Meet Cynthia Dorrough: Knitting Instructor, Designer, and Pattern Editor ￼
Cynthia comes from a family of women makers. Her grandparents and parents often shared stories about learning how to quilt and sew out of necessity and felt the need to pass the skill down to her. Quilting was the first craft she was exposed to as a child. She watched her great-grandmother and grandmother quilt by hand and graduated to using the sewing machine. She recalls memories of quilting meetups held either at her grandparents’ house or someone else’s home. When her grandmother wasn’t quilting, she was crocheting. Seeing her granddaughter’s curiosity (watching hand movement), Cynthia’s grandmother gave her a crochet hook and yarn before showing her how to do a single chain. Once her heart was content, she learned how to do other stitches. One day a family friend, who was like an aunt, taught her how to knit. She fell in love with it, but it also became her primary craft as an adult.
In the interview below, Ms. Dorrough candidly shares her creative journey, business purpose, thoughts on online craft communities, and much more.
How has your craft journey helped you get through life?
My craft journey has been a life-long journey, which I reflect on often. I’m fortunate to be a descendant of women who worked with their hands. When I helped with hand quilting, I started underneath the quilt versus the top of the quilt. As I grew older, I watched, practiced, and learned more. As my responsibilities grew, there were more challenges and lessons to learn.
When I finally got a chance to work on top of the quilt, I remember having to remove the stitches because they were uneven. The number of times I had to correct stitches taught me about paying attention to detail, and it was a test of my patience. The hand quilting skills transferred to other crafts.
Learning how to knit and crochet also allowed me to have an even closer relationship with my paternal grandmother. I learned things about and from her that some relatives didn’t know. She taught me crocheting while I was in middle school. The joy of repetition made it easier for me to understand more complex techniques. Then I had the chance to teach her how to do brioche knitting. That was one of the fondest memories because she was the one who taught me to crochet and stitch, and I had the opportunity to show her something new in knitting.
Being detail-oriented, well organized, preparing the workspace, and the mattress stitch are some of the many transferable skills from my quilting background that found life in the knitting world. The importance of community and connection were huge lessons I got from my great-grandmother, grandmother, and friends because their craft circle was their lifeline and sanctuary, and no one would disturb their peace.
Your Business is High Contrast Knits and Designs. How does your business serve in multiple capacities (as a knitting instructor, designer, and technical editor?)
As an instructor, I help knitters that want to add more tools to their knitting arsenal by removing the intimidation factor from techniques knitters tend to shy away from. As a designer, I help makers who want to make patterns with visually interesting features with high color contrast. We can make the simple look complex and vice versa. As a technical editor, I help new and experienced designers by ensuring that their patterns are clear, concise, cohesive and that their voice shines through their designs. In one of my classes, knitters learn four types of colorwork: mosaic, stranded, intarsia, and brioche. I also teach lace knitting, a post-apocalyptic life skill, which teaches students how to read a knitting chart.
I’m a firm believer in cultivating relationships organically. I believe that like-minded people gravitate towards one another. My online community was built by linking up with both makers and non-makers, who supported my ideas and knew me in real life. I’m also authentic every time I show up online.
What are your experiences as both a crafter and a craft business owner? What are some similarities and differences?
Being a crafter and craft business owner has been a lesson in balance, figuring out what works, boundaries (setting and keeping them), and being selective about who I surround myself with. I don’t believe that all crafters should be business owners. However, I think craft businesses should have a crafter involved in the decision-making process.
You can pattern your business model as you see fit on the business side of things. In both, you can modify and amend as you grow and evolve in the makerspace just like you would if you’re working from a pattern or guide. Many of us with craft businesses looked at business models in other industries and used what was feasible.
Another similarity is investing time in the small things that lead to success. The tedious thing that we may grimace about is what gives a polished finished product. In crafting, you might have to press a seam or weave ends, but at least you won’t have a garment that unravels on you in public. In business, you are the maker, administrator, bookkeeper, sourcing, and everything else, but you must pay attention to every task to ensure success.
The difference between the two is the impact of a deadline. On the crafting side, you control the deadlines. If you work on a project for eight months, you are only accountable to yourself. In business, deadlines are governed by various factors, and not always are you in control of the deadline, especially in collaborations or doing commissioned work for a client. Deadlines determine your compensation and future opportunities.
Another difference is the level of social media engagement. As a hobby, I can post something, have a small conversation, and go on about my business. In business, when a product is posted, it leads to a conversation, but I have to be intentional about how I engage with my audience. Engagement can lead to a potential partnership. Unlike a personal post, I can’t just post and leave.
What are your true thoughts about online craft groups/communities?
Online craft communities are great tools to have, but if you aren’t careful and no clear boundaries are established, you will easily get caught up in chaotic moments. The online fiber community was an asset during the pandemic. I was able to keep in touch with my knitting friends and make new ones. In addition, I was able to meet makers who weren’t able to go to their local yarn store (LYS) or those who didn’t have a yarn shop accessible to them.
On the flip side, I warn against getting caught up in the cult of personality – quick to react, slow to understand. I’ve been on social media for a long time, and social media personas are a curated and truncated version of people and their lives. We only see a glimpse of that person’s world at that moment. The fiber community is a microcosm of the global community, just a more talented and creative version of the global community, and it’s far from a utopia with its own seedy underbelly. Still, I wouldn’t throw it away for anything because I believe we are on the brink of significant change.
Five things people would be surprised to know?
I’m ambidextrous, an introvert, once taught middle school math and science, play a few percussion instruments (piano, drums, and cymbals), and visited all 50 states.
How would you describe your personality?
I can be silly and not take myself too seriously. At times I’m quiet and observant.
What’s your creative approach?
“Take the risk! The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work.”
What hurdles did you have to overcome as a business owner?
I had to learn to break tasks into manageable chunks. I had a bad habit of not addressing mundane parts of the business until the 11th hour. Don’t get me wrong, circumstances will arise and catch you off guard, no matter how well laid out the plan. However, if you can avoid it, break down your tasks and set a working schedule for yourself. Lastly, accountability groups are a gift. They keep me on a direct path. Otherwise, I’d be out here floating in the universe.