A Wild Yarn

LIbrary of Virginia to celebrate World Wide Knit in Public Day on June 8 with a Knit In.

While the second Saturday in June marks both National Rosé Day and National Dragonfly Day, it’s also Worldwide Knit in Public Day and it’s the latter that will be celebrated with a Knit In on June 8 at the Library of Virginia.

Nan Carmack, a knitter and the director of library development and networking, had been exploring the library’s collections for historic knitting patterns. After attending a Worldwide Knit-in-Public day event last year, she had an idea. “I made the connection as a way to highlight our collections in an unexpected way and introduce new users to the library,” Carmack says. “This program has nothing to do with my specific job, and is a bit of a passion project.”

Attendees are invited to bring a knitting project to work on while listening to knitting related lectures, viewing displays and live demonstrations. Refreshments will be provided, and attendees can register for door prizes from Richmond-area yarn shops. Historic knitting patterns from the 1800s up to 1970s, as well as items newly created from them, will be on display along with other fiber craft items from the library’s collections.

Members of River City Knitters will offer knitting demonstrations and a sock-knitting machine will be on view. A digital copy of an item from the library’s collection, 1923’s “Little Red Riding Hood’s Knitting Book” will be available for download. The event’s two lectures will be livestreamed for those who can’t attend in person.

At 11 a.m., KT Vaughan, the university librarian at Washington and Lee University Library will give a talk on “Knit Like Defarge: Encoding Meaning into Your Stitches.” Vaughan learned to knit a little less than 40 years ago and has been knitting seriously for about 20 years.

Photograph, 1968. Original caption: “Mayor Ann Kilgore of Hampton, Va., gets in some knitting while Tom Watson and Mayor Don Hyatt of Newport News, Va., look on Thursday. They are attending the Southern Conference Mayor’s Meeting at the Savannah Inn and Country Club.” Library of Virginia Photograph Collection.

Between 2007 and 2017, she was an active knitting pattern designer and technical editor, viewing pattern design as a fun problem-solving exercise. “It involves starting with a relatively limited resource, yarn, and a desired outcome – a sweater, scarf, hat – with specific needs such as size and shape that place constraints on the design,” Vaughan explains. “The challenge is to figure out all the unique elements, such as the texture, construction details, and so on, to end with a pleasing and functional item.”

Vaughan admits to being distracted by knitting in novels, TV and movies. Madame Defarge in “A Tale of Two Cities” was her original inspiration, but she’s had many since. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is a favorite, not just for solving crimes, but because of her robust knitting output while doing so. She cites “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss as one of her go-to bedtime reads when her children were small, with the Once-ler being “a classic example of a knitter gone bad.”

Knitting done badly is another pet peeve. “There’s a scene in the movie ‘City of Lost Children’ where the character One played by Ron Perlman unravels his sweater to provide a lifeline for a child moving through a maze of pipes,” Vaughan says. “The unraveling doesn’t follow any logical sweater construction, which bothered me so much when I first saw the movie that I still complain about it to my husband and that movie came out in 1995!”

At 1 p.m., Nicole Brown, a non-knitter and program development manager at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, will speak about “Instructing Them in Sewing: Black Girls, Knitting, and the Williamsburg Bray School.” The Williamsburg Bray School, which operated between 1760 and 1774, had a proslavery intention, utilizing beliefs of the Church of England to propagate its ideas. Students were also taught reading, spelling, sewing, knitting, and lessons in etiquette.

Surviving records show that 86 scholars (the term used by the Bray Associates and their trustees to describe the students) attended the school over 14 years. They were both enslaved and free, ranging between ages three and ten. “The teacher was Ann Wager, a widowed white woman who appears to have fully supported the pro-slavery policies of the Bray School,” Brown says. “But ongoing research reveals that her students used their education in ways that neither she nor the Bray School founders intended.”

Knitting is expressly mentioned in the 1762 Williamsburg Bray school rules. “It says that the purpose of a Bray School education was to support the principles of the Christian religion by teaching them to read,” Brown says. “And at the same time, rendering the females more useful to their owners by instructing them in sewing and knitting.”

Brochure, 1936. Knit Mitts. American Thread Co., 260 West Broadway, New York. NY. Library of Virginia Ephemera Collection.

Sewing, with knitting being a subset of it, was considered an essential 18th-century skill for women and girls. “But it often has gendered and radicalized connotations in Colonial America,” Brown says. “Black enslaved women were often at the heart of this labor, producing textiles such as knitted stockings or mitts utilized in the enslavers’ households. Although I’m not a knitter, I have a deep love and appreciation for those who do knit, past and present.”

No registration is required for the Knit In at the Library of Virginia, other than for virtual viewing of the lectures. Free parking is available underneath the library for attendees.

For those considering taking up knitting, Vaughan offers some final advice. First, start with something small that doesn’t need to be perfect. Second, remember that there are no knitting police because there are so many different ways to end up with a knitted item. “And third, one of the great things about knitting is doing it with other people, so find others who also want to play with yarn and enjoy sharing space and time with them,” Vaughan says. “A great way to start is at a Worldwide Knit in Public Day event such as the one at the Library of Virginia.”

And if your knitting project isn’t going as planned?

“Knitting allows you to completely rip out your finished project and start all over again,” Vaughan says. “It’s an exercise in humility and patience that a knitter will practice many times.”

Knit In to celebrate Worldwide Knit in Public Day on Saturday, June 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Library of Virginia, 800 East Broad St. Register to watch Vaughan’s talk via Zoom at bit.ly/LVA-WWKIP-1. Register to watch Brown’s talk via Zoom at bit.ly/LVA-WWKIP-2.


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