Crochet and knitting museum: becoming a reality?

Martingale's Knit and Crochet Friday

Do you love history? I’m not talking about the snore fest from middle school. I’m talking about the history of knit and crochet. Until now, there has been no one museum dedicated to this rich and varied topic. Now it’s finally happening!

The Center for Knit and CrochetSheryl Thies, besides being a prolific author and co-author of many knit and crochet books, is very interested in helping preserve that history. She recently attended an event dedicated solely to the topic of creating the first-ever crochet and knitting museum. Here, she reports on the steps that have been taken to begin the Center for Knit and Crochet.

Sheryl ThiesJoining groups really isn’t my thing. I consider myself a “reluctant volunteer.” But when Karen Kendrick-Hands, a woman with a dream, first told me about a small group planning a symposium to explore the feasibility of a knitting and crochet heritage museum, I said yes, even before finishing the row of my knitting. Several factors flashed through my mind during that split second that got me to yes so quickly.

First, knitting and crochet heritage matters to me. While researching the history of Tunisian crochet for my book Get Hooked on Tunisian Crochet, I found very little in the way of actual documentation on the craft. And knowing that some of the knitting greats of the 20th century—Elizabeth Zimmermann, Barbara Walker, and Hazel Carter, to name a few—have already passed on or are quite elderly and frail is cause for concern. Do their heirs value their work? How will their work be conserved? Can their work be accessed? All needlecrafters stand on the shoulders of those who went before us and together we need to preserve and advance the craft.

To me, there were a few elements already in place that hinted at success. The National Needlearts Association’s Yarn Group, a trade association, showed their support with a modest amount of seed money to cover some initial expenses. The Wisconsin Historical Society and its foundation were interested in partnering and their involvement would be key in getting the museum world interested.

The success of a monumental venture such as this involves two unrelated groups working together. Knitters and crocheters need to understand the workings of the museum world, and museum administrators and curators need to have an understanding of the yarn world. Without a symbiotic relationship, the scope of a knit and crochet museum would not flourish. The symposium was the medium to bring both groups together and begin to forge the necessary relationship.

The opening event was hosted by the Wisconsin Historical Society and included a Curator’s Choice Display. Of the many detailed and exquisite pieces displayed, one was of particular interest to me: a child’s beautiful Tunisian crochet coat with elaborate trim.

Child's Tunisian crochet coat
Sack, Baby’s, yellow wool, Tunisian crochet with drawstring neckline, 1890 -1899. The Children’s Clothing Collection, Wisconsin Historical Society. Photo courtesy of Lawrence M Hands.

The event, held on the University of Wisconsin campus, had an impressive lineup of yarn, knitting/crochet, and museum luminaries both on stage and in the audience. In my eyes, being able to meet and mingle with individuals of this caliber was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Influential knitters talking together at the symposium
June Hemmons Hiatt, author of
The Principles of Knitting; Margaret Peterson (center), designer of work in the Curator’s Choice Display; and Susan Strawn, opening speaker and author of Knitting America. Photo courtesy of Lawrence M Hands.

Keynote speaker Melissa Leventon, Principal of Curatrