Kathleen Dowd Hill: Turning a love of knitting into her own business

Kathleen Dowd Hill enjoys working in her Hinesburg home.
Kathleen Dowd Hill enjoys working in her Hinesburg home.

Kathleen Dowd Hill was working as an innkeeper in Starksboro when a friend who had a knitting machine asked if she would be willing to help out with some socks. At the time, Hill was in the process of building a home in Hinesburg and was looking for another line of work. She enjoyed the assignment and once she had moved into her new home, she started to get serious about her new craft.

A friend of Hill’s knitted Christmas stockings for the Garnet Hill catalogue and through her, Hill learned they were looking for someone to knit mittens. “I didn’t even have a pattern at the time,” she said, “but I kept sending them samples until they found one they liked.” Initially, Hill thought she would get an order for 200 to 300 mittens but Garnet Hill wanted 700. By the time she was done she realized she wanted a little more variety in her life than a single mitten pattern, so in 1994 she stated KD Hill Knitwear.

From her start with mittens, Hill expanded to hats and children’s sweaters. These days, she has added scarves and ponchos to her inventory. For a time, she also crafted adult sweaters but that became more difficult when she lost one of her organic yarn suppliers. Hill gets her cotton from Pennsylvania and her wool from Maine.

Despite the overload of that first catalogue order, Hill likes making mittens best. She took a break from her initial rose pattern for a while but has started back up again. Hill sells her knitwear online (www.kdhillknitwear.com) and has a strong retail presence in Vermont and Massachusetts, as well as one store in California, thanks to one of her customers who saw her work in Vermont and asked the store to carry her line.

Hill used to have a more robust retail presence when she had a rep working on her behalf, but she prefers to have direct contact with stores so she has cut back. Instead, she spends more time at craft fairs and farmers’ markets where she can talk directly to her customers to see what they want.

Hill lived in Hinesburg in the mid-1980s and returned in 1993 after leaving her innkeeper position. A lover of outdoor activity, she enjoys having the opportunity to recreate close to home and she’s happy that her flexible schedule allows her time to get on her bike and engage in other activities. Since Hill uses a knitting machine, she has to be inside when she’s crafting her hats and mittens, but her studio has lots of windows so she can still enjoy the beauty around her home.

Hill admits that when she started her business she found the work stressful. She worried about her displays at craft fairs and farmers’ markets for fear she wouldn’t have the right mix of products, but at this point she feels much more comfortable with her setup. In the summer, Hill supplements her knitting with some garden work for others.

“It’s a nice mix,” she said. “What draws me to knitting is all the different colors and textures. It’s really the same with gardening.”

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