In the loop 3: the voices of knitting recently inspired some yarn bombing in the Hartley Library at the University of Southampton. All images are from the yarn bomb with permission from Jayne and Verna.

Winnie the witch

Two colleagues who acted as “knitting ambassadors” to the conference heard the paper given by Alyce McGovern, a criminologist from New Zealand, entitled “Guerilla knitting: the craft of subversion”. Like the University Librarian they found it very interesting. It was also illustrated with some fine examples of this recent sometimes controversial craft form which may be found in the urban landscape, on actual buildings and in the countryside. Of course it may appear anywhere. But do you need to permission to yarn bomb? Is it actually a criminal offence? Is  it solely decoration or can it also have a political message? Alyce McGovern attempted to illustrate and answer these questions in her challenging and thought-provoking presentation. 

Spooky creatures

Yarn bombing is sometimes regarded as part of “Craftivism” which brings craft and action together, this is a theme covered in the book In the loop: knitting now edited by Jessica Hemmings published from the first In the loop conference held in 2008.  The section – Site and sight: activist knitting – includes works by Sophie Horton and Lacey Jane Roberts. Yarn bombing started in the early 21st century and has become, some would argue, a distinctive part of reclaming and reinterpreting the once traditional domestic skill of knitting. The Knitting Reference Library includes books covering this somewhat unexpected aspect of making public art through the use of knitting. So do take a look at titles such as Radical lace & subversive knitting and Knit, knit profiles + projects from knitting’s new wave. 

Halloween mobile


Meanwhile it was a surprise to see in November  yarn bombing in the Hartley Library, guerilla action had taken place for Halloween. Both knitting and crochet had been used to create an installation leading to the University Librarian’s Office. On the day I visited and saw it the installation appeared to amuse and interest the many library staff passing by, indeed many of us took pictures on mobile phones. The bombers had been at work for quite some time making during their evenings using their creative camaraderie to develop and create  a scene redolent of a fairy story. However not everyone celebrates Halloween so it also had its critics.

The owl sat above the Librarian’s office

The yarn bombers, Verna Acres and Jayne Tweedle, both learnt their textile skills as young children  from their mothers whom they remember as constant knitters. Jayne admitted that she had not taken up the crochet hook for a long time but the technique came back to her fairly quickly once she started again for this project. Verna has always knitted, now partly for health as it helps if her hands stay active. She likes making and knits on her own, with others, for presents, and will give away her work. She is now also interested in more public projects.  

Jayne and Verna had made me a knitted card following the conference which itself is an example of what In the loop sets out to do for the very broad community it has developed. Their mind map inside the card covered – creativity, academic, thought-provoking, inspiring, inclusivity, research, and renewal. From this small item their yarn bombing project then grew so I look forward to their next yarn intervention perhaps others will join them.

WebCat named after the library catalogue


Make a white rabbit by Lucy May Schofield

I gave a short paper at the two day conference Text and Textiles held at the Centre for Material Texts, Jesus College, Cambridge in September 2012 just after organising In the loop 3. My paper entitled From rags to riches focused on some examples of textile texts from our Artists’ Books Collection which I think have a relationship with the Knitting Reference Library too. My selected earlier precedents were textile sample books, children’s rag books and the textile books of the artist Louise Bourgeois.

An altered book with knitted cover by Cally Barker

The material selected from the Artists’ Books Collection I broadly defined as the “stuff of textiles”. Some of the items we have collected  may be  regarded as outside the canon set in place by the conceptual works of the 1960s which are sometimes viewed as the true artists books. However textiles have a long and distinctive history in relation to books which is being continued through the work of some contemporary artists.   It is their works which have made the link possible with the Knitting Reference Library. Amongst others I mentioned Cally Barker, Angie Butler, Judith Hammond, Joanna Long, Imi Maufe, Treena Markham, Tamar MacLellan, Andrew Norris, Lucy May Schofield, Anna Vicente, Heather Weston, Philippa Wood. All have utilised either materially, as part of the concept or in the narrative, textiles for a bookwork/s. Sometimes they are not strictly books but belong as part of the artists approach to making.

All the artists and works mentioned are catalogued and indexed and part of our collection comprising over 1500 items.

Journal of a dream by Ana Vicente

Courtesy of the Knitting Reference Library, University of Southampton

A recent enquiry from a Russian journalist prompted a search for images of balaclavas. His article is tracing the history of this practical knitted garment bringing it up to date with those worn by the controversial Pussy Riot. My research took me to our WWI resources held in the Knitting Reference Library where I discovered that they were not only worn at the front but also knitted for use in hospitals during WWI. The image here is from that period.

