It’s been a hectic week, what with one thing and another (and weather – what’s that all about?), so apologies for the delay in getting this week’s blog up. It’s bad enough having to alternate between the real world and the imaginary one I spend a lot of time in, but when you throw Scotland into the mix it all gets a bit much. I’m creating parallel universes in my head, and that’s bound to muck up the time-line sooner or later.
So I thought I’d devote this week’s blog to something I’ve been saving for a snowy day, namely being rude about the clergy. Well, all right, not the entire clergy – fine body of men and women, on the whole, I expect – but just one: Richard Rutt, former bishop of Leicester, author of “A History of Hand Knitting” originally published by Batsford in 1987.
Now what, I hear you ask, annoys me so much about the bish? Well, for an answer I suggest you pick up a copy of his history and turn to pages 129-134. Here, in a section titled “Fisherman’s Knitting” he turns his episcopal attention to the place of ganseys in the history of knitting. Now, of course, it’s important to bear in mind that he’s writing a history, the first of its kind apparently, so he’s naturally inclined to take an academic approach; but it’s a shame he isn’t more generous to his sources.
How patronising is this? “Some of these books, notably Rae Compton’s The Complete Book of Traditional Guernsey and Jersey Knitting (1985), have shown a sense of history, but only Mary Wright, in Cornish Guernseys and Knitfrocks (1979) has tackled the history of the subject seriously. Like Michael Pearson in various publications that culminated in his Traditional Knitting (1984), all these writers have concentrated on the technique of knitting the fisherman’s jersey and on collecting patterns…” (p.129)
Now, speaking as an historian (author, I’ll have you know, of the best-selling Radnorshire in Old Photographs which briefly topped the best-seller lists for books about, er, Radnorshire in old photographs) if there’s one thing history teaches us, it is that interpretations of history are a matter of fleeting opinion. It’s all a point of view, and every generation comes along and reinterprets what their parents thought was true (remember when the British Empire was regarded as a Good Thing?).
So, for myself, I’m delighted that Gladys Thompson and her successors devoted their time to collecting patterns and not “tackling the history of the subject seriously”. Who cares? Which would you rather have? A history book about a dying art, or an instruction manual on how to recreate it, and renew it? That’s the difference between history and craft, and only a historian like Bishop Rutt would say the history of a craft is more important than the craft itself.
And here’s a challenge for all of us: “Though Gladys Thompson and others already mentioned … have stimulated a limited revival of handknitted jerseys, one rarely sees a garment of the quality worn 50 or 60 years ago…” (p.134). To arms, citizens! (Aux armes, citoyens!) Or to needles at least (“Aux aiguilles a tricoter citoyens!”).
Mind you, the rest of the book’s pretty good…