It is with great sadness we announce the passing of Dr Karen Finch OBE, esteemed academic, pioneer of textile conservation and Honorary President of the Knitting History Forum since 2006. We extend our sincere condolences to her family and friends at this time and give thanks for her generosity, her friendship and her extraordinary contribution to textile and knitting history.
A brief and personal profile of Karen was written by fellow Knitting History Forum founder member, Kirstie Buckland, in September 2015, with a follow-up post last October. One of Karen’s many lasting achievements was to found the Textile Conservation Centre at Hampton Court, now incorporated into the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Textile Conservation. Frances Lennard, Professor of Textile Conservation at the Centre, has written a moving notice on the Textile Conservation blog.
Our Chair, Sandy Black, has provided us with a biographical sketch. Visit our Resources section for this and more Knitting History Profiles.
Prof Sandy Black
Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology
Centre for Sustainable Fashion
London College of Fashion
University of the Arts London
I am a designer, author, editor and academic researcher, publishing widely on knitwear and textiles, fashion, technology and sustainability. My major books on the subject of knitting history and design are: Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft (V&A Publishing 2012), covering 1700 years of knitting history and technology through the lens of the V&Aâ€™s extensive collection and other key examples; Knitwear in Fashion (Thames & Hudson 2002 & 2005) examining design and innovation in knitwear in 20th century fashion and the arts; and Sandy Black Original Knitting (Unwin Hyman, 1987) a book of 30 innovative knitwear designs. I have also published two pioneering books on fashion and sustainability: Eco Chic the Fashion Paradox (Black Dog Publishing 2008 & 2011) and The Sustainable Fashion Handbook (Thames & Hudson 2012). I founded and co-edit the Routledge journal: Fashion Practice: Design, Creative Process and the Fashion Industry, published since 2009.
My career has followed an unconventional path in industry and academia. I crossed disciplines from sciences and mathematics education to creative arts, textiles and fashion design, ran a successful fashion knitwear business, then joined higher education as a lecturer, becoming director of academic programmes and finally research professor. With interests in both the sciences and the arts, I studied BSc Mathematics at University College London, but also loved making things by knitting, crochet and sewing. I became inspired by the creative potential of the knitted stitch as a unit of design to create patterns and images on graph paper for knitting. The link between mathematics and knitting was little understood in academic education at the time, so I forged my own independent career path, becoming an entrepreneurial selfâ€“taught knitwear designer and businesswoman. Supporting myself initially by teaching numeracy to adults, I built a creative business as Design Director of Sandy Black Knitwear Ltd, designing and manufacturing ready-to-wear knitwear and unique knitting yarn and pattern kits for the international fashion market, selling to prestigious fashion stores worldwide (UK, USA, Japan, Italy, Germany, Australia, Canada etc). My work was part of a British â€˜knitwear revolutionâ€™, a craft-led design movement that influenced the wider fashion industry. The Knitwear Revolution (Bell and Hyman,1983), a book by respected fashion writer Suzy Menkes, featured knitwear patterns from 20 designers with my own Vase of Flowers angora coat on the cover. I have continuallly championed the practice and study of knitted textiles and knitwear and curated the exhibition The New Knitting which toured the UK in 1997 and from 2000-2002.
After 15 years in business, I entered the higher education sector, first directing the undergraduate academic programmes in textiles and fashion at University of Brighton, then joining London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, to develop and lead the multi-disciplinary MA Fashion Studies programme. For the last decade I have focused on supervising PhD research and developed research projects on design for sustainability and knitwear design using advanced technologies. As part of my Considerate Design initiative in 2007-2009, I researched personalisation and fit of knitwear towards reducing waste, a project exhibited at the Science Museum London 2010-11. In spring 2015, I undertook a Leverhulme International Academic Fellowship at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand, investigating the application of mathematical concepts to 3D knit contruction, an ongoing project.
Since 2006, Dr Karen Finch OBE has been Honorary President of the Knitting History Forum. As textile conservator and specialist, Dr Finchâ€™s warm personality and depth of knowledge enlivened early meetings. She delivered a paper on Needle Knitting in 1996 and spoke again in 2006 on archaeological finds from Copenhagen. Kirstie Buckland, a founding KHF member and herself an authority on early knitting, visited Karen at her home earlier this summer:
Karen Finch was born to a farming family in Denmark in 1921. She trained as a weaver and textile specialist, then married Norman Finch and moved to England in 1945. Here she quickly established her authority through the Royal School of Needlework and the V&A, voicing her concern about the lack of proper scientific conservation methods for vulnerable textiles. She began holding training classes for conservators in their beautiful house in Ealing but these classes quickly outgrew the house and in 1975 premises in Hampton Court Palace were secured for this purpose and the Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) took shape, culminating in purpose-built studios being attached to Winchester School of Art.
Dr Finch was the founder and first Principal of the TCC, known, respected and admired worldwide. Her contribution over the subsequent forty years was marked this summer by a ceremony when a unique volume of comments, extracts and pictures compiled by some of those conservators was presented to her. We are fortunate that at my suggestion to re-establish the former Early Knitting History Group (1993-2006), Karen immediately agreed to stand for President and was unanimously elected to that position at our inaugural meeting.
She is still greatly loved by her many friends, amongst whom I hope I can be counted. We first met over a Grenadier cap in 1975, and have since shared a lot of information and fun. Karen now lives with her daughter and family in Walthamstow where her spirit and sense of humour continues to engage all who go there.
Kirstie Buckland, September 2015.
Dr Karen Finch OBE. Cover of a Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) 40th anniversary tribute volume. Photo by Kirstie Buckland.
Dr Karen Finch OBE. Detail of a Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) 40th anniversary tribute volume. Photo by Kirstie Buckland.
Dr Karen Finch OBE. Summer, 2015. Photo by Kirstie Buckland
Karen Finch and Kirstie Buckland in 2008. Photo courtesy of Kirstie Buckland.