Thursday, October 11, 2012

Classic Woolly Toppers: A Q&A with Woolly!

I don't know if you guys have picked up on this, but I'm like, really into hats. And Woolly Wormhead? She's the original hat lady! So I was jazzed as a sax to be chosen as a stop on the blog tour for her new book, Classic Woolly Toppers. CWT features 10 hat designs, each one a clever modern spin on a traditional style. It fills my hat-loving heart with glee! So without further ado, let's have a chat with Ms. Wormhead herself:

So let's start with the obvious: Why hats?
Oh, hats are the perfect one skein project. They're portable, you only have to knit one, and they're brilliant for learning (and teaching) new knitterly skills and construction methods. As a sculptor, someone who works and thinks in 3D, Hats offer the most versatility in a garment, and I love playing with form like that. What's not to love?

(Amen to that, hat-sister.) One of the first things I noticed about this collection is how very chic and wearable it is- even the photography and styling is very understated and lovely. It's quite a contrast from some of your earlier designs that were decidedly wild and wacky! Can you comment at all about how your style has evolved over the years?
I think any designer's style will evolve, as they grew and develop new skills. Photography is the one area where I needed to develop most; your comment about the styling and photography being understated tells me I'm learning well, as that was my intention! Classic Woolly Toppers needed the photography and styling to be just that; classic with a flavour of Wormhead.

I still love the wild and wacky hats but they're not the greatest sellers ;) And that's fine – I don't design what I would wear, I design whatever intrigues me construction wise, and follow that theme. And that's where my growth comes from – each piece needs to challenge me, and each time I learn something new that I can take with me to the next challenge.

What are some of your go-to materials for hats? (yarns, needle sizes, fibers, etc.)
Wool is without a doubt my favourite fibre! I have a tendency to stick within the DK to Aran weight yarn range (18sts to 24sts per 10cm/4in), probably because I get a good compromise between speed of project and detail capacity. I used to work more with chunkier yarns but found them limiting, because there's not as much room in the gauge to play with details.

Needle wise I've swung from DPNs to my KnitPro interchangeables. Wooden needles are my favourite; metal causes me to be too loose and plastic makes my hands sweat, and besides, wood is as natural and as warm as wood. Interchangeables also add to portability, and being able to have all of my needle tips and all of my cables in little cases with me at all times makes me unbelievably happy!

What should knitters consider when choosing a hat that will flatter them?
There are lots of aspects that can affect how a hat will look when worn – face shape, hair length, glasses etc and any combination of these. When combining all of these we want to achieve balance. Proportion is extremely important, and once we've learnt how things balance proportionally for ourselves then we can start to play with that and stretch the rules a little. Understanding how a hat can enhance our features is a skill worth learning, as it enables knitters to be more adventurous with their hat knitting!

Where did you get your unusual name?
I used to teach full time in schools (Art and Textiles were my subjects) and was well known for having outrageous hair. Sometimes it would be pink or sometimes I've have a purple streak or the next week it would be orange. When I started teacher training I was sporting my 2nd crop of dreadlocks, which soon gave way to short and multi-coloured hair. Towards the end of my full time teaching career my 3rd crop of dreads were well under way, and one girl in my class thought she was being rather clever and backhanded by saying to me “Miss, you've got a Wormhead”. Much to her surprise I rather liked it, and the name stuck! The woolly aspect comes from my love of wool, naturally ;)

There are some days I think I've outgrown the name, but it is who I am now, even without the dreads.

This is somewhat unrelated but it's just so cool- can you tell us a little bit about living in a bus?
Living in a bus is great! We need to be able to move; permanence doesn't suit us, and even though our double decker bus has been parked in the same spot for a couple of years, knowing that our home is on wheels and will move if we need it to reassures us greatly. We've just sold our smaller bus and bought a caravan for our travelling adventures; it's much cheaper in fuel.

Owning and building your own home is an empowering thing, and we've done just that with our bus. We've no mortgage, only moderate rent for the site(s) we park on, and our monthly bills are extremely low due to our simple and environment considerate lifestyle. We reuse and recycle just about everything; nothing gets wasted. We're not consumers particularly, though we've just bought our first new TV ever, the first TV we've owned in a number of years, which is kinda weird!

