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.

What's on your Spring Queue?

Memorial Day is almost upon us, which means summer has almost (unofficially) begun! I hope that doesn't mean your needles and hooks are collecting dust...On my queue? Tremont by Talitha Kuomi in a to-be-determined palette of Provence, Fairfax (scroll down for the link) from Twist Collective in Brass Button, my hands-down favorite Solstice color, and the Emily Shawl in Firefly in the Mermaid colorway. Let me know what you're knitting in the comments or share it with our Ravelry group

In the meantime, Classic Elite yarns are popping up in all my favorite magazines. See anything that catches your eye?

Vogue Crochet 2012 (Special Edition)

Circle Jacket, designed by Cristina Mershon, knit in Classic Elite Yarns Fresco and Pirouette; 8 (10, 13) hanks of Fresco in #5353 Strawberry and 4 (5, 7) balls of Pirouette in #4058 Alizarin. Photo by Rose Callahan.

Vogue Knitting Spring/Summer 2012

Slit Shoulder Top, designed by Margaux Hufnagel in Classic Elite Yarns Seedling; 3 (4, 4, 4, 5, 5) hanks in #4575 summer rain(gray), 2 (2, 3, 3, 3, 3) hanks each in #4501 Summer Cloud (white), #4581 Mint (green), and #4546 Glacier (blue). Photo by Rose Callahan.

Cap Sleeve Top, designed by Twinkle in Twinkle Handknits/Classic Elite Yarns Cruise; 9 (10, 11, 12) skeins in #35 Mint. Photo by Paul Amato for

Knit Simple Spring/Summer 2012

Striped Boat-neck Sweater, designed by Mari Lynn Patrick in Classic Elite Yarns Provence; 3 (3, 4, 4, 4, 5) hanks in #2601 bleached white, 2 (2, 2, 3, 3, 3) hanks in #2650 New Moon. Photo by Rose Callahan.

I-cord Necklace, designed by Michele Muska in Classic Elite Yarns Chesapeake; 2 balls in #5919 carnation and small amounts each in #5955 Shanghai Red and #5925 Tokyo Rose. Photo by Rose Callahan.

Picot Trim Dress, designed by Jil Eaton in Jil Eaton/Classic Elite Yarns CottonTail; 4 (5, 6, 7, 9) hanks in #7554 Lavender, 1 hank in #7520 Aqua. Photo by Paul Amato for

Interweave Knits, Summer 2012

Hana Shell by Ruth Garcia-Alcantud in Classic Elite Yarns Soft Linen:, 5 (6, 7, 8, 8) balls in #2256 Lavender. Photo by Carmel Zucker.

Knitscene Summer 2012

Robin Tank by Amy Christoffers, designed in Classic Elite Yarns Firefly; 4 (4, 5, 5, 5, 6) skeins of #7789 Pink Petunia. Photo by Nathan Rega, Harper Point Photography.

Merida Pullover by Talitha Kuomi, designed in Classic Elite Yarns Solstice; 6 (7, 7, 8, 10, 11, 11) skeins and #2338 Pine Cone, 3 (4, 4, 4, 5, 6, 6) skeins of #2358 Geranium. Photo by Nathan Rega, Harper Point Photography.

Twist Collective, Spring 2012

Fairfax, designed by Tanis Gray in Classic Elite Yarns Solstice; 9 (10, 12, 13, 14, 15) skeins in #2332 Magenta. Photo by Jane Heller.

Knitty, Spring 2012

Petal designed by Heather Hoefle in Classic Elite Wool Bam Boo; 7, 8, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13 skeins in #136 Mulberry.

Designer Spotlight: Elena Nodel

Maya modeling her Summer Days cardigan
My name is Elena Nodel, and I am a mom to a very industrious, busy, ever curious and adventurous little girl. Her name is Maya, and she is my ever present inspiration for all my creative ideas, and the spark that reignited my interest in knitting and designing. I was born and raised in Russia, a place where knitting is part of a lifestyle. It is not uncommon to see moms and grandmas knitting in the parks and playgrounds while watching kids play. As a child I was curious and fascinated enough with their work to actually sit and learn from the ladies. I made my first knitted piece at the age 7. Afterward, I knitted a piece here and there, but nothing serious. Only when I started knitting for my own daughter did my passion for knitting truly blossom. I am a trained microbiologist/immunologist, and have spent years doing scientific research. It might be surprising to some people to see me as a knitwear designer now. People that know me well were not at all surprised when after our daughter was born I became passionate about knitting. I have always been artistic and imaginative from as long as I remember.

Elena's home in Norilsk, Siberia
How long have you been designing? 
Kids wear is such a personal preference for parents, and I saw little in stores that I liked. So I picked up my needles again, and here I am, and I have been knitting and designing for the last 5 years now.

How did you get started? 
My very first design was a sleeveless dress with some lace elements (Pink Lacey Spring Dress), which was dearly loved. I was so happy with my work, I absolutely had to bring and show it to Diane Debray, the owner of my favorite yarn store Wool and Wicker. It was Diane’s idea that I should make it into the pattern; with Diane’s positive feedback and encouragement over the next few months that followed I started to write down my patterns as my blog posts at first, and then started turning them into the actual patterns later.

