Cathy Hyndman grew up as the youngest of five children in the small farming community of Randolph, Ohio. Her mother was an expert sewer and knitter who taught her to knit when she was young and was not always delighted when her student pirated away all the extra yarn in the house to make mittens. She also remembers referring to a little green and orange book on how to knit and crochet. “It was before I knew anything about fibers. Everything was Red Heart,” she laughs. She honed her skills as a knitter and learned embroidery as a Girl Scout. Her grandmother passed along her skill as a tatter, a craft Cathy perfected enough to tatt the lace on her own wedding dress.
After high school she received a degree in chemistry from Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and earned her M.D. degree from the University of Cincinnati. While she was in medical school she discovered a shop selling beautiful wool yarns that sparked her creative imagination as a knitter.
Her first experiment with creating her own design was a sweater she made for her future husband, a Greenbrier County, West Virginia native whom she met during a stint as a white water rafting guide on the New and Gauley Rivers in West Virginia. After medical school and a residency, she and her husband moved back to Greenbrier County, where she worked as a family care doctor and started her own family: a son and two daughters.
During a vacation trip to Alaska in 1999 she discovered the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation in Dillingham. She joined the staff there in 2000 and enjoyed 20 years of service to the predominantly native Alaskan population. “I appreciated the skills and generosity of the ladies I met there, who taught me to sew skin and fur and at least tried to teach me to make fine baskets from grass,” she recalls.
Her knitting progress stalled as she pursued her medical career. “It was my 40th birthday before I learned to turn a heel,” she says. She credits the Alaskan women who spent their time knitting in her waiting room with teaching her the art of the heel. After that she made the leap to lace beading, the fancier the better. “I spent a lot of my time in Alaska making socks and lace knitting. There was not much else to do,” she says. She even knitted while on jury duty, but her attention was so divided that she knitted one toddler and one preemie sock.
When she retired in 2020, she and her husband returned to Greenbrier County, driving from Alaska to West Virginia at the height of the Covid pandemic. They are now enjoying life on their small farm. Upon her return, she was delighted to discover a vibrant knitting circle. It was there she re-connected with Diane Browning, an old acquaintance from her earlier time in Lewisburg. Diane quickly recognized her gifts as a knitter and asked her to test knit a hat for Appalachian Baby Design. Before she knew it, she was creating a design for a dog sweater and test knitting a baby balaclava. So far her favorite original design is a headband using a mistake rib stitch.
She is excited about her latest venture with ABD, creating designs for the new Family Tree line made with Shaniko washable wool. “It is very cool. You just put it in with the regular laundry and dry it in the dryer. You lost a little width and height, but it is hardly noticeable,” she comments. She is also experimenting with natural, non-polluting dyes, noting that she successfully created a pretty brown using walnut husks, but she admits her experiment with purple cabbage was an abject failure.
“My daughter, who is crafter, says this is the best side gig in the world. That’s the way I feel.”