Designer Interview: Cathy Payson

Sparrow in Seedling
Blue Heron in Seedling

Cathy Payson is a prolific knit designer who has been designing for Classic Elite for years. Search her name on Ravelry and you'll find almost 60 patterns, ranging from online publications to books and even to TV with her contribution to Knitting Daily TV. She is the designer behind Sparrow and Blue Heron, two patterns from our Seedling booklet, and was kind enough to chat with us about her career and design process.

How long have you been designing?
I designed my first sweater over 20 years ago.

How did you get started?
I learned to knit while in college and after one lesson was completely addicted. I took every knitting book I could find out of the library and tried to teach myself whatever I could. Luckily the student who taught me to knit was kind enough to never say no when I asked for help, so I could easily move along in my projects. A few years after college I went to work for Aarlan Yarns and started to learn about the handknitting industry. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to work at a couple of yarn companies (Classic Elite and Reynolds Yarns) and in knitwear design for a women’s apparel company.

Bateau Mittens in Inca Alpaca from Booklet 9121, Wharf

What's the first piece you ever designed?
Actually I designed my first sweater while working for CEY! I dug the leaflet out of my archives and it’s pattern #282 – called “The Perfect First Knitting Project”. It is a pretty easy v-neck pullover vest with a chunky cable up the center front. I think it was during my first season at CEY and was in a great yarn called Applause.

The Perfect First Knitting Project, available on Patternfish!

What pieces did you design in the Spring Collection?
I did two pieces in Seedling – I love that yarn and all the yarns in the Verde Collection. One is the hooded capelet Blue Heron and the other is a cabled necklace called Sparrow.

What is the timeline for one of your designs, from swatch to pattern to sample?
It varies and every project is different. I think ideally it’s great to have 3-4 weeks to work from beginning to end but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes a yarn is late coming in from a mill and/or photo shoot dates are imminent so you’re given just a very short time to complete a project. You just have to be flexible and work with what you get but basically it’s sketch, swatch, write and size the pattern, knit.

Princess Mixed Rib Turtleneck from #9084 Uptown Knitting

Do you use test knitters?
Not usually. I’m sort of the chief cook and bottle washer, doing much of my knitting myself. I like to write and size a pattern first before knitting the sample. That way I sort of test the pattern myself and can edit as I go along.

Unisex Seed Stitch Pullover from #9074 Essentials

What is your "design process"?
I’m not sure if I really have a process but I think in a nutshell I always keep my ears and eyes wide open. You never know when an idea will come to you or where it will come from. I am equally inspired by home magazines as I am fashion magazines and always am looking online for trends and what’s going on in the world. I don’t think that we need to necessarily be on the cutting edge of fashion in the handknitting industry but it’s always good to see what’s out there and what may be applicable. I try to design more timeless pieces that will be challenging enough for a veteran knitter but also accessible for a novice knitter too – the main goal being to end up with very wearable pieces.

Two, Two Cabled Pullover from #9061 Beginnings

Where do you do your design work? What does your "creative space" look like?
This photo is of my workspace. But nothing beats my favorite place to knit, which is in a cozy corner of our couch. It’s a sectional with one corner which is the exact right spot to sit and knit.

What is your favorite piece you designed for the Spring Collection? What was your inspiration?
I’d have to say Blue Heron, the hooded capelet. It’s sometimes hard to think of accessories to do for the spring season but I had seen a photo of a suede hooded capelet. It looked like it was something you’d want to throw on over everything but it was a woven piece. I thought it would be a good idea to make it into a spring accessory in a cozy yarn – for a chilly night or even over a bathing suit at the beach.

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