Unravelling The History Of Knitting On BBC World Service

Listeners of radio and podcasts may like to know BBC World Service flagship discussion series ‘The Forum’ recently broadcast an episode ‘Unravelling the history of knitting’. The 40-minute programme examines the global history of knitting from its origins to the recent craft revival, including distinctive traditions that have developed around the world. Three guests share their insights in discussion with presenter Bridget Kendall: Professor Sandy Black, KHF Chair and author of ‘Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft’; Annemor Sundbø, Norwegian textile designer and author of ‘Everyday Knitting: Treasures From A Ragpile’ and Cynthia LeCount Samaké, specialist in indigenous textiles and author of ‘Andean Folk Knitting: Traditions and Techniques from Peru and Bolivia’. (Further details of these books may be found in the Knitting History Reading List in our Resources section).

The programme ‘Unravelling the history of knitting’ can downloaded directly from the BBC website https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct1rl0 and will be available for over a year on BBC Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3ct1rl0. It is also available as a podcast and can be found by searching “BBC The Forum” in any podcast provider.

Karen Finch Centenary: 8th May 2021

It is nearly three years since Knitting History Forum sadly noted the passing of our much-admired Hon. President, Dr Karen Finch. Since then, however, her legacy continues, not only in the careers of her many students or the memories of those who knew her, but also through the Karen Finch Textiles website, led with sensitivity and care by Karen’s daughter, Katrina Finch.

Throughout her long and varied career, Karen amassed a considerable archive of papers, books, images, teaching materials, textiles and much more besides, some of which is now located in teaching institutions, libraries and museums but some of which remains with her family. The website serves as a finding aid for navigating the archive across many locations. Ongoing digitisation will make these holdings available as far as possible. The online forum hosts discussion of Karen and her work as well as information and ideas on textiles and conservation. Karen’s life is celebrated through biographical posts and the many relationships she fostered are honoured through contributions from family, friends and colleagues, providing personal insight and warmth sometimes missing from online archives.

8th May 2021 marks the centenary of Karen’s birth. The continuing global pandemic has made a memorial event impossible in person, but the Karen Finch Textiles website will be launching an interactive map showing the worldwide network created by Karen’s teaching, “sustained by her dedication to maintaining regular national and international correspondence and her fundamental commitment to knowledge without boundaries.” Another addition will be the introductory lecture given by Karen to teach the Masters course in Textile Conservation, dating back to when the Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) was based in the grace-and-favour apartments at Hampton Court Palace. In future it is intended to publish the remaining lectures with their accompanying illustrations. Contributions are also invited from those who knew Karen, which would be posted on the Karen Finch Textiles website in the coming weeks. KHF members interested in sharing their memories should email Katrina Finch directly at info@karenfinchtextiles.com.

Visit the Karen Finch Textile website to learn more:

Karen Finch’s centenary, 8th May 2021

Classic Knits of the 1980s by Sandy Black

Classic Knits of the 1980s by Sandy Black Travelling Vine Design
Classic Knits of the 1980s by Sandy Black Travelling Vine design – click to enlarge

At the Knitting History Conference last year, Sandy Black mentioned her latest book, ‘Classic Knits of the 1980s’, which was published in January 2021.

Many of us know Sandy Black as Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology at the London College of Fashion and Chair of Knitting History Forum, but prior to that she had a successful career as designer and director of the ‘Sandy Black Original Knits’ label from the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.

Publisher Crowood Press notes how the book discusses “the principal fundamentals of knitwear design and features original, colourful, textural and fun knitting patterns that capture the fashion zeitgeist of the 1980s

Classic Knits of the 1980s by Sandy Black Persian Flower Design
Classic Knits of the 1980s by Sandy Black Persian Flower design – click to enlarge

designer knitwear boom” and includes “a range of innovative designs from Sandy Black knitting kits, many published here for the first time.”

“Part 1 establishes the fashion and knitwear context of the period and its influence on the development of the designs, examining the entire creative process from inspiration to final pattern.

Lavishly illustrated with photographs, diagrams and charts, special features include patchwork (modular) designs and intarsia or colour-block knitting, with techniques and tips for pattern calculations, working from charts and handling several colours.”

Classic Knits of the 1980s by Sandy Black Three Cats Design
Classic Knits of the 1980s by Sandy Black Three Cats design – click to enlarge

“Part 2 then offers twenty-one original patterns and designs, grouped into themes of textural, graphic, heraldic and ornamental, plus the unique Siamese cat, leopard and tiger accessories. Contemporary photography, together with original images from the 1980s, illustrates the designs’ timeless appeal, with close-up images of intricate pattern details and suggested design variations to aid creative knitters.”


