On the issue of Money

For a few years now I’ve had a whole load of half written blog posts sat in my drafts, posts where I want to write about how I go about work and design and business, and why our circumstances affect those decisions.

On why I self-publish and on why I use POD, amongst other things. Yet I still can’t get the words right, and some of these things are difficult subjects to write about and I seem to spend a daft amount of time living in fear of the spotlight.

Then last week I did this, because I’ve had enough of the lack of transparency, and the lack of straight talking.

It’s that last line that I added.

The response has been much more positive than I was expecting; there hasn’t been a backlash but there has been that telling silence from some quarters. I get that, it’s a difficult subject to embrace, but it is what it is and it needs to be said directly.

I’ve always hinted at this – I’ve been honest about being far from affluent. Whenever I’ve been interviewed and the subject of supporting my family comes up, I always also mention that we live a very frugal lifestyle on the outskirts of society, one that sees a great deal of prejudice. There were some kind suggestions of alternatives to the language I chose in this statement, yet I can say from experience that the message doesn’t get understand if it’s dressed differently.

The poverty line is a measurable, objective thing. Self sufficiency and affluence, affordability and success (or lack of) are all subjective terms. I (we) have lived below the poverty line as it’s recorded in the UK for the best part of 10 years, since I was medically retired from teaching. The statement is factual, and it’s reality is harsh.

We get by, we’re not what most people would call ‘comfortable’ (an outside bathroom and a lack of running hot water puts paid to that sentiment. But at least we have our own bathroom now). And we get by because we live as we do. Clearly we live on very little, and maybe going forward I’ll start to feel more confident to talk about how most of our clothes are donated or from charity shops, that shopping for well made clothes built to last and creating a slow wardrobe seems to happen in a parallel universe.

You could argue that we made the choice to live as we do, and yes, yes we did. I ran away from a life on sickness benefits in a council flat in a tower block to join Tom in the metaphorical circus – we didn’t exactly have a great deal of options and we took the one that serves us best, with no regrets whatsoever. We are far better off like this than we would ever be in a more settled life.

You’ll know that everything about this business I have has been built from the bottom up – I’ve never had a penny of investment or sponsorship (beyond the occasional free skein of yarn) or even a loan (I’m still paying off the debts that my education cost me – I’d never get a loan, even if I wanted one) – it’s all mine. And of that I’m very proud. But it does hinder my ability to grow the business and in turn earn more, because putting food on the table trumps buying supplies each and every time. I don’t have the luxury of an earning partner or the safety net of a relative whenever the business (or life) needs something. Fighting an eviction order over the last few years has forced some very hard decisions on the cash front because we needed to build a financial safety net, should the worst ever happen. We managed it; it’s not much, and it has to stay where it is, as this lifestyle will never offer the security of a bricks and mortar one.

For much of the last 10 years I’ve felt out of my depth in this industry, like someone who doesn’t belong… simply because I don’t have any money. When the average print run for a book costs more than we paid for the bus we call home (the double decker cost £2,000), well meaning suggestions from industry folk telling me to stop using POD if I want my business to grow only adds to that ill feeling.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this – my feelings are still very tangled – but I do need to work through it and that means talking out loud. Letting the industry know that designers who are considered as successful as I am are still struggling only has to be a good thing, right? We need to have this dialogue, about privilege and income and circumstance. And we need to be more supportive of each other. I don’t want a life in a big house with a big salary and all the materialistic trimmings, and neither do I want sympathy – I just want enough to live on, to be comfortable and to not be kept awake at night by the worry of not earning enough this month.

eta/ this post was updated on 11th March 2022 with a new post graphic. The image shows the crown of my Banksia pattern.

Woolly Wormhead

Woolly Wormhead is an internationally reknowned knit designer, specialising in Hats, technique and construction. Their patterns and techniques have been used by thousands of knitters worldwide. Join The Woolly Hat Society to be the first to learn of their latest projects and special offers!


  1. gina

    I really admire what you do and how you do it. I completely enjoy your patterns and posts. Living on nothing is hard. Talk it out anytime you want. Your followers are here to listen, not to judge. Xox

  2. Shelly ~ 78thStitch

    I always live in humble awe of designers who make money from their work. My family survive on benefits as my husband and I are medically unable to work, so I can certainly sympathise with your situation. I just wanted you to know that you are not alone (although we live in a council house that's falling apart rather than a bus) and that I really appreciate your honesty in this post. I agree wholeheartedly with the first person's comments above: we are here to listen, not to judge.

