It is a pleasure to bring you this issue’s Renaissance Mom, Talitha Kuomi. We first worked with Talitha in our Spring 2010 issue, The Green Issue. Talitha contributed two great hat patterns, Stature and How Precious. Since then we have enjoyed more designs from her, including Asa and this issue’s upsized Asa. Talitha is currently a participant in The Fiber Factor and has many designs in various publications.
Thank you Talitha for joining us. Why don’t you start by telling us how you got into crafting.
I was a painfully shy child. I tended to lean toward tomboy activities like bike riding or tree climbing because they required little to no talking. For the same reason, I loved reading and things I could make with my own two hands alone in a quiet room. There is a thrill when you pedal to the top of a steep hill or reach the upper branches of an aged tree. In my head those thrills are connected to the rush of watching fabric or yarn turn into something right in front of me that I first imagined in my head.
You have had some very interesting jobs along the way, and now you are a knitwear designer. How did that come about?
I worked at a coffee shop until learning to make the regular’s drinks just right was no longer fun. I drove a forklift filling box trucks with bales until I had found all the different ways it was possible to stack them and it wasn’t interesting anymore. I wrote a couple of sets full of originals, then put together a blues rock band to gig at local clubs until getting home at 3am no longer jived with my babies waking up at 5am. I have done the things that called to me as new experiences that I could learn from, until each one either no longer worked within my family dynamic or no longer pushed me to grow creatively. My last job before knitwear was bridal alteration and design. I had basic sewing skills and found a shop that would train me. I worked there altering dresses until the constant stress of the bridesmaids, brides, and their families made me dread going to work. I moved the business to my house and took on one wedding at a time, that brought back my love of the process of taking a bride’s dream dress from her dreams to her closet. But when my 7 yr old son outgrew his naps, his sweet jelly covered fingers were a menace to the white lace and satins that were my work.
I had knit on and off since I was 12, and after finishing up with my last bride, I took it up again while I figured out what to do next. Finding Ravelry led me to the local ‘Clack and Yack’ (as my kids call it) in Taunton, and those knitters encouraged me to the point where I decided to focus my creativity at knitwear design and see what happened. That’s how my love of knitting began growing into more than just the ‘hobby’ it had been before.
You are a contestant on The Fiber Factor, congratulations! How has the competition affected your regular work load as well as your home life?
Thank you. It’s funny, if I had known what I was getting into I’m not sure I would have applied. That’s the truth. Even in the two week breaks between challenges, although my head is full of new ideas, I am physically so drained that I have to be content just jotting down notes and rough sketches. That’s really a direct result of my home life. I’m not willing to not give my 100% to my family, so ‘disappearing’ for a few all nighters and then taking a few days to recover like I would have in college doesn’t work these days as a way to crank things out for the competition’s challenges. I’ve had to be very careful with my time, staying up only a little extra each night and paying attention to make sure I don’t get tired enough that my patience runs short or my energy lags for my kids. They deserve better than that.
My regular work load has been squeezed in here and there while they have play dates or go out with Grandma and Gramps. Ironically, because there is often quite a delay between my meeting a deadline and a publisher releasing the pattern, I’ve had new patterns being released throughout the competition that I worked on earlier. Still, except for the designs I had already contracted to do before The Fiber Factor began, I have very little time for new design work for any outside publishers now. This means that as the competition winds down later this fall, I will be releasing some indie patterns myself as I’m knitting up new things and writing new patterns, but there will be very little else that gets released in other ways for almost 6 months. My goal business-wise has always been to strike some sort of a balance between self publishing and having my patterns published by others. I’ll have to adjust this goal greatly as I’m returning to life post-competition.
One thing is that I’ve become much more aware of what my limits are and what parts of designing really make me happy. I’m thinking this will help me make my future decisions based more on what I’m willing or wanting to do rather than what I think I can do. The silver lining of it all for my family is that my kids have sort of upped their interest in ‘making things’ from watching me design this time around. Usually, other than Saturday mornings at In The Loop, I design in a pretty solitary way. I tend to leave the bulk of the design work for once the kids go to bed and I wind down most days by quietly knitting before I go to bed. The Fiber Factor deadlines can be really tight, so that’s forced me to do more sketching, assembling mood boards and even taping the required videos during the day where the kids can see. I never meant to hide what I do from them, it was just more convenient to work uninterrupted. Now they all want to be involved. The 6 and 7 yr olds have taped videos of their plans to to more or less change the world. My 13 yr old has started an indie magazine with other local kids submitting stories,craft how-to’s, photos and artwork. And my 3 yr old wants me to help him ‘write up the patterns’ forthe different ways he sets up his train tracks. There are probably teachers who have my photo on their dart boards at this point, but I love to watch my kids think outside the box. Makes my heart leap just a little.