Our lifestyle is a more manual one; we don't have a great deal of gadgets and do a heck of a lot of things by hand. It's how we like it – we're far more in touch with the environment around us than we'd ever be in a house or flat. As I type this, my partner has just arrived home with a car load of free wood, which we'll store and season and use when it's ready. Our woodburner is a basic one, no controls and no boiler or radiators, and it's our only source of heating. We don't have running hot water or an indoor bathroom, either. Living in a bus (or any vehicle) is quite different to living in a house, and not just because you can hear the rain on the roof! A home made of metal heats up much more quickly than one made of bricks and mortar, but also cools down much more quickly too. During the winter the woodburner has to be on constantly else the temperature will drop to whatever it is outside (i.e. very cold!) And during the summer the heat can get unbearable, and we don't have AC, which means we spend most of the summer outside where it will be surprisingly cooler.

How did you first come into designing?
I've pretty much always designed my own knits – my first fully calculated made to measure piece was a jumper for myself, which I made when I was 14. With my love of hats, designing hats was a natural progression.

I didn't start publishing my patterns with any earnest until I lost my (teaching) job through poor health; writing everything down proved a useful brain exercise. I still write full pattern notes even for the most simplest of hats I make, as I want to maintain the habit. Once I started publishing them I soon realised that I'd found my niche.

Assuming you wear your designs at all, which one sees the most action?
I don't wear any of them! I sort of stopped wearing my hats when I had my dreads, as most of the samples would have been way, way too small to fit my uber sized head. Now that I've short hair again though, I'm starting to wear them more, and I'm in the process of making a Camden Cap for myself right now. All of my samples are sized for my models, who all have smaller heads than me, so my samples are pretty safe from being worn, as I would wear them to death ;)

If you had to cast on for something that WASN'T a hat, right now, what would it be?
I've grand plans to knit myself a jumper or two, which will be quite a treat! Time doesn't permit much selfish knitting but I'd love to make myself at least one of the following: 'Goodale' by Cecily Glowik MacDonald, 'Baby Cables & Big Ones Too' by Suvi Simola and 'Still Light Tunic' by Veera Välimäki. All in black, naturally.

Do you have any advice for others who are interested in self-publishing?
Firstly, to know the capabilities of your own tools/software, and to know your own limitations. These are very important things to bear in mind.. you don't have to have the latest camera or the most expensive software but understanding the capabilities of what you already have will help you make the best decisions about where to invest both money and time. Being honest with yourself about your own limitations is essential – we all have the capacity to learn yet it isn't just about that; self publishing takes a huge amount of stamina and confidence, and managing projects and budgets can be seriously draining. The upside is potentially a greater income and complete control over your work, which are huge rewards in themselves.

Secondly I'd say that you need to follow your own creative path – after all, what would be the point of being indie otherwise?

I've often wondered why self-publishing is still viewed by many as a poor cousin to being published. It takes so much more work and energy to do it right! Sure, you don't have the credentials of a publisher selecting your work, but the buying audience can be a much harsher critic.

So what's next? Anything in the pipeline?
Yes, a few more books! One of which will be sculptural hats, only much more wild yet more refined than previous work – I want the challenge of making something from a knitted fabric, that isn't felted, and which is graded into different sizes, that would normally be stitched or otherwise made from a fabric much more solid than a knitted one. Another is a book of children's hats, 'Playful Woolly Toppers' which will be my next release. There's always something on the go here :)


You can pick up your very own copy of Classic Woolly Toppers in either digital or print format on Woolly's site, or keep an eye out in your LYS!

But before you do that, why not try and win one? I'm giving away a digital copy of the book PLUS a skein of scrumptiolitious Malabrigo Arroyo to knit Corbelle (above)! To enter, just check out all ten hats on Rav and tell me in the comments which one most sets your little heart a-flutter. (Don't forget to leave contact info in case you win, okay?) I'll draw a name a week from now!

Be sure to check out the next stop on the Classic Woolly Toppers tour over at Rock + Purl in the next few days!


Nitty Gritty Info:
Classic Woolly Toppers
authored and published by Woolly Wormhead 
Published July 2012

Print edition:
44 pages, full colour, 7.75in x 7.75in, 120g ISBN/EAN13: 1477610952 / 9781477610954 RRP: £12/$17/€15

Digital edition:
PDF: 46 pages, full colour, 150DPI, 5MB Product no.: WW204BClassicWoollyToppers RRP: £9/$15/€12

US print distributor:
Deep South Fibers

For non US orders please contact:

Media contact:
Woolly Wormhead

Copyright details:
© Woolly Wormhead

All images in this post are © Woolly Wormhead


  1. Ravine, I just adore that one!

  2. A bit torn between Corbelle and Sumner, but I think Corbelle wins!

  3. Camden! I'm so intrigued by how to work that brim.

  4. It's a tie for me between Camden Cap and Ravine. Both are great!

  5. Also, it is really incredible how many hat patterns she's published. Amazing!

  6. I loooove Alternato. I like the simple-ness of it. My contact: rilanaATgmailDOTcom.

  7. Great collection! I think that Corbelle is my favorite :D

    Rav ID: SillyLittleLady

  8. Oooh! I think I like Sumner the most, but I would make several of them! Rav ID: StretchForever

  9. All the designs are really cute but my favorite is Ravine.

    rav id = mmgrrr
    email =

  10. My favorite is Alternato!

    julianne.queensen [at] gmail [dot] com

  11. They're all lovely, but Ravine is my very favorite.

  12. Camden and Imagiro are tempting, but it has to be Karenin. I cut my long hair off after nearly thirty years, and MAN are my ears cold! And I could do ... things ... with that brim.