  3. Francoise

    I agree about having this dialogue. I think I'm going to write my own thoughts and experiences on this subject with my audience this week. You can't fix a problem if you don't talk about it! I also want to live comfortably and sustainably doing what I love, knitting and designing. Thank you for being brave enough to open the lid on this subject!

  4. Eline

    Thank you for your honest and eloquent writings about mental health, money and the knitting biz. I really appreciate it, because it resonates with some of my experiences in my lil' corner of the world.

  5. Paula

    It is worthwhile to remind the world that it is incredibly difficult to make a living as an artist of any kind. I often wonder how fiber artists manage. I assume that the reason some pattern designers are now marketing their own yarn lines is to increase income. I assume that many fiber artists have other financial resources, a partner or an inheritance or income from a previous career, that allows them to get by with the income from patterns, teaching and/or books. I sometimes buy a bit more at craft fairs or the like in order to support an artist. I don't know where I saw the following "Remember: if you support an artist, you get two extra free days in Heaven. That's just a fact"

  6. Carolyn

    I thank you and applaud you for your honesty. So many times it seems that designers in this industry are so very concerned about image rather than truth and perhaps that's all part of selling the ideal. Myself, I prefer the truth everytime and recognize how hard it is to break that silence. I agree that more dialogue around this needs to be opened. Though I'm afraid, as I've recently found in my own tiny fledgling design world, that honesty is more often greeted with walls. Keep being brave and above all, yourself.

  7. Sophie

    I'm struggling with my own business and with providing for my kids and some days I find it more of a struggle than other days – and they're the days that I tend to find myself looking at others and wondering why they seem to have it so easy. Thank-you for being honest, in a world of secrecy and insta-facades it's lovely to not feel so alone.

  8. Sarah Hughes

    You are *amazing* … never forget that … A M A Z I N G !!

    I am always thoroughly in awe of your constant honesty, and please don't ever think you don't belong, because you do.

    You provide a constant reality check, never taking anything for granted, in a world where so much is expected.

    I know you hate the spotlight, but you are actually a beacon of inspiration to so many people, for your honest words on mental health, frugal living and generally keeping it real!!

    And I don't think your work would be half as damn good if you lived in a cushioned atmosphere. your need to *survive* feeds your creativity …

    S xXx
    ♥ ♥ ♥
    ♥ ♥

  9. Ellen

    There is some kind of illusion that designers musy be making money hand over fist selling patterns for a few bucks each. Keep telling the truth.

  10. Dianne

    Thank you for being so honest. You are such an inspiration.

  11. Knatters Knits

    Thank you. Although my health just about allows me to work in paid employment, my business remains a hobby and I've often thought about how others manage when I don't. I thank you for your honesty and admire your talent as a designer. I know you shy away from the limelight, but I will continue to sing your praises as a truly talented designer, as honesty to me is more important than other things, thank you.

  12. Donna Druchunas

    Thanks so much for sharing this so openly and honestly. I am on medicaid (state health insurance) and my state also gives me money to help with heating my house and buying food. I don't know if I'm at the poverty line or not, because I haven't checked that kind of thing. I know that I could not have my business except for the fact that, like you, I moved somewhere that is a lot less expensive to live than my previous homes. I went from California to Colorado to Vermont and if it weren't for the fact that my husband and I both had other jobs that paid for our houses in the past, we would not have been fortunate enough to be able to afford to buy an old fixer upper house in Vermont for cash. With a mortgage or rent payment, one of us would still need a day job. I love what I do and would not trade our life for anything else. And I would not want to discourage anyone from entering the knitting/crochet design world for work. It's a wonderful career. But even those of us who are at the top of our game — and I think most people would consider you and me to be among the most successful — are not getting rich. And we need more honesty about this out in the world. I hate that so may business people are hiding behind a facade of financial success that they are not actually living because they think their customers will run away if they don't claim to have a six-figure income.

    Hugs and thanks for breaking down the wall of pretend!


  13. Anna

    I haven't really anything to add that others haven't already said but I'd like to say thank you for your honesty. As a student nurse I know all about living on very little although I know that one day I will have enough to live on in reasonable comfort whilst doing a job that I love. It saddens me that many people seem to value money above integrity.