My colleague Carol Christiansen also included them in her presentation on Exploration And Discovery at In the loop 3: the voices of knitting. Another library colleague then found images of Sir Douglas Mawson wearing a balaclava dated 1911, who was an Antarctic explorer. These were found on the website of the Australian War Memorial at www.awm.gov.au 

Further thoughts prompted me to look further, there are many types of balaclava and they make an appearance in the knitwear of other cultures, for example Peru and Bolivia where they are used for different purposes. I think more research will follow possibly for a future exhibition or to illustrate the rich resources held in our Knitting Collections at the University of Southampton.

Richard Rutt, popularly known as the Knitting Bishop, donated his library to the University of Southampton in recognition of his knitting friendship with Montse Stanley whose Knitting Collections were already held by the University Library. I first visited Richard and his wife Joan at their home in Falmouth to view the collection in preparation for packing and transport. I continued to visit over the years, they always made me very welcome with tea and cake whilst I updated them on our work with the Knitting Collections.

Jumpers hand knitted by Richard Rutt

At the time of his donation and at my request Richard wrote a text entitled A boy’s knitting which outlines his life in knitting. He learnt to knit at the age of 7 and was taught by his maternal grandfather. From that age he learnt a range of technical skills always enjoying the challenge of construction and technique. In 1987  at the age of 52 he published A history of hand knitting which remains a key text for the subject. At this time he was also chairman of the Knitting & Crochet Guild. Richard’s life included more than knitting, a full biography is available on Wikipedia and an obituary remains available on the internet.

A special feature of Richard Rutt’s library is a collection of Victorian knitting manuals published from the 1840s through to the end of the 19th century. As part of a JISC funded project led by the Visual Arts Data Service (VADS) all these books have now been digitised and are available to search through a link on our website. Leading on from this work we are in the middle of a pilot project to digitise a selection of his knitting patterns focusing on six boxes of menswear totalling about 1000 patterns in total. However this is dependent on copyright clearance being granted through yarn companies who are usually the publishers.

Page from a Victorian book by Miss Terry

His library is now part of the Knitting Reference Library (KRL) based at the School of Art in Winchester. It also includes the printed resources of Montse Stanley and Jane Waller. The KRL overall comprises books,  journals, magazines and patterns. We aim to be a resource for all those interested in any aspect of knitting including designers, historians and students,  also visiting researchers. Since 2008 we have had a notable number of enquiries and visitors from both University staff and students but also from the external community who are not only from the UK.

Ada Nutbeam 1910 – 2004

Professor Don Nutbeam is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton. Having met him recently at a VC’s coffee morning which I organised on behalf of the University Library I mentioned the forthcoming conference In the loop 3: the voices of knitting. His response was to talk briefly about his mother, Ada, who had spent her life knitting. So I suggested an interview for my blog and to my surprise he agreed.

Learning to knit

He thinks it probable that Ada learnt to knit at an early age like many of her generation. Knitting and sewing were very useful, practical skills that meant you could clothe a family more cheaply especially in the early to mid-twentieth century. Today we may see knitting as non-essential and there is wider recognition of the skill and potential applications. Although there has been a surge in the popularity of knitting the utilitarian is not emphasised.

During the war the family was bombed twice whilst living in Portsmouth. His mother and sister, who was at the time a baby, were dug out from beneath the rubble. The family was then evacuated to Newbury where they lived in tents for eighteen months before being moved into a prefab where Professor Nutbeam was born.

Knitting essentials

He remembers very clearly from the age of five his mother, Ada, knitting and stated that he never knew of her not knitting. His father was disabled through illness and was unable to work so his mother had a minimum of two part-time jobs. She knitted many practical items for the family. Knitting was a normal daily routine that took place every evening. It was solely for necessity and centred on utilitarian clothing including hats, jumpers, scarves, Wellington boot socks and (not his favourite) balaclava hats. He openly stated that he was from a poor household and grew up on a tough council estate.

Knitting commissions

In addition Ada took commissions especially for new-born babies knitting bonnets, bootees and shawls. All left over wool from commissions was precious so retained and knitted up as blankets for the family another necessity used in the home to keep warm. Stories are sometimes told by the older generation of knitters of unravelling knitted clothing to reuse the yarn.

Knitting for babies is thriving today too and there are many knitting pattern books available. It remains a symbolic way of welcoming a new life. I recently saw a very beautiful, intricate hand knitted christening outfit in the Spiders Web on Shetland. Babies obviously deserve the best.

Professor Nutbeam remembered in particular an item of clothing she knitted for a young cobbler aged about 18 who was an ice skater. This was a big, thick cardigan into which she knitted on the back the name of his skating club. This was impressive and I imagine it impressed.

Football and knitting

Professor Nutbeam was a dedicated Manchester United football fan so at about age ten in the days before branding and merchandising his mother used her skills to knit him a scarf and hat in the team colours. The hat included the club name in knitted letters as for the ice skating jumper, a technical achievement and without a knitting pattern. In addition she also knitted him the 1966 football mascot “World Cup Willy” an interesting link to contemporary knitting especially around the Olympic games.