Classic Knits of the 1980s by Sandy Black Fairisle Fun Fair Isle Fun Design
Classic Knits of the 1980s by Sandy Black Fair Isle Fun design – click to enlarge

Some may consider the 1980s so recent as hardly to seem like history at all, yet then as now it was a time of revived interest in traditional knitting and intense creativity in new knitting design. Knitwear of the period is already receiving academic attention and one of Sandy’s designs, ‘Fairisle Fun’, with her kit and the jumper knitted from it (as seen to the right), are held in the collections of the V&A Museum https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O68250/knitting-kit-black-sandy/.
Well-illustrated and with technical information as well as patterns of Sandy’s fresh and ebullient
designs, ‘Classic Knits of the 1980s’ is a welcome
introduction to the work of a pioneer of modern fashion knitwear which will be of interest to
knitters and historians of knitting and dress alike.

Classic Knits of the 1980s by Sandy Black Book Cover
Classic Knits of the 1980s by Sandy Black book cover – click to enlarge

New Knitting History Events & Media

April may have been the cruellest month in T. S. Eliot’s eyes, but for many in the continuing COVID pandemic, January 2021 is far worse. Here is some good news to help KHF members keep going:

Curators’ Colloquium on Knitted Textiles

The University of Glasgow is hosting a free online colloquium on Friday 29th January 2021 from 13:30 to 16:00 GMT. This event will share knowledge and practice regarding the collection, conservation, preservation and interpretation of knitting collections. Knitting is often a hidden part of a national or local collection, yet given the importance of knitted textiles to Scotland and to so many very different nations and cultures, it is imperative to raise awareness and share information and knowledge so that garments which carry so much meaning are appreciated, preserved and interpreted. National collections may have specialist curators, but many other smaller museums and collections do not. The aim of the colloquium is to share knowledge and practices amongst curators and custodians. Speakers will include Carol Christiansen, Curator and Community Museums Officer at Shetland Museum and Archives; Jen Gordon and Federica Papiccio, Assistant Curators, Scottish Fisheries Museum, Anstruther, where they are responsible for the Scottish Gansey project; Frances Lennard, Professor of Textile Conservation at the University of Glasgow, who led the University’s Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History until 2020; Lisa Mason, Assistant Curator in the Art & Design department at National Museums Scotland, Trustee of the Bernat Klein Foundation, and Membership Secretary of the Dress and Textile Specialists and Helen Wylde, Senior Curator of Historic Textiles at National Museums Scotland, responsible for European textiles and dress from the medieval period to 1850. Tickets and further information available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/curators-colloquium-on-knitted-textiles-tickets-133065976919

Knit back to the 1920s and 1930s

The LSE Library is hosting this free online event on Thursday 4th February 2021 from 6:30pm to 7:30pm GMT. ‘For those who enjoy an interesting piece of knitting’, the talk explores knitting patterns in interwar women’s domestic magazines with Dr Ellie Reed, of the year-long project Time and Tide: Connections and Legacies’ at Nottingham Trent University, who will focus on publications in the Knitting & Crochet Guild’s collection. A booklet containing stitch patterns will be available to attendees and there will be a social media hashtag to share the efforts of those intrepid knitters who have a go! Further details and a link to book tickets available here https://www.timeandtidemagazine.org/for-those-who-enjoy-an-interesting-piece-of-knitting

Inside The Factory

And finally, there’s still time to catch the BBC’s ‘Inside The Factory’ episode on commercial sock-knitting in the UK. The programme includes visits to a sock factory in Leicester, a cotton spinning factory in Manchester and looks at Kitchener stitch and the First World War, as well as featuring Joyce Meader of The Historic Knit. You may have missed the original transmission, but it’s still available to watch online by viewers in the UK until June 2021 on BBC iPlayer. More details and a link to the programme available here https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000r03q

1930s Hand–Knitted Bathing Suits

Emmy Sale won the undergraduate student Design History Society Essay Prize with an essay based on her BA dissertation examining hand-knitted bathing suits in the 1930s, particularly how they were made and worn by young working women. She wrote a shorter essay, ‘The 1930s Hand-Knitted Bathing Suit: Cost, originality and adaptation’, based on the collection of Worthing Art Gallery and Museum, as part of their joint Objects Unwrapped research project with University of Brighton. A downloadable PDF is available on the Objects Unwrapped website https://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/objectsunwrapped/essays/.

Knitting History Forum the international society for the history of knitting and crochet. Eight-pointed star, a common motif in knitting across many cultures.

Emmy has also written a post for the Association of Dress Historians, discussing her research and showing images of knitted bathing suits in other British museum collections. ‘Homemade Garments in Museum Collections: 1930s Hand–Knitted Bathing Suits’ is available on the ADH website https://www.dresshistorians.org/single-post/2018/10/23/Homemade-Garments-in-Museum-Collections-1930s-Hand%E2%80%93Knitted-Bathing-Suits.

