From there it's sort of just riding the wave as far as it will take me and then letting the stubborn determination to get the job done take me to the finish line. In this process, something always gets created, and sometimes it's a new pattern.

Where do you do your design work? What does your "creative space" look like?
My creative space is a combination of two spots that are night and day different. My actual workroom is small and packed to the gills. There are two wall-sized bulletin boards chock full of swatches and magazine pages, photo copies and sketches. There are a couple of guitars and my Grandma's old Singer sewing machine. There are favorite rocks from Maine vacations, cards from my husband, a collage that was a gift from my college roommate, the pvc pipe loom my dad made me, a poetic wall plaque from my mum, and things that each of my kids have made. There are verses and photos people have mailed to me, rough sketches drawn on paper bags from Wendy's and fabric I like too much to use just yet because I haven't found the perfect project for it. There is a little bit of everything that is important to me in this small room. It inspires me, but I can't knit there.

I dream in the midst of all that stuff, then I grab yarn and needles on my way to 'the knitting chair'. This tweedy tan thrift store chair sits in a quiet corner of the living room. Everything here is at a minimum. The walls are empty, the deep maroon faux leather couch is comfortably worn and the dark wood cabinet is a piece I grew up with. The windows are intentionally bare and there is little to nothing to visually distract me. This is where I knit and where I do the math for increases, decreases, sleeve caps and sizing. This is where I am calmed and relaxed enough to enjoy the process. It's a stark contrast to the over-stimulation of the workroom, but the combination of the extremes of these two spaces is exactly what I need to get through all the steps from raw idea to finished pattern.

Waterlily in Classic Silk, photographed on the Nashua River in Groton, MA
What is your favorite piece you designed for the Spring Collection? What was your inspiration?
Waterlily is my favorite. This picture makes me think 'vacation', 'free time', 'good company', and 'not a care in the world'. It captures the exact feel I was going for when I designed it. We spend two weeks every summer in this big cottage with three generations of my cousins: grandparents, grown kids and grandkids. We are pretty close to the beach there and trek down to the water at least twice a day. I was thinking, "instead of my standard old t-shirt and faded denim cutoffs, what would I rather throw on over my bathing suit to walk the two small town blocks to the beach?". This was my answer.

Waterlily in Classic Silk from the CEY Spring booklet Riverside
What advice would you give someone who is interested in knit design?
There are so many wonderful designers out there and so many great patterns (quite a few of which I'd like to find the time to knit myself). Because of this, I think the most important thing is to be yourself. I mean, do something that only you would come up with. Maybe that's a certain combination of stitches, or an unusual construction, or a color combo that really calls out to you. Figure out what makes your idea unique and then make it real with everything your own unique history can bring to it. Don't ever design things you don't like or bend away from your own personality just to be published. There's only one you, let yourself shine.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post-I like many of her designs and was wondering who she was. Now I know! Keep up the good work.Linda