It was amazing to see so many of you at the Yarnporium in London earlier this month. Thank you for popping by! I loved helping enhance everyone’s stashes with new skeins of Countess Ablaze and Eden Cottage Yarns – as much as I would have liked to take them all home myself!
Post-Yarnporium things have been a whirlwind getting ready for Christmas. I’ve been doing lots of knitting for the kids but not much for myself, except for some new top-secret knitting that I hope to tell you about in the new year. Since I can’t share what I’ve been working on I thought it might be fun to share what some other fabulous folks in our yarn-loving community have been doing.
Woolly Wormhead is a knitting designer here in the UK that I admire hugely. A self-proclaimed “hat architect”, Woolly’s thing is HATS. I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a better example of the old adage, “do one thing, and do it well”. Woolly does it the best. If you’ve ever thought that knitting hats is boring, you’ve clearly never tried one of Woolly’s patterns. She’s single-handedly reinvented hat knitting! Okay, that might be taking it a bit far, but her designs literally turn things on their head with interesting constructions that result in hats that are beautifully sculptural.
Woolly’s latest book: Painted Woolly Toppers for Kids expands on the success of her previous book for adults, Painted Woolly Toppers. Like it’s predecessor, Painted Woolly Toppers for Kids explores colour through the use of variegated yarns and textural stitch patterns to create new and interesting shapes that are playful and fun. I especially like the rock n’ roll inspired photography too – these cool hats that kids will WANT to wear! And if you’ve got kids like mine, you’re probably only too aware of how fickle kids are about their knitwear…
Woolly graciously agreed to let me interview her about her new book, and her process as a designer. Read on for our chat!
LZB: You describe yourself as a ‘hat architect’. What exactly does that mean?
WW: Structure! Hat architecture is how I see my work… the way the design flows through the different elements of the Hat, and how the mathematical structure works within to maintain the form. Hats are 3-dimensional forms, after all. I’ve never been much of a surface design person; when I studied textiles it was textile sculpture and constructed textiles, and I think you can see those disciplines in my work.
LZB: I feel a particular kinship to your designs because like me you have a love for wildly colourful, variegated yarns. Your book ticks all the boxes! What is your approach as a designer to working with these wild yarns?
WW: My favourite approach is to knit them sideways 😉 Sideways knitting, especially combined with short rows, breaks up any potential pooling or repeats and really shows the yarns off at their best. Mult-directional knitting – a bit of sideways and/or bias and/or vertical – is a brilliant way to emphasise all that colour, and turn an impossible skein into an amazing Hat. There’s so much fun to be had experimenting with these yarns, isn’t there?
LZB: Your designs also often feature an unusual construction or something unexpected. What new or special techniques do you use in Painted Woolly Toppers for Kids?
WW: With this collection I’ve introduced more slip stitch designs, and included tutorials for a garter slipped stitch selvedge, and working slip stitches vertically. Slipped stitches and garter stitch and variegated yarns are a magic unto themselves! The garter slipped stitch selvedge has been put to good use as a base for picking up stitches when changing direction, and it provides a beautiful, clean line to work from. Many of the patterns also use a crochet provisional cast-on as a main cast on, which provides an a edge to vertical knitting that matches the slipped stitch selvedge (Wychavon uses this to good effect).
LZB: We’re not supposed to have “favourite children” but do you have a design in the book that you’re most excited about? Why that one?
WW: Hadleigh. I can’t help it! I love the pixie point and the way those slipped stitches work their way through. I love the sideways band, and the way all the proportions work together.
LZB: As an accessories designer do you ever feel challenged coming up with a new design for a hat? (for me it’s cowls or shawls!) Where do you look for inspiration?
WW: I don’t think I could ever run out of ideas for Hats! They’re the most 3-dimensional item that we wear, and that brings with it endless possibilities. Hats are so often considered only as a cylinder with a flat circle on top (or a gathered top, or variations of) yet they are so much more than that. If we think about the fact that the only area we truly need a Hat to fit is around the brim/band, then we can go off in as many different directions as we like.
LZB: You and I have both spoken before about managing various health issues and doing the work that we do – whilst also caring for our families. How do you manage your own work-life balance?
WW: With difficulty? I think this is a constantly changing process, one that we work towards to get the right balance. My partner doesn’t have a job, and that means he helps out around the home and with parenting, although that adds a lot of pressure to me to maintain a good income. Working from home means I’m never far away from family, but the downside is is that it’s harder to switch off and leave work behind (I think anyone in a creative self-employed job will understand this!)
One thing I try to do is to work at my pace, and take on few commitments. If family or health takes priority I’m not letting anyone down this way. Self publishing really is the most flexible way to work, and it allows me to work in the evenings or in those stolen moments, or in bed if I’m not quite well enough to make it to the studio, but can still knit. I’m slowly starting to outsource some areas of the job, and whilst it feels a little sad that some areas will be less personal, it also takes a lot of the weight of my shoulders and allows me more room to get down to the fun, creative bits.
LZB: What’s next for you Woolly? Already at work on your next book? Teaching gigs? Please share!
WW: I’m working on a few designs that push structure and technique. Some are wearable sculpture (a collection called ‘Turning Heads’), others are variations on a theme (a small collection I’ve tentatively called ‘Circled’) and others are technique based (a collection called ‘Get Garter’). Each of these are slow burners, collections that I don’t want to rush but at the same time, am pretty excited about. Each takes the areas that please me most creatively, and runs with them. I’ll be heading to Edinburgh Yarn Festival again to teach, too! Will I see you there?
Sadly, I won’t be making it up to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in 2017 but I’ve every hope I’ll make it up there one day! HUGE thanks to Woolly for our chat and for sharing Painted Woolly Toppers for Kids with us. The ultimate designer’s compliment – I wish I’d thought of those designs myself!