Early Knitted Waistcoats – An Overview

Knitting History Forum the international society for the history of knitting and crochet. Eight-pointed star, a common motif in knitting across many cultures. Following on from Jana Trepte’s presentation on Saturday, ‘Piecing the Bremen waistcoat together: an everyday knitted garment of the early 1600s’, Pat Poppy has pieced together her own helpful overview of knitted waistcoats and jackets of the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries. The post lists details of select recent scholarship on early knitted waistcoats and jackets, both ordinary and elite, with links to online records of several examples in museum collections. Pat is herself an historian as well as a long-standing member of Knitting History Forum and her post is a sound springboard for further research. Visit her blog to read more https://costumehistorian.blogspot.com/2018/11/early-modern-knitted-waistcoats-and.html.

Knitted Replacements

Knitting really does improve well-being https://metro.co.uk/2018/10/12/a-bunny-born-with-no-ears-gets-knitted-replacements-8030943.

Even if you’re not a rabbit and you don’t wear knitted ears, you are still very welcome to join us for the Knitting History Forum Conference on Saturday 17th November 2018. Click through to read more : http://knittinghistory.co.uk/conferences/knitting-history-conference-2018/.

“The women knit and share their secrets with one another”?

The Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change have made Remco Ensel’s article ‘Knitting at the beach: tourism and the photography of Dutch fabriculture‘ open access. The article discusses late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century representations of women and girls wearing regional Zeeland dress while knitting in the open air, examining the meanings of the images, their role in tourism marketing and their relation to reality. In addition to the title comment, French artist and photographer Ludovic-Georges Hamon gave his opinion on the region’s knitting, as seen on his trip in 1906 : “Reneetje is still busy knitting. In Holland, one does not knit with the fingertips, as in France. In their belt, the knitters have a sheath of carved wood; they put the needle in it and the wool is processed into knit stitches at an amazing speed, accompanied by a constant buzzing … Reneetje knits.” An absorbing piece of research, which may be read here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14766825.2017.1335733.

A Brief Look At Georgian Knitting

The University of Glasgow’s Knit History blog has posted a piece by graduate student Qiaoyun Peng, on knitting in Georgia, the nation and former member of the Soviet Union, not the US state. Georgian knitting has been described by Sofia Tchkonia, founder of Tbilisi Fashion Week, as “the Missoni of the mountains” and the president of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, is himself a knitter but, as Peng notes, “Georgian knitting is far from being famous outside the country itself.” A brief but revealing glimpse into a lesser-known but important knitting tradition http://knithistory.academicblogs.co.uk/a-georgian-knitting-odyssey/

People Knitting: A Century of Photographs

Sojourner Truth from 'People Knitting A Century of Photographs' by Barbara Levine
Sojourner Truth from ‘People Knitting A Century of Photographs’ by Barbara Levine

Hyperallergic, the arts blogzine, posted a review of ‘People Knitting: A Century of Photographs’ a compact book by Barbara Levine, an artist, collector and curator. Published in 2016 by Princeton Architectural Press, the images in People Knitting are drawn mainly from Barbara Levine’s collection. Shown here is Sojourner Truth, the African-American women’s rights activist and abolitionist.

Click here to read the review https://hyperallergic.com/367462/100-years-of-people-knitting/

Knitting History Ravelry Group

KHF is now on Ravelry! The Knitting History Forum Ravelry group is open for discussion to members and friends of Knitting History Forum. Thanks to Lesley O’Connell Edwards who set up the group and is also one of the moderators.

Ravelry is an online knitting and crochet community and is free to sign-up. Visit http://www.ravelry.com/groups/knitting-history-forum to join the Knitting History Forum group.

Reflections On Knitting In The Media

A quick reminder about the discussion “Reflections on knitting in the media – how would we represent the history of knitting?” at the Knitting History Forum Conference this Saturday. Participants are reminded to prepare by seeing the documentary ‘The Secret History of Knitting’, freely available on Youtube. Made by Blue Ant Media, the programme features interviews with Joyce Meader, Jane Malcolm-Davies and Sandy Black, who will be leading discussion this Saturday afternoon. Follow the link to watch ‘The Secret History of Knitting’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJiN9GNrDpA.

Another documentary that may be of interest to delegates is ‘Fabric of Britain – Knitting’s Golden Age’. First shown in 2013, this programme was made by the BBC and is available to viewers in the UK with a TV Licence and access to BBC iPlayer (and possibly a few other viewers too). The similarities and contrasts to ‘The Secret History of Knitting’ are pertinent to our discussion. Viewers may recognise another interviewee – see above! There are 8 days left to catch this episode online. Click the link to watch ‘Fabric of Britain – Knitting’s Golden Age’ at the BBC website http://bbc.in/1CyVEmV.

