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.
Ruth Gilbert, textile historian and weaver, has kindly offered access to her 2009 MPhil thesis, “The King’s Vest and the Seaman’s Gansey: Continuity and Diversity of Construction in Hand Knitted Body Garments in North Western Europe Since 1550”. For a dropbox link to an electronic copy, please email Ruth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hard copies of the final version are available at the Winchester School of Art and the Hartley Library at the University of Southampton, and Ruth informs us she will place a copy of the unrevised thesis in the library at the Knitting and Crochet Guild Collections. Please note that Ruth retains copyright in her work and the pictures are for personal use only.
The unusual 1968 sleeveless jumper or jumper shown above, from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was knitted in wool by American designer, writer and political activist, Elizabeth Hawes (1903-1971). Despite working in the fashion industry, Hawes was a vocal critic, publishing a semi-autobiographical commentary “Fashion Is Spinach” in 1938 and championing dress reform. The seemingly innocent telephone number knitted into the jumper is in fact the numerical representation of an obscenity. This jumper seems strongly proto-punk in spirit, a reminder that the later subculture was influenced by earlier twentieth-century movements.
Mary Hawkins, a long-standing member of Knitting History Forum, has spoken more than once at KHF conferences and meetings on framework and machine knitting, still a mainstay of the modern garment industry. She also volunteers at the Framework Knitters Museum in Ruddington. Mary has kindly offered us a very brief tour through the history of machine knitting, from William Lee’s invention of the knitting frame in 1589, to the technological advances of the post-war period. A Short History of Machine Knitting is available to read in the Resources section.
Since 2006, Dr Karen Finch OBE has been Honorary President of the Knitting History Forum. As textile conservator and specialist, Dr Finch‚Äôs 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.
Some of the many women ready to contribute to the war effort by knitting for soldiers were surprised to find the task more difficult than they imagined, and their exertions unappreciated. Newspapers lamented the quality of some of the items sent to the front by their female readers, complaining that they were too small for soldiers’ feet or even that they were misshapen. The Charleston Mercury remarked, ‚ÄúThe formation of some of the socks which they have produced does not indicate a very exact knowledge of human anatomy. I saw one last evening, which I am told, was intended for the foot of the entire Southern Confederacy. From its size, I judged it would make a rather loose fit.‚ÄĚ
Students of knitting history are well aware the craft has long proved adaptable in the face of innovation. In the last thirty years, knitting and technology have had some interesting encounters. According to this article from 2012, in the 1980s Nintendo worked on an add-on device for the Nintendo Entertainment System that would have enabled users of the NES to create their own designs and knit them. A brochure from the time includes the bold statement, “The Nintendo Knitting Machine is just one more example of the innovative thinking that keeps Nintendo on the cutting edge of video technology. And your customers on the edge of their seats.” The brochure boasted, “Of course we should probably mention that no other video game system offers anything even remotely similar.” In hindsight, there may have been a reason for that. Despite the confidence of the advertising copy, the Nintendo Knitting Machine was shown at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show at Las Vegas in 1987 but was never released.
On a related theme, ‘A brief history of yarn in video games‘ briefly mentions this same story and further electronic, yarn-related surprises, including an iPhone knitting game from 2009, an unusual subject for future knitting history research. The language in this article may be offensive to readers.
The UK government’s Intellectual Property Office have issued a new copyright notice explaining copyright law for knitting patterns, "aimed at individuals and small businesses who may wish to use or create knitting, sewing and related patterns".
It isn’t a revision of existing laws, merely a guide to current practice in the UK. With the increase of independent designers publishing PDF patterns, so much online pattern-swapping, and so many sellers making illegal reprints of knitting and sewing patterns that are still very much in copyright, this is a timely reminder of where we all stand when making or using knitting patterns.
The 450th Anniversary Jacket was recently displayed on the¬†KCG stand at the Creative Crafts Show in Esher.¬†It was knitted by KHF Treasurer and Membership Secretary, Tricia Basham, as part of her City & Guilds in Hand Knit Textiles.
Others are getting involved too. As well as donating ¬£2 from every sale of their exclusive Penguin Christmas jumper pattern, Deramores are offering free jumper patterns on their website http://www.deramores.com/christmas-jumper-day. Well-known British designers as well as students of the London College of Fashion have customised 30 identical bespoke jumpers by Wool and the Gang. Atterley Road will be holding a Secret Jumper Sale on 3rd December, selling the jumpers in¬†aid of Save The Children. This is a rare opportunity to own an unique piece of knitting history¬†AND do¬†your bit for charity. Visit their website for more info and a preview of all 30 jumpers http://www.atterleyroad.com/the-road/do-your-bit-with-a-knit/