How did you get started publishing designs?
I discovered Ravelry, and initially used it as my knitting notebook. I was very surprised when others showed such a great interest in my work. My original patterns had only 1-3 sizes the most, and the number of request to upsize or downsize my patterns was overwhelming. So it was only natural to create proper patterns and offer them to the online world. I have learned a great deal over the last 5 years, and developed a new respect for all the designers out there, as writing patterns is not always easy and there is always a lot of background work involved that regular knitters do not see.

Do you use test knitters?
Always! After my prototype is made, I write and size my pattern, then send it to my test knitters to make sure that my math holds to the actual test. Since my patterns cover sizes from baby to teenagers, I want to be sure that my adjustments for each age group are proper and the garment fits each age group as intended. I am very fortunate to work with a group of very talented knitters who test knit my designs, always challenge me to be a better writer, and trust my ideas no matter how crazy they might seem. We have a great dynamic and constantly learn from each other. Some of my designs would not be available in so many sizes without these wonderful people.

The Maxi Dress
What's the first piece you ever designed?
As I mentioned earlier, my very first piece was Pink Lacey Spring Dress, however I did not feel like I made a proper design till I created Maxi Top/Dress. It was my first fully written, sized, and tested pattern. I wanted to create a design that would grow with my girl, that would be easy to knit, and easy to wear for a little kid. I think I have succeeded with my goal and more. This design is the one I have knitted the most, both as gifts to others and as staple wardrobe pieces for my daughter. It was also my very first exposure to properly sizing a pattern. I remember being very intimidated by the process.

What is the timeline for one of your designs, from swatch to pattern to sample?
Some designs transition from the idea to the garment easily; I sketch the idea, choose yarn, stitch work, do my math, and start knitting. Other patterns can take months to develop. For example, it took me only 2 days for my Tropical Fish Skirt and Summer Days top to transition from the idea to the actual prototype garment. Yet, it took another couple of months to write, size, and test the patterns before they were presented to the knitting community. On the other hand, my Tomboy Cardigan was months in making. I had the idea long before I started working on the prototype, and I must admit that I lost some sleep over it, thinking of every little detail I wanted to be there. I had Tomboy cardigan in sketch form for about 5-6 months until I found a construction method that fit perfectly with my idea of what the design should be like. Since the construction method is fairly new (contiguous set-in sleeves), it took a couple of prototypes to finalize the design. Overall the whole process for this particular design took about 8-9 months to transition from the original sketch to the fully written and tested pattern.

The Tomboy Cardigan
What is your “design process”?
I put a lot of thought and effort in each of my designs. My “design process” always starts with an idea and or inspiration that transition into a sketch. I do not start working on the prototype unless I am absolutely sure about every single detail that will go into the design. While working on a new design, I can spend hours looking for the right yarn and color, making several swatches. I would sometimes rip the whole garment out and start from scratch just because the construction method I chose was not working exactly as I envisioned, the elements I was trying to combine were not flowing together well, or the yarn I chose was not quite right for the project. As you can see it is quite a process, but I thoroughly enjoy it, otherwise I would not be designing! One thing I don't like doing much is seaming, therefore I tend to knit and design in the round as much as possible or find ways to bring down seaming to a bare minimum.

Where do you do your design work? What does your "creative space" look like?
Nothing says Zen to me like being surrounded by lots of colorful yummy yarn. My knitting and yarn followed me everywhere in the house, or rather every room had yarn and one of the numerous projects I always have on the go. That was the case till I got my own work room! I have a computer desk that has my working notebook, markers, scissors, calculator, and measuring tape right in front of me. All my other tools and yarn for all the projects in progress are within an arm’s reach on a study desk next to me. I have a very comfy Lazy Boy chair, where I like to sit and knit, while watching Netflix on my computer. And of course, it is also surrounded by yarn and projects.

My Honey Cardigan from the Spice Girls 2 eBook

What is your favorite piece you designed? What was your inspiration?
My newest project tends to be my favorite, though I do have a couple of designs that stand out for me for one reason or the other. My newest release is “My Honey” cardigan for my Spice Girls 2 ebook. It was a bit challenging to design as I wanted to have lace yoke and at the same time keep it very simple for a large range of sizes. I found a very elegant solution and was very happy with the result. I would say it was one of my knitting experiments that went very well. My other two designs that I really love are “Color Me Pretty Hat” and “Fancy Guppy Skirt”. I love the hat because it provides the knitter with so many different color possibilities and fits. I have made 6 of those hats myself, and there will be many more next winter! I love the skirt because it is so “IN” right now with the fashion, and it is such a great stash buster for all the odd left over yarns. It also provides a lot of visual fun while changing and combining various colors together; the design lends so many different possibilities to a knitter. Another reason I love this skirt so much is because it was inspired by my beloved Missoni line.

Missoni-inspired Fancy Guppy skirt
What advice would you give someone who is interested in knit design?
Follow your inspiration - there is no wrong or right, don’t be afraid to start. If you have an idea, write it down; you will be surprised how quickly you might forget it! If you are very new to the whole scene, find test knitters and treat them very nicely– they will help you a lot along your way, and who knows, you might build long lasting friendships. I sure did! Designing knitwear is a constant learning curve; challenge yourself, do your research, but most importantly HAVE FUN!

To learn more about Elena Nodel and her work, visit her website or her Ravelry page.