Are you a work-at-home mom or do you have a work space out of the home? If you are a work-at-home mom, how do you juggle your work duties with your mom duties?
I work out of the house from a little room the kids named ‘The Fixing Room’. It’s all my stuff and no kids allowed without permission. Having a space where I can start something and leave it out until I get back to it knowing the kids won’t be into it is huge for me. The other thing that makes it work is a combination of priorities and doing whatever I’m doing without letting my other responsibilities creep in. That’s a bit vague, let me think of an example. Housework is endless. I mean with 4 active kids and often 3-5 more from the neighborhood here after school, there are always messes to be cleaned, diapers to be changed and scuffles to be moderated. That stuff is my priority in the daytime.
After my oldest heads up to bed about 9pm, I could keep at the cleaning and the laundry and the dishes and the general running a home stuff until my bedtime. Every day. It never all gets done. So, I worked out a personal rule for myself: once the kids go to bed, all that other stuff just stays like it is until morning. Unless it’s going to stain or cause some true catastrophe, it’s all going to sit there unchanged. Part of this rule is allowing myself to do what I want at night with no guilt. I’m not avoiding the chores, it’s not their allotted time. I’m making sure that I’ve scheduled in some time to be creative, which right now is designing, because that’s what fuels me to wade through the daily things the next day.
What inspires your creativity?
The emotions that bubble to the surface by just living. I could give a longer answer, but I’ve found it all boils down to that. I am inspired to design by things I’ve seen or smelled or touched or somehow experienced that caused me to feel.
What do you think has been your biggest struggle as a working mom?
I struggled a lot at the beginning to not agree to do too much. New collaborations, new yarns, new ideas…I wanted to do it all right then, but there’s not room in my life for that and my husband and my kids. Now as far as work goes, I chose to do the things I’m most excited about first. If I have time later on, which I haven’t yet, I’ll come back to the other things. Along with this is just being content with saying ‘no’ sometimes, rather than feeling like I’m missing out not being able to say ‘yes’ to everything.
Saying ‘yes’ to being the best Mama I can be and making my home what I want my kids to remember of their childhoods means saying ‘no’ to other things. That was a tricky thing to get my head around at first.
What are your goals for yourself or your business for your future?
I’m not much of a big picture kind of thinker. I’m really happy with the way things are. If it changes, it changes. As long as I love what I’m doing I’ll keep doing it. When I don’t love it any more, it’s time to tweak things or move on.
What other hobbies do you like to dabble in? What is your favorite way to relax?
Dabbling is one of my fortes. I like to make jewelry, play guitar, write poetry, climb trees, sew (especially by hand), sing, and take pictures. If you asked me next week you might get a different list.
What I’ve always wanted to learn to do is paint, not necessarily traditionally. Maybe more graffiti based, or multi-media. When my 3yr old starts full day school, then I’ll explore that some more. To relax, I like to walk. Doesn’t much matter where: the beach at night, the city at rush hour, small town sidewalks at midday. Walking clears the clutter out of my head and then everything seems possible. That’s what I call relaxed.
Do you have any advice to give other women that are interested in starting their own small business?
Talk out your ideas and take advice. When your excitement for the new venture ramps up, it’s easy to lose perspective without a sounding board. Be sure you have a small group of people who will support you emotionally and intellectually through the process. These can be friends or family or co-workers, just as long as they have enough distance from what you want to do to have fairly unbiased perspective.
Ponder if turning something you’re interested in into a business will take the joy out of it for you. Pay close attention to what you love and then do the work to protect it.
What is your favorite game to play with your kids?
My kids like to make up their own games. Very amusing stuff. The newest is my favorite. It’s
called ‘That’s Not the Aardvark’. The first player comes up with a nonsense pairing of an aardvark and an activity like: ‘The aardvark was waxing the car’. The second player says “That’s not the aardvark, that’s the tiger. The aardvark was eating pickled pig’s feet.” The next player (can be the first again, or the third) says: ‘That’s not the aardvark, that’s the ____. The aardvark was ____.’ You get the idea. Only rules are that you can’t repeat an animal, except the aardvark, and you can’t repeat an activity. Game either dissolves in laughter or ends when something presents itself that sounds like more fun than the game.
Thank you Talitha. You have such a healthy perspective on life!
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