Katharine Wattles, 96, of New Vineyard holds one of hundreds of knit hats she’s made for her community and others in the past five years. She is now distributing them to students, faculty and staff at the University of Maine at Farmington. Photo Courtesy of Katharine Wattles

NEW VINEYARD — In the past five years, 96-year-old Katharine Wattles has knit over 250 hats to keep friends and strangers warm in the winter.

After providing a hat to everyone around her — neighbors, library patrons and staff, and town officers — Wattles looked to her former employer, the University of Maine at Farmington.

“When I got a few too many, I had given them to family and friends, and I needed to find a home for the extras,” Wattles said in a phone interview.

Her grandson-in-law Keenen Farwell, who is the director of UMF Facilities Management, hauls totes stuffed with Wattles’ hats to on-campus COVID-19 testing sites where students, staff and faculty can select a hat for free.

With current and past connections to UMF, the university was an obvious choice for Wattles to distribute her surplus. Wattles worked at UMF as an administrative assistant to the academic vice president for 10 years and as a financial aid officer for eight years.

University of Maine at Farmington senior Brianna Hinkley, left, helps classmate Page Brown select one of Katharine Wattles’ hats. UMF Facilities Management Director Keenan Farwell, right, is Wattles’ grandson-in-law and brings the knitted hats to the campus. University of Maine at Farmington photo

When Wattles comes into Farmington, she often spots one of her brightly colored hats on a stranger’s head.

“I’ve driven through Farmington, in fact, I think I went into Renys one day and I saw a couple of people wearing them,” she said.

Wattles sticks to a single pattern and her hats fit most head sizes, but she does make a larger version for men or women with a lot of hair, she said, laughing. Her granddaughter often selects the colors and purchases the skeins of yarn for Wattles.

A single hat takes about six hours to complete, which Wattles spreads out over the course of two days, on average. 

“It keeps me busy when I’m watching TV,” she said.

Knitting is a relatively new hobby for Wattles, who is living out the pandemic in the same 1830s farmhouse she’s lived in for the past 75 years.

“I got married in my junior year and I lived with my husband in Belgrade Lakes, he was going to Colby, and then we went house shopping and we found this place,” Wattles said. She had been studying philosophy at Wellesley College in Massachusetts prior to her move to Maine.

While COVID-19 prevents Wattles from leaving her New Vineyard residence and distributing the hats herself, her efforts have not gone unnoticed.

“I got a wonderful, wonderful thank you note from the president’s wife,” Wattles said proudly about UMF President Edward Serna’s wife, Lauren Serna.

Farwell has had the opportunity to observe student reactions to the free hats every week and said their appreciation and surprise is always evident.

“Students are always so happy the table of hats is out and most days they disappear half way through the day,” Farwell wrote in an email. “I heard a student say that her grandmother had just passed and always knit her the same style hat and it made her so happy and brought back such great memories.”


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