Have you visited
The Knitting Reference Library?
By Ingrid Murnane
As a former student of Winchester School of Art, at the University of Southampton, I have for many years used the brilliant resource that is the Knitting Reference Library. In a recent interview, WSA's Head Librarian, Linda Newington explained to me the background to the collection and how she came to be the custodian of the Knitting Reference Library.
Linda has a background in fine arts and textiles and herself attended Winchester School of Art to study painting before moving to London on graduating. Whilst working as a curator on the collection of Botanical Prints and Drawings at the Natural History Museum, she decided to study at postgraduate level to become a librarian. After a period as Deputy Head Librarian at Camberwell College of Art, Linda came to Winchester School of Art as Deputy Head before being promoted. In recent years Linda studied for an MA in History of Textiles and Dress with an emphasis on knitting, so is the perfect person to ask about the Knitting Reference Library.
The Collections: Beginnings
The knitting reference library comprises an amalgamation of three distinctive knitting collections: those of Montse Stanley, Richard Rutt and Jane Waller.
The renowned knitting writer, historian and designer, Montse Stanley had for many years been collecting books, postcards, journals and objects for her own knitting reference library. She collected to such an extent that she and her husband bought the house next door to their own in Cambridge in order to house it all! On becoming terminally ill in 1999, Montse began looking for an academic home for her collection with some urgency. Led by textile historians, Barbara Burman and Lesley Miller, the University of Southampton's Faculty of Arts purchased it for the university to add to their already strong textile-focused library. In response to this move, Montse's good friend, the historian Richard Rutt (often known as the knitting bishop) donated his private library to the university to be used alongside Montse's. The third collection that makes up the university's Knitting Reference Library is a large collection of vintage patterns, previously belonging to Jane Waller, which the university library bought in 2000 through Phillips' auction house.
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What do the collections comprise?
With over 800 objects, 12,000 patterns, 1000 books, more than 1000 postcards and countless journals, there is certainly a lot to look at in the Knitting Reference Library.
The collections are spread over two sites, with most of Montse Stanley's collections housed in Special Collections at the Hartley Library in Southampton. Due to the nature of her collection: the early 20th century postcards, the knitting tools, knitted objects and her correspondence need to be looked after under archival museum conditions. There is a handlist to the collection which can be consulted and appointments can be made to visit and use the collections.
Montse's books are housed, alongside the rest of the Knitting Reference Library in Winchester School of Art. Linda believes the collection to be the largest bibliographic collection brought together in one place on the subject of knitting. It starts with Victorian knitting books and is brought right up to date with the library adding the latest journals and book titles each year. Linda points out that of particular interest is the collection of Victorian knitting books from the library of Richard Rutt, which are currently being digitised. They are only otherwise available in the British Library or the Victoria and Albert Museum. There are countless journal titles, from the early 20th century right up to date, with titles such as Vogue Knitting, Weldon's Knitting series and Mon Tricot. Many of the vintage patterns from Susan Crawford and Jane Waller's book A Stitch in Time are held by the Knitting Reference Library and there are many more from throughout the 20th century.
Who Uses the Library?
Anybody can come to use the Knitting Reference Library (simply by contacting Linda at her email below). The School of Art's students and staff, researchers and historians, artists and designers, and members of the public all use the library.
Recently, knitting tutor Noel Foster, set a garment finishing project for his 3rd year knit student projects in conjunction with the KRL. Linda tells me that she got out a range of materials for the students to study from various time periods. The 23 students were interested in both contemporary and historical techniques and came up with creative outcomes spanning Scandinavian knitting techniques, high fashion finishes and pieces inspired by vintage domestic knitting. Linda is particularly pleased when the library is able to be involved in this kind of teaching: 'It really is good when you find a tutor who will set a project where the collection must be used. That is what it is there for.'
The Knitting Reference Library has a number of ambassadors from the university (including me) who do some outreach work every few months in order to let more people know about this great collection. Last summer, we had an exhibition in the Winchester gallery, Cornershop, where we turned it into a living room, brought items from the handling collection and a range of books, and asked people to come and knit with us. It was a great success with many learning to knit for the first time, others chatting about their memories of knitting, some teaching us new techniques and one person asking whether we were performance artists!
Linda and her ambassadors also regularly attend knitting events such as the I Knit Weekender and the knitting festival Unravel in Farnham. Most recently we have had a knitting weekend in conjunction with The Hambledon in Winchester to promote the collections.
In addition, Linda, along with Dr Jessica Hemmings and Dr Maria Hayward organised the first In the Loop knitting conference, held in Winchester in July 2008, which was a great success with speakers and delegates from across the globe. There is another In the Loop conference to be staged in Shetland in September 2010 where the keynote speakers will be Deirdre Nelson, Annemor Sundbø and knitonthenet editor, Susan Crawford.
Linda admits that she doesn't work to a strict collections policy. As she says: 'In knitting, publications are diverse. You never know what is going to come up.' The library regularly adds to the pattern books, technique books and exhibition catalogues. They also subscribe to a range of knitting journals. Recent acquisitions include books on knitting in other cultures which is an area which Linda is keen to expand. As well as hand knitting, there is material on machine knitting, crochet, tatting, sewing and the knitting industry. The collection complements the Winchester School of Art library well, whose strength is its focus on textiles, textile art, fashion and dress history.
At the end of our talk, I asked Linda if she had a favourite item from the collection. She named the poodle toilet-roll cover, and says that she likes it for a number of reasons: '...it is really quite challenging and makes you do a double take these days. It might be what we call kitsch now, but it is an everyday object and lots of people knitted them in reality. Knitting isn't all about high fashion but the everyday too.'
Accessing the Collections
The Knitting Reference Library at Winchester is easily accessible via car, is 50 minutes by train from London. The School of Art campus is set near the centre of the small city of Winchester. You can consult the bibliographic catalogue online via the University of Southampton's Webcat system by author, title and keyword.
To use the collections based at Winchester School of Art Library, please contact via email, telephone or in writing:
Email: wsaenqs (at) soton (dot) ac (dot) uk
Phone: +44 (0) 23 8059 8531
Knitting Reference Library
Winchester School of Art Library
To use the Special Collections based at the Hartley Library in Southampton, initial appointments should be made in writing:
Email: archives (at) soton (dot) ac (dot) uk
University of Southampton