Oh Canada Part I – Bedazzled in Toronto

Italian Silk and Gilt Intarsia Jacket at the ROM

My quest to create a Knitting Heritage Museum kicked into high gear in June when I asked the Yarn Group of The National NeedleArts Association for a grant to cover symposium expenses. Much to my delight, the Yarn Group made a grant of $5000, $2000 more than I had requested. At the end of the meeting, Kathleen Kroeger of Bejeweled-Bedazzled  rushed up and invited me and Amy, City Knits’ manager, to visit Toronto to research how the Canadians treat their textile heritage.  Besides being an amazing hostess, she is the creator of glorious glass buttons, so light that they will work on even delicate hand knit sweaters.  I am  still digesting all the wondrous things that happened during our visit – both as a tourist and a researcher.

On Monday, we enjoyed a special tour of the Textile Collection of the Royal Ontario Museum  led by Mitzi Beale, long time volunteer with the ROM, and my traveling buddy from our life -changing 1996 Scandinavian Knitting Tour.

The Italian knit jacket was a breathtaking masterwork from the 1600‘s, knit of silk and silver gilt thread using the intarsia technique in an impossibly fine gauge.  We are still wondering about the drawer of knitted and crocheted bags and lace:  seven objects, but only six descriptions.  I guess that means another email to a curator, and another “crochet gets no respect” anecdote for the files. We were nourished in many ways by a delicious dinner hosted by our friend Norm.

Silk Oasis on the Silk Road: Bukhara - Exhibit at the Textile Museum of Canada

On Tuesday, we were gifted with an astounding mini-seminar at the Textile Museum of Canada/. Executive Director  Shauna McCabe arranged for us to spend an hour with three key curators. I still haven’t yet absorbed all the wisdom they offered. [I’ll summarize their advice in Part II.}Our hostess Kathleen was so generous: Bead store 101 for Amy at BeadFX, shrimp on the BarBee, swimming with silver globes under a silvery summer moon; bedazzling bra straps and creating jewelry at midnight, and soaking up personalized tours of the special byways that make Toronto such a wonderful city.


On Wednesday, after a shopping spree at Romni Wools, Toronto’s mecca for knitters,  we visited charming Cambridge, and fiber genius Kathy Fisher.

Hostess Kathleen Kroeger, Mitzi Beale and Kathy Fisher

She shared amazing insights about the modern chemistry of medieval plant dyeing, an introduction to Viking whirling spindles. I am in awe of her sheer energy and intellectual pursuits. Who knew that black walnut husks yield less dye if they have grown near the road in vehicular pollution, than trees grown in the cleaner air of the woods?

Wednesday evening Amy and I saw Camelot at the Stratford Festival was sublime, from the opening hawk flight (yes, a real hawk!), through the love songs with cunning lyrics, to the despicably evil Mordred who preyed on the human frailties of King, Queen and Knight, locked in a love triangle — all enhanced by the tour de force of costuming expertise.

Granny Square Jacket from the Stratford Festival Archives

Still the highlight of our Stratford visit was a tour of costumes, and props (Amy is a gifted designer, whether sewing or knitting), followed by our lunch with Stratford’s Archives Director, Dr. Francesca Marini. Though busy with founding a museum for the Stratford Festival,  she found time to share a very special costume from her archives with us: a bright green granny square suit, crocheted from fabric strips, as well as great advice for a start-up museum, which I’ll save for another day.

How wonderful to have so many new friends “up north.” I can’t thank you all enough. Can’t wait to return.

  • Up Coming Topics:  
    • Oh Canada! Part II – Museum Start-up Advice
    • Building the Board;
    • Selecting a Symposium Date;
    • What makes me think that I am the one to start up this Museum???

The World Needs a Knitting Museum

As an addicted knitter and crocheter, lover of textiles and enthusiastic visitor of museums, I have frequently attempted to combine my passions.  Repeated disappointments have long caused some serious musing:

Why are knitting and crochet so often treated like the illegitimate stepchild, the crossed-eyed cousin concealed in the attic?  As I have plunged into the world of Museums, I am learning there are very legitimate reasons: lack of resources, backlog of objects waiting for processing, different criteria for cataloguing, costume vs textiles expert . . . .

But the gnawing question was: Can this be addressed and resolved somehow?
My answer:  The World Needs a Knitting Museum!
I am planning to use this blog to focus on the process of creating an entity to collect, preserve, document and share our knitting and crochet heritage, and record my journey of exploration.  I hope to gather the talents of fellow travelers along the way. I hope you will engage with me in this conversation and process.

I visited a museum focused on the history of the city in which it was located.  The name and location are irrelevant to the experience.  My husband and I had a special opportunity to get behind the scenes ( lucky us!)  With little notice, we dropped by for a mini tour.

We met with a staffer long involved with exhibits there, and during the conversation, I mentioned my interest in establishing a Knitting Museum.  She paused, pondered, and replied definitively “Well there aren’t any Knitting Museums,” as though there never could be either.  Bemused, I responded:  “My point exactly!”

We actually got to see the Costume Department. The development coordinator,  had forgotten to give our guide advance warning when we made our visit plans.  Our guide apologized for not having prepared, and gamely offered to find a couple of knitted pieces in the collection to share with me on short notice.  We followed her down to the basement; – though the development coordinator had worked for the Museum for six months, he had never been down to the Costume Department.

Our guide searched through several drawers, and then triumphantly pulled out her favorite, red wool scarf: fringed, with a reindeer and the name “Robbie” cross stitched on the surface – “P L A N   A H E ad” style.  It was quite charming.  Poignantly, however, it wasn’t knitted.  It was made using another technique called “Tunisian Crochet” – a crochet technique, performed with an extra long crochet hook.  Those who don’t indulge in either knitting or crocheting would not be vexed by this.  To fans of either one, there is a crucial distinction, and I was both disappointed and triumphant:  the encounter proved my case that knitting just wasn’t getting the respect I believe it deserves.

Our guide was a great sport about it.  She had, after all, accommodated my request to look at “knitted” items without any prep time, and she had acknowledged that, though her mother was an ardent knitter (of dishcloths), that she didn’t know anything about it.   I had a hook and yarn with me, so as we talked, I worked up a swatch in Tunisian Crochet to demonstrate how it differed from knitting.  The guide and I will try again, on another visit with much better advance warning.

I share this account of my visit, because it so perfectly illustrates what motivates my yearning for knitting and crochet to have a place of their own.  The experience has left me with a big smile, to be handed such a perfect example of what knitters experience when they try to interact with textile collections. For me, it underscores the need to change the way knitting is collected, documented and shared  with the public.

Has anyone else experienced this?  I look forward to your input on the need for a Knitting Heritage Museum.

Hello world!

Brand new blog; and I am brand new to blogging.  The quest to collect, preserve document and share our knitting and crochet heritage is near and dear to my heart.  So important to me, that I am willing to tackle this whole social media thing to get the job done [ well not twitter – unless some makes a really compelling case].  I look forward to lots of feedback, and growth, and  I hope progress in establishing a Knitting Heritage Museum.  Let me know how i am doing.