Dumfries House Wool Conference 2016

The Prince of Wales has called it the “Davos of Wool”. September 9th sees the first ever Dumfries House Wool Conference, described as a “gathering of key members of the fashion, interiors and wool industry organised by The Campaign for Wool” and “the largest and most prestigious international gathering of wool experts ever held in the United Kingdom. Animal welfare, sustainability and quality, environmental issues and slowing down fast-fashion turnover will be discussed during the conference.”

Campaign for Wool : a flammability test compared a wool duvet, jacket and carpet with their synthetic counterparts
A flammability test compared a wool duvet, jacket and carpet with their synthetic counterparts

More details at The Campaign for Wool. Read Prince Charles’ own view as published in the Telegraph Magazine. It’s more measured and less sensational than the majority of ‘I set fire to / I buried my jumpers at Clarence House’ headlines in newsfeeds.

Knitskrieg: A Call to Yarns! And a Reminder

'Knitskrieg: A Call to Yarns! A History of Military Knitting from 1800s to Present' by Joyce Meader
‘Knitskrieg: A Call to Yarns! A History of Military Knitting from 1800s to Present’ by Joyce Meader

More news on Joyce Meader : the publication of her new book on the knitting for the military. ‘Knitskrieg: A Call to Yarns!’ has the subtitle ‘A History of Military Knitting from 1800s to Present’. Accessible but informative, it relates the contribution of knitting to warfare and soldiery throughout the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with an emphasis on domestic knitting and the patterns produced for the ordinary home-knitter. The book is well illustrated with items from Joyce’s incredible collection of military knitting patterns, ephemera, and knitted items as well as reproductions she has knitted, with a selection of modernised knitting patterns. For more, see the publisher’s website.

Joyce has also been interviewed for Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. Readers in the UK can listen again via the Radio 4 website or jump straight to her interview.

And to conclude this unexpected celebration of all things Joyce, a reminder that her open house event on Tuesday 19th is in two weeks’ time. Don’t forget to let her know if you are attending. Her collection really is astonishing and not to be missed!

Centenary Stitches WWI Commemorative Project

The Centenary Stitches WWI project began as a response to plea for assistance from WAGscreen, makers of the film ‘Tell Them of Us’. Set in the First World War and drawing on surviving letters, memoirs, photographs and other artefacts, the film follows the fortunes of a real Lincolnshire soldier, Robert Crowder, showing through the view point of his family and the home front how the war affected an ordinary British household.

Producer and costumier Pauline Loven understood the significance of knitting and crochet in 1910s Britain and tweeted for help sourcing original patterns and creating reproductions for the cast. The response was overwhelming, with researchers, knitters and crocheters all over the world mobilising to form a group recreating period garments and supporting the film. British yarns were donated by Rowan, Texere, Jamiesons of Shetland, Frangipani and Blacker. In less than a year the group grew to over 300 volunteers, co-ordinating efforts via Facebook and Ravelry, and accessed funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘First World War, Then and Now’ programme. Period patterns were supplied by several sources including the collection of the Knitting and Crochet Guild. These were tested and modernised and feature in the film together with new designs by Elizabeth Lovick, based on Crowder family photographs. Volunteers have blogged their progress at http://orkneytoomaha.wordpress.com/, a testament to the extraordinary motivation and generosity of the textile community.

The project has developed even further, with Elizabeth Lovick editing ‘Centenary Stitches’, a book of over 70 knitting and crochet patterns inspired by or reproduced from 1910s originals. ‘Centenary Stitches’ will be published to coincide with the release of ‘Tell Them of Us’, which premieres this November. Visit the website to learn more about this unique group and see pictures of their work, including a shawl by Joyce Meader, speaker at the KHF conference this November http://centenarystitches.wordpress.com/

BBC Radio Knitting Programmes


Just in time for the May Bank Holiday, here’s a further selection of radio programmes on knitting courtesy of the BBC. These programmes and clips cover various topics such as the British wool industry, knitting during the Libyan war, “Scandi knits”, craft and community, knitting on Fair Isle and Kaffe Fassett. Pour yourself a drink, pick up your knitting and enjoy the long weekend!

A Gripping Yarn

Celebrate St George’s Day with a BBC radio documentary exploring knitting! Jane Garvey will present a lively programme on knitting past and present, from the American Revolution through to the current knitting renaissance, touching on various subjects such as ‘guerilla’ knitting, the work of composer Hafdís Bjarnadótti and chitin yarns. Among those taking part are design historian Dr Joanne Turney, Christine Kingdom of the UK Hand Knitting Association and artist, writer and designer, Rachael Matthews of ‘Prick Your Finger’. With a running time of 28 minutes this will not be an in-depth investigation but any positive representation of knitting will surely be a good thing.

‘A Gripping Yarn’ is due for broadcast on BBC Radio 4, this Wednesday 23 April at 11 AM. Listen live online at the Radio 4 website and for seven days after transmission