Montse Stanley (1942-1999)

This article previously appeared in 1999 for the Textile Society and is reproduced here by kind permission of Mary Schoeser.

Born Montserrat Bayรฉs Sopena, Montse Stanley’s first 32 years were in her birthplace, Barcelona. There she qualified as an architect at the University of Barcelona, in 1973. In the following year she married Tom Stanley and moved to England, undertaking architectural work and architectural translations until 1980. From then until her death she specialized in knitting, prompted by the lack of wider familiarity with the Catalonian knitting tradition, which was not based on standardized patterns, but developed in each instance for the individual wearer. Knitting Your Own Designs (David & Charles, 1982) was the initial result, followed by the remarkable success of The Handknitter’s Handbook (David & Charles, 1986, 1990, 1993; Reader’s Digest, 1993), which sold over 200,000 copies worldwide.

Energetic and enthusiastic, her accomplishments are too many to detail. However, she published over 80 articles from 1984-96, ranging from ‘Helping the Customer’, a regular column in The Knitting and Haberdashery Review (1984-90), to Draper’s Record, Country Living and The Sunday Times, among others. In the same period she lectured and taught widely, also creating exhibitions from her growing knitting library of examples, tools, patterns, books and printed ephemera, now housed at the University of Southampton. In the early 1990s she produced three videos on handknitting and in 1993 with John Allen created and hosted 18 programmes of The Good Yarn Show for Anglia Television. In the same year she helped to found the Early Knitting History Group, having just completed five years as a committee member of the Textile Society, including acting as guest editor for their 1992 edition of Text; she also organized their first European study tour, to Barcelona, in 1994. Her growing knowledge of early knitting was reflected in the mid-1990s in her research towards a PhD on knitting in thirteenth-century Spain and her co-curation of Mil anys de disseny en punt, for the Textile Museum, Terrassa, in 1997-8. Sadly, the planned British tour of a related major exhibition on 1000 years of knitting design was never realized, and only a fraction of her post-1995 research was published.

In thought, word and deed, Montse was a passionate populist, committed to bringing to a wider audience both creative knitting and the history of knitting – and to making connections between all of these. She and all who knew her were well-served by her architectural training and Catalan sociability and style. She built no buildings, but many ‘bridges’: between Spain and England, academics and makers, medievalists and modernists, amateurs and professionals.

Mary Schoeser