Designer Q&A: Kathy Zimmerman

Kathy Zimmerman, an accomplished knitter, teacher, and nationally recognized knitwear designer, is the owner of Kathy’s Kreations, a yarn shop specializing in quality handknitting yarns and accessories. Her love of cables and texture is featured on the cover of Interweave Knits Spring 2017 with the gorgeous Narragansett Gansey!

—Sarah Rothberg
Assistant Editor, Interweave Knits

When and why did you start designing?

Knit Designer Kathy Zimmerman

I had already been knitting for around 10 years, but what really motivated me was a trip to a TKGA (The Knitting Guild of America) convention where I took a course called “Knitting in Plain English” by Maggie Righetti. It was my first convention—and my first plane ride! Maggie had some wonderful basic pearls of wisdom that she passed along, and I learned so much about gauge, swatching, and fibers.

I came back from that convention all inspired, and my first design was published in 1985, in McCall’s Design Ideas: Christmas Knit & Crochet: Gifts for Everyone on Your List in the baby gifts story. It was three sets of baby bibs and booties. I just took a chance on sending something in and the rest is history—it kind of snowballed from there. I knew that I wanted to do more than just knit and I felt that I had a lot of creative ideas, and I took a chance to see if there was an editor that would agree, that they would find my design ideas interesting and worthy of publication. I then began working for Classic Elite [Yarns] making their model garments and was later invited to knit my own designs.

What is the most rewarding part about designing?

Seeing the magazine come out. I’m used to seeing the sweater about 18 inches from my face when I’m knitting. I’m trying to make a deadline, make changes, and trying to make everything work. But when it comes out in the magazine a few months later it’s like, “Gee, I remember that when it was blocking on my table! And wow, look at what they did with it!” Seeing the editor’s presentation of it is very rewarding.

What was your inspiration for the Narragansett Gansey on the cover of Interweave Knits Spring 2017?

Meghan [Babin, editor of Knits] invited me to design a project for the twentieth anniversary issue [Fall 2016]. I sent her three swatches that I felt were my signature pieces with cables and a traditional Aran style—the kinds of things I just love to do. She ended up keeping all three swatches: one for the twentieth anniversary issue, one for the Winter [2017] issue, and then this [the Narragansett Gansey].

I love to do these traditional Arans because I feel that the stitchwork tells a story. The story that this one told was about the trinity stitch, which is a very popular Aran-type design that has been around forever. I wanted to include some other types of things from the United Kingdom, so I added some touches of Gansey sweaters and a diagonal stitch that had the little rope cables, which are again very traditional.

I like to tell a story of traditional stitch patterns that is meaningful to me. I will swatch and swatch until I get cables and stitches that work together well—so things harmonize and blend really well and are easy to knit and remember. I really enjoy Meghan’s approach—she’s taking traditional sweaters and updating them for the modern knitter. And that’s fun because then I have to think about how to take the beautiful Aran sweaters and make them look like someone would want to wear and knit them today.

What advice would you give aspiring designers?

Learn your craft and learn how to design, because there are so many poorly written patterns out there. It can also be helpful to find a mentor or someone who needs a test knitter. When they send you a pattern that is kind of a rough draft, you get to see the process of how that designer is thinking and how the pieces of the puzzle fall in. Eventually, you’ll understand the process and that lightbulb just goes on!

You don’t want to just write out a recipe because there’s a lot of thought that goes into a well-written pattern—and it shows. When you are designing for a magazine, your pattern is sent to the editor and it goes through rounds of technical editing that make your pattern look fantastic because it’s professionally done. And I think that is missing from a lot of Internet patterns, particularly the ones that are out there for free. I would much rather have a magazine pattern that I know is well written and was tech edited—one I can trust.

Where do you see the knitting community in the future?

I think knitting (and yarn shops) will continue on, even though our lifestyles are changing and we are getting more and more dependent on technology, because knitters want to come in the shop, they want to see the yarn, they want to feel the yarn, and they want to interact with people, and they don’t always get that on YouTube. I think we will always continue to have some aspect of a personal touch through yarn shops. I see a lot of people who are coming in and they’re excited, creative, and they’re doing things on their own, but it’s nice that there are organizations out there and social media outlets that allow them to interact with other people—it’s great for fellowship.

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