  14. Babs

    Really feel inspired reading you blog, reminds of myself not too many years ago, different circumstances than yours but quite a struggle. I survived and now am content living in an attic flat with a great partner. My children have all done well with successful careers, I think because they saw that to succeed you need to work hard and be true to yourself. I spent a long time feeling guilty for not being able to give them what I thought I should but the reality is they just need love and support in whatever they do.
    I've commented on a blog so much but you really struck a cord with me.
    Good luck and continue to live life to the full, I have a feeling you will grow from strength to strength
    X X X

  15. Tamera

    Living on very little (or even nothing) is difficult! I am thankful that you do so, and that you openly and honestly share what you do with all of us, across the blogosphere and around the world.

  16. Kelene Kinnersly

    Thank you for sharing. I can imagine how difficult that was to do.

  17. Justine Turner

    None of us understand the journey others have to walk until it is shared, kudos to you. I hope you can feel the thoughts we are all sending to you. Your work amazes me, so inventive and different from the run of the mill. Thank you for that.

  18. Zonneke

    You mean a lot to me, Woolly, I respect you very much, love you ❤︎

  19. Tami

    I applaud you for this post. I found your blog thru Aroha Knits. About 16 yrs ago my husband and I chose to take our kids (2,4,6) out of the city and moved to the mountains. We moved many times and sometimes lived in tents. We learned whatever we could to make ends meet. He works for himself in construction and landscaping. I work as an Indie dyer. We are saving to get a ranch going again, we did have to sell off livestock a few years ago due to the need to move near family for a time.
    When some one wants to kick you or lash out or be rude because you are seen as less than what society dictates you should be or do. Always remember, this is what makes you happy, this is way better than being under someones thumb, whether a boss or getting government assistance. Whatever you and your family accomplish you did it on your own. How wonderfully rewarding.

    My kids are now 23,25,27. And want the simplicity after taking there own steps out in the city again.

    Bravo to you! Keep it up!!!!

  20. Pauline

    Thank you (again) for your honesty, I agree wholeheartedly with all the above posts and I am delighted to read so many words and reactions of encouragement… it means you were absolutely right to get this long-awaited post finally out into the open!

  21. Jane

    This is a discussion that needs to be had. When I have talked to the "Knitteratti" at various festivals and classes, I am so disheartened about the struggles they have to make a living. I am a lawyer and I hear their lawyerly concerns- that festivals don't pay well, that the disparity between men and women pay is huge, that there is no standard scale for teachers (some get paid more because they ask for more) that there are huge legal issues with non competes, copywrights etc. I wish I had the skill set and time to be a lawyer for this community..It is not fair that these people do not get paid for what they do..

    and WW- you know that your fans would invest $$ in you if you had a project that needed some crowd funding to get off the ground.. and would do it out of admiration and expect nothing in return.. So don't be shy about asking..


  22. Meg

    I applaud you for speaking frankly about monetary matters and will be interested to read more. We should be embarrassed or uncomfortable when reading such words, not because of the "audacity" of you or others to talk about the poverty line but because it is a shocking reflection on our society!

    Poverty or rather the glaring wealth gap is a big part of my environmental research area. I know that this statement alone suggests that I am not living below the poverty line and yes, I do now have the luxury of a buffer. Nevertheless I am still interested in what changes are needed to ensure that nobody needs to live so precariously with the worry and pressures on health and morale that it entails. I know that systemic changes are needed – now more than ever – but I will also be interested to hear what other types of things really do help individuals struggling to build a viable business when living below the poverty line. Surely we have the ingenuity to help develop alternative economic tools and support systems that make a difference and which are not patronising or charity but signs of a civilised society.

  23. KnitSix

    What a fabulous post!

    I live just below the poverty line in the US, because I have a chronic illness. Knowing that most people, including family, prefer I keep this "shameful" fact (and my anxieties) to myself is quite isolating.

    Thank you for speaking frankly and honestly.

  24. Angela

    I admire you for speaking honestly about this but as you say yourself what do you want to achieve by doing so? You say you feel out of place but then that's not surprising as your market/target consumers are people with money to spend on things that they do not need – hand knitting is a luxury hobby. How many hat (jumper, shawl, sock) patterns does anyone ever really need?
    It would also appear to me that a lot of a pattern's popularity on Ravelry is related to how shiny the pattern designer's image is – beautiful pictures, and often, a not unattractive designer (not to mention the expensive yarn!). That is the arena in which you are competing.

