When Decorator Diane Knowlton finished her bachelor’s degree in psychology and biology, she had no idea she would end up in the Wilton Decorating Room one day.
Knowlton was always interested in science, but she also had a creative side and enjoyed knitting, crocheting and crafting.
“When I was getting married, my sister-in-law gave me a Wilton yearbook and some basic cake decorating equipment,” she said. “I had not had any exposure to decorating before that.”
Knowlton was born in Florida and still has family there. She and her husband married in Illinois. With Knowlton working days and her husband working nights, she sought out a way to fill her free time and took a Wilton Method® Cake Decorating Class with a co-worker from the office.
“I decided I would put my cake decorating gift to use, took my first classes, and then I was hooked,” she said.
Cakes and Carpal Tunnel
Knowlton made dozens of cakes for her family and their major life events: baptisms, birthdays and even wedding cakes for her sister and cousin in Florida. After completing Wilton Course 2, she became a Wilton Method Instructor and started to teach others how to decorate. She taught decorating for four years until her second child was born, and then took a break from teaching.
“I was shopping at a Jo-Ann store and saw the classes going on, and I knew I wanted to go back to decorating,” she said. “I still worked on making cakes for my family during the years I was not teaching.”
Once both of her children were attending elementary school, Knowlton was shopping in a local grocery store and saw an employee decorating cakes in the bakery section. She also noticed a help wanted sign posted by the bakery.
“I asked about the sign and didn’t know they were going to interview me on the spot,” she said. “The first question they asked was, ‘Can you make a rose?’ I told them of course I could make a rose and so I showed them. They hired me right then and there.”
Knowlton worked at the grocery store for three months before she started to experience major pain and trouble with carpal tunnel.
“I would do weekend orders on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and by the time I would go home on Fridays my fingers would be tingling and numb,” she said. “By Monday, I still couldn’t even hold a pen.”
Knowlton had to have surgery on her right hand – which was her decorating hand – to correct the carpal tunnel. While the surgery alleviated the pain, the timing of the surgery was not the best. Knowlton had already paid to attend a Wilton Method Instructor seminar for advanced classes, and the seminar was scheduled just two days after her hand surgery. However, that didn’t stop Knowlton.
“I went to the seminar and learned everything left handed,” she said. “It helped when I had to teach left handed students.”
The Road to Wilton
Knowlton eventually had surgery for carpal tunnel on her left hand as well. She continued to teach Wilton Method classes. At one of her WMI meetings, she spoke with her coordinator about looking for a full time role. The coordinator referred Knowlton to Sue Matusiak, who was in charge of the Wilton Decorating Room at the time, about an open position.
After going through the interview process and decorating a cake based off of a sketch, she was offered a freelance position. She became a permanent employee after two years and has now worked in the Decorating Room for 19 years.
“There’s been a lot of changes over the years here,” she said. “My favorite cake is the cake we did for the 2014 yearbook cover.”
Wilton Decorators used to take turns each year making the cover cake for the annual Wilton yearbook, which came with a lot of pressure. Eventually, the cover cake became a team effort instead of being assigned to one single decorator.
Knowlton had no experience with fondant or gum paste prior to working in the Decorating Room, but it’s now become one of her favorite decorating mediums, especially when it comes to making flowers. She loves seeing how a vision comes to life and other’s reactions to her cakes.
Outside of Wilton, another passion of Knowlton’s comes in the form of furry, four-legged friends. She has worked with a Samoyed rescue group, the Northern Illinois Samoyed Rescue, for almost 15 years. Knowlton has always been a dog lover, and when she adopted a Samoyed from her sister, she began to have a special attachment to the breed.
Knowlton regularly fosters Samoyeds for NISA and has fostered nearly 20 of the dogs over the years. Some have stayed for weeks, others for years. NISA has a picnic every September and Knowlton always makes a cake for the event. One in particular stands out as a favorite.
“I think my favorite was the mariachi Samoyeds,” she said. “The picnic theme that year was Mexican, so I made all the little cookie dogs have little Mexican hats and instruments.”
The cake was tied to a very memorable rescue for the organization.
“We had rescued five Samoyeds from a puppy mill and these dogs were now older so we wanted to commemorate the dogs we rescued,” she said. “The parents of the dogs we rescued had died, so I made a rainbow bridge out of gum paste connected to a smaller cake with the parents waiting for their puppies to join them one day.”
The rainbow bridge is a popular poem that speaks of an other-worldy place to which a pet goes upon its death, eventually to be reunited with its owner.
Knowlton finds it rewarding to create such memorable cakes.
“I’ve made my daughter’s wedding cake, plenty of birthday cakes and cakes for special occasions,” she said. “It’s always a pleasant thing to see other people enjoying something you’ve created and they say, ‘Wow, you made that?’ and I respond, ‘Yeah I did, no big deal!’”
All of the incredible cakes and sweet treats you see from Wilton come from our amazing decorating team! The Wilton Decorating Room creates about 2,600 decorating projects each year. These projects are used for photography for packaging, Wilton publications, Wilton.com, social media, in-store signage, Wilton course photography and more. Check back each Tuesday to learn more about one of Wilton’s decorators and what it’s like to create and decorate cakes and sweet treats every day. This is post 6 of 7.