At age twelve the family moved onto a new council estate in Newbury, his father later died when Professor Nutbeam was fifteen. As he grew up wearing his mother’s hand knitted clothing become less acceptable to him. However he remembers wearing a Fair-Isle style tank top and a cricket jumper at grammar school both knitted by Ada.

Knitting gifts

Ada later knitted for his own children including Postman Pat jumpers also Christmas stockings each with an initial, A for Amy and B for Ben, that knitted lettering again and they still use them every Christmas! This was perhaps a more creative period with an emphasis on gifts as compared to utility.

Ada was rather critical of Kaffe Fassett having spent her life knitting. To her it was not fashionable and had been essential. I have heard the older generation say we’ve always knitted carrying on their craft through a life time like Ada. It is their contribution which deserves wider recognition.

Knitting through experience and touch

During the later part of her life, although diagnosed as legally blind having suffered from glaucoma, Ada knitted up until she died in 2004. This included knitting little socks, bonnets and blankets for premature babies which she sent to the neo-natal unit at Reading Hospital. I imagine she knitted from experience and through touch.

Through my work with the Knitting Collections I have had the privilege and opportunity to meet many knitters including the older generation whose commitment and skills are now being passed on rather unexpectedly to the younger generation. It appears that knitting appeals to all age groups who together have led the recent knitting revival. The knitting life of Ada as remembered by Professor Nutbeam reveals his respect for her commitment to the family, her independence and skill.

This interview took place on Monday 13 August 2012 between Professor Don Nutbeam and Linda Newington.

More interviews will follow as part of In the loop 3: the voices of knitting.

Pompom story


Just what is it about pompoms that make us smile? Although of course some may grimace. We had a pompom making open workshop for children at the Winchester Discovery Centre on a recent Saturday as part of the “run-up” to In the loop 3 due to start in 4 weeks time see www.soton.ac.uk/intheloop 

Our aim was to make enough pompoms to use towards creating a knitting ambience for the week of knitting events at the Discovery Centre from Monday 3 – Saturday 8 September 2012 which include In the loop 3. Many young children from age 4 to 12 joined us with their parents, both girls and boys, and learnt how to make pompoms.

Deryn Relph joined us to make pompoms her way.

There are some tricks to making the pompom grow faster.

These were shown to us by all the  textile  aficionados  present including Deryn Relph who joined us with her husband Steve and the pompom making contraption which intrigued us all. It was interesting to see the concentration given to making by all with the pompom experts assisting both children and parents. So thanks to Sarah, Sue, Odina, and Lisa for making it a fun event. We are already discussing Christmas pompom making!

Montse Stanley does include instructions for making what she describles as “wiggle-woggles” including tassels, pompoms, curlicues, coils and bells in her comprehensive book The handknitter’s handbook so I am sure she would have enjoyed this workshop as much as all those who joined us.

One of our fashion students with a small creature in the making.

We had to let some of the pompoms go home with their makers so I have been making more at home during Olympic viewing and started thinking about an installation of red, white and blue pompoms to celebrate this surprisingly inspiring sporting event. Would Danny Boyle be interested? Surely knitting is part of our national identity and heritage I think it should have been included in the opening ceremony…

The pompoms are multiplying…

Cassie Henderson knit samples

I went to the final year degree shows here at Winchester School of Art last month and always search out the BA Fashion/Textile knit students. During their three year period of study I  give both a knit lecture and also introduce them to the Knitting Reference Library (KRL). The focus is on encouraging the use of the KRL both as an inspirational and technical resource that has the potential to extend and develop both their practice and research skills.

One of the students whose work I found especially interesting was Cassandra (Cassie) Henderson whose knitted samples and drawings are delicate yet have a strength and distinction. Her colours are soft and muted with the technical structure providing shape and substance.

Cassie herself told me her project was based on Marie Antoinette and that one of her aims was to create a sumptuous and lavish feel to her work. She is very interested in technical development including the creation of new stitches. Her techniques include trapping within tubular knitting, laser cutting, Shima Seiki knitting and many variations of high and low butts combined with holding.

Drawings by Cassie Henderson

Here are just a few images of Cassie’s work including drawings alongside samples of her knitted collars.

There were many talented students showing fashion knitwear this year so I hope that at least a few of them have used the KRL to enhance and develop their ideas. The books date from the Victorian period starting with about 70 knitting manuals donated by Richard Rutt (popularly known as the Knitting Bishop) through the decades of the 20th century and into the 21st with new acquisitions being added each year. There are still many  gems to find whether you are a student, a researcher or a plain knitter.

Cassie Henderson knit samples

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