  25. Sara Millis (Sara's Texture Crafts)

    Thank you so much for writing this… I really think we should be aware and start talking with transparency about what we do. Not because we seek charity in any of it's forms, but because I think with transparency we become a bit more knowledgeable about what we buy and maybe therefore understand it's worth…

    I just added a post on my blog at http://sarastexturecrafts.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/craft-business-why-i-choose-to-do-what.html to try to share my story. Although my situation is different, I think there is a connection there somewhere.

    I really connected with your feeling 'disconnected' and 'out of depth' in the industry… I think many of us do, but we are too frightened to say it.

    Thank you for sharing,
    Sara x

  26. Nan

    Well said! I hear you, loud and clear.

    Wishing you peace.

  27. Mary

    I love your hat patterns and hope that you will continue doing what you do. I also know that it must be difficult to make a living doing this. Thank you for doing this.

  28. kath

    It always astonishes me how poorly remunerated any sort of creative work is unless you're in…what? maybe the top 1%? Designing, knitting and crochet, writing, they're all the same in that way. But still, people you've actually heard of (like you!) – you expect them to be doing at least okay. I'm sorry it's not like that for you.

  29. Dazz

    Thank you for this.
    My household is also below the poverty line, though, by luck, we are currently in the upper floor of a house. Being visual artists neither of us has had much interest in money, except where it makes life a bit easier/more comfortable, buys supplies for the work. That word "work" is questioned in most minds when people find out what we/you do. Creating something from nothing, when we live in a factory driven economy, is treated like a tolerated indulgence. Somebody has to be on the outside to have/give a view of what humanity as a whole is doing, and that is where the creative/independent/eccentric minds fall…

  30. Erssie

    I’m living below the poverty line too. Too sick to work, pittance of knitting revenue on past designs goes directly to a dog charity. My benefits are entirely used up on carers, home help and transport. Thought I could downsize to a rural location to free up the cadh in the house I live in but nobody would buy it as its in a poor state of repair. So it can be annoying sometimes to get begging letters asking if a pattern price can be waived as someone has spent too much money on yarn. Years ago, you wouldn’t have been the sole earner in your unit, it might have been easier for Tom to get money for his skills and be more nomadic but freedom to move around and live cheaply ust isn’t there and it’s impossible to earn a normal wage in the arts. And it’s a worry when you’ve had froen shoulders etc that you can’t work full time.
    Re shoulders, I’ve discovered that my rotator cuff injuries and trouble with shoulder ligaments wasn’t knitting, or lifting, it is actually brought in by holding a mobile phone or tablet in one hand face up, it causes tendons to be in the wrong position. Try avoiding that yourself. I find as little as 5 mins scrolling through posts brings on agony and seized up shoulders for days.
    Doing rotator cuff exercises has hugely helped shoulder mobility. But I’ll never be able to sit at a computer and type again hence having to give up design work.
    What has been really interesting Woolly, is that during my time of max activity, posting, getting test knits fine, publishing in current places I was earning randomly between £50 at the least or £200 at the most n one month. Since I stopped producing, don’t ho in Ravelry, have little activity or effort on my part with no advertising the pattern revenue is EXACTLY THE SAME making ne wonder why i was busting a gut and who for. I think marketing digital products is a very random thing and I reckon if one stopped constantly trying to mTket or create a buzz, and one only produced new designs and added them faster, one might find revenue increases without marketing strategies at all. I haven’t really got overheads now as I don’t buy materials, don’t employ knitters or tech editors and just pay Rav invoices based on sales of old designs. Sadly doing blinking mouthing at all has meant I’ve more money to donate to charity than if I’d been working a lot. I’ve earned £15,000 on Ravelry, to date which is about £1200 per Yr… all gone to greyhounds because collecting that little made no difference.
    Hope your colon is behaving.
    And hope you shoulders don’t get worse.

  31. Shelly

    Thank you for being vulnerable. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for designing beautiful and lovely hats!!! Thanks for being transparent. It’s an honor to purchase your patterns. You are so talented and I appreciate you sharing your talent with us.


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