    Rav: tomyris

  13. Ravine! I have been dying for a hat that will cover my ears but still let me see!!! These patterns are really exciting.

  14. They are all gorgeous, but love the Camden cap!
    Rav: JavaPurl

  15. that corbelle...something about the combination of the hemmed brim and the diagonals... I sort of want it on my head like Right Now. into the queue it goes!

  16. Torn between Corbelle and Ravine, but I think the Ravine wins, I love the asymmetry!

    Rav: GingerLee25

  17. Annular does it for me. Looks lovely and squishy. I'm stixnstring on Ravelry.

  18. I'd have to say Corbelle or Ravine. I've never actually knitted any hats besides simple beanies, and I'm quite intrigued by the construction of those two...

  19. I'm in love with Ravine. It's so elegant and perfect.

  20. It's hard to resist the Camden Cap or the Taboosh! Thanks for the chance to win this great pattern collection.

    projectstashEL on Rav

  21. I like Alternato the best, I love the look of reverse stockinette!
    I'm emdewe on ravelry :-)

  22. I love Karenin! I'm a sucker for earflaps and buttons!! (That and the color of the sample is fabulous!)

    I am KisforKrissy on Ravelry

  23. Great interview!! I love Corbelle the most I think, would love to win the ebook!

  24. i love alternato! it's so simple and pretty. taboosh looks fun too, and i love the name! moonjumper on rav

  25. I like alternato the best - simple with a bit of detail thrown in.
    Great interview! loved hearing more about the bus living!

  26. That Camden Cap is so cute, and looks like just the type of hat my mom was saying she wanted!

  27. What a great interview! (And with the giveaway, it's even more awesome.) This is a tough call because I really dig Karenin and Sumner, but if I only get to choose one I'm going to have to go with Karenin. Those earflaps might come in handy. (I'm MarieInNYC on Rav.)

  28. I like Alternato and Summer, but I would want to try Summer, because it's a new technique for me.

  29. I'm always torn between hats I love and those that would suit me, so I can't decide between Karenin (love) and Alternato (suit). (kittenwithawhip on rav)

  30. I'd go for Imagiro. I'm curious how it is constructed.

    I'm ollandeejo on ravelry.

  31. Sumner.....I really like that hat.
    Rav ID 9grands4grma

  32. I love Ravine! It looks like it has my favorite ear-hugging shape.

    Rav: farlowia

  33. Woolly is such a creative designer! I love Ravine for its casual elegance - a hat that's going places!!

    Rav id meppybn

  34. Imagiro is the one that calls to me- I imagine myself looking out over the endless ice on the lake we live on wearing this hat in just that shade of blue.

  35. I'm torn between Imagiro and Kalenin. I sort of am in love with them all, though!

  36. CAMDEN CAP! OMG, I'd look so cute riding the bus with it all winter:)

  37. The Camden Cap. I'm a fan of brimmed hats, wore one all day today at Stitches East. I love hats!

  38. Alternato and Ravine are antie, but I'll definitely wear Alternato more.

  39. I love Ravine. I would knit that!

  40. I really like them all, but the first one I'd knit would be Ravine.

  41. I like most of the hats but, Sumner would be the one I would knit first.

  42. All of them are great! So sculptural! My favourite is Ravine. I can totally see myself wearing that hat.

  43. I love Annular. A rare thing, a knitted hat that looks good with long hair!

  44. I like Karenin! It looks like it would be a fun knit.

    Rav ID: butnostephanie

  45. I'm completely torn between Annular and Camden Cap! But they're all super simple, adorable knits that would look great on a variety of heads/hairstyles. Well done, Wooly! :)

    Rav ID: sixcraftsunder

  46. Quite smitten with Alternato. I love the architecture of it!

    rav: kniterror

  47. i think my favorite is alternato. simple but still very pretty and cool looking. thanks for the giveaway!

    rav id: fishgirl182

  48. I love ravine, but they are all amazing!


  49. Ravine is my favorite!

    Ravelry id : kylieh


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