“Center for Knit and Crochet” is Born!

November 8-10, 2012

Dateline: Madison, WI.

One of the illustrious participants wrote about last weekend’s Symposium for Exploring the Feasibility of Establishing a Knit and Crochet Museum and the Wisconsin Book Festival. Since I am still  under the weather, (blessedly not everyone realized that I was the whole time), I will offer a summary based on her draft in order to spread the good news of the fruits of our labors:

The symposium began Thursday afternoon with a reception, followed by welcome and opening remarks from Dr. Ellsworth Brown, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society; and Karen Kendrick-Hands, Symposium Chair (that’s me!).

The lobby was graced with four cases filled with knit and crochet treasures


from the Textiles and Costume Collection of Wisconsin Historical Society, and the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection of the School of Human Ecology at University Of Wisconsin-Madison.  The exhibit was curated by Leslie Bellais, WHS, with assistance from Liese Pfeifer, Collections Manager of HLATC.

Susan Strawn, PhD, presented an interesting power-point montage of photos of knitters throughout the years titled, “The Knitting Image:  Popular Media, Art, and Industry Look at American Knitters.” Susan is a professor of Apparel Design and Merchandising at Dominican University in River Forest, IL.

On Friday,  Melissa Leventon, in her keynote address, “So You Want to Start A Museum,” spurred us to think deeply about the feasibility of establishing a museum.  Melissa provided a number of examples of successes and failures of museum undertakings.  Melissa’s advice included:

*          start small

*          location matters

*          be visible

*          have easy access

*          know your audience before you commit.

A common thread throughout Melissa’s talk was: “It always costs more money and takes more time than you can imagine.”  The immense expense of owning a building and maintaining a collection made us much more receptive to the concept of honoring knit and crochet by creating a digital space with the attributes and offerings of a physical museum – an alternative championed by Dr. Ellsworth Brown.

Jennifer Lindsay, M.A., History of Decorative Arts and coordinator for the Smithsonian Community Reef (a collaborative fiber art exhibition created for the National Museum of Natural History’s exhibition of the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef in 2010), advocated creating a virtual museum when she first got involved with the project in 2011.  At the symposium, Jennifer discussed the virtual museum’s form and content as an opportunity to integrate institutional knowledge with community knowledge more deliberately and openly than museums are doing on-line now.  She recommended we collaborate with museums and other collectors to develop a global, pan-institutional digital collection of historical and contemporary objects that could be augmented and critiqued by members of the community using recent advances in technology and in social net-working.  Jennifer referenced the Australian Dress Register (“ADR”) developed at Sydney, Australia’s Powerhouse Museum , which currently includes examples of dress from 45 collections, and allows the public to add objects and supporting information upon approval.   The ADR provides excellent resources to support outreach and education, including how to photograph, store, preserve and catalogue items of dress.   Jennifer suggested that a  virtual museum would promote appreciation and scholarship of knitting and crochet most effectively by facilitating a robust exchange of information about the techniques, materials, and evolving social history of knitting and crochet between museum professionals, collectors, scholars, artists, and passionate practitioners. She noted that it can also be used to test the feasibility of developing a physical museum at a later date.

Emily Pfotenhauer briefed us on the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, a digital collection among Wisconsin museums.  From a practical perspective of having set up a pan-institutional digital collection for decorative arts media, Emily emphasized the importance and value of a standardized, structured “metadata” – the information about stuff – that is  searchable, sortable, interoperable and sharable.“  Emily talked also about the International Quilt Study Center and Museum as a possible model,

Karen, Susan and Melissa were joined by Trisha Malcolm (Vogue Knitting) and Jack Blumenthal (Lion Brand Yarns) on a panel, moderated by Sheryl Thies, that addressed The Values of Heritage and Why It Matters.

The strength of the gathering, beyond the fine presentations, were the interactions and synergies among  the more than 50 participants, including June Hemmons Hiatt, author of “The Principles of Knitting;” Gwen Blakley Kinsler, founder and first president of the Crochet Guild of America; Dr. Angharad Thomas, Textile Archivist of the Knitting and Crochet Guild of the UK, (who came all the way from the British Isles);  Jolie Elder, past president of Atlanta’s Knitting Guild; Julia Grunau, owner ofPatternfish in Toronto, CA; Nicole Scalessa, IT Manager for The Library Company of Philadelphia; Beth Casey, owner of Lorna’s Laces and Chair of TNNA’s Yarn Group, our primary sponsor; Karen Searle, fiber artist; Lily Marsh, a doctoral student in American Studies at Purdue University who is researching Elizabeth Zimmerman, founder of Schoolhouse Press; Kathleen Mullins, Executive Director of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House and the Henry Ford Estate; and Sheryl Thies, knitting designer and author. Members of  Madison Knitters Guild, the local guild with over 500 members, provided both informed participation and many of the volunteers who made the event possible.  ‘Passionate practitioners’ came from near and far to learn and help this initiative  succeed. Of course the risk of listing is omission, so I welcome concepts correcting gaps,  and apologize in advance!

The most important work was done Friday afternoon and Saturday morning when all the participants joined, under the guidance of an expert facilitator, to address our interests, excitement and concerns regarding the feasibility of establishing a knit and crochet museum.

Our facilitator asked us to consider:

*          vision – what we see as a final product

*          mission – the things we must do to make the vision real

*          purpose – why we do it

*          goals – what we will accomplish

*          action – what we must do

These hours were interesting, intense and enlightening. After extensive discussion we selected the following name and tagline.
[International] Center for Knit and Crochet:
To preserve and promote art, craft and scholarship

As the Saturday session concluded, we  formed  a seven member temporary board, and  consented together to pursue nonprofit incorporation and 501(c)(3) status.

We have already started drafting the incorporation papers, even as other members pursue developing a vocabulary and categories for our “metadata” and a set of best practice guidelines for private collectors and local guilds to ensure the preservation of important knitted and crocheted objects intact with their stories in their local context. We will follow-up with virtual brainstorming session to generate and prioritize scope, project, program and partnership ideas.

Stay tuned for a new Logo, and Web page to reflect our collective vision and strategic directions.We will publish a more detailed symposium summary, and ways that you can  get involved with and contribute to the Center for Knit and Crochet.

We are an amazing collection of talent, intellect, passion and energy!! We hope that you will join us on this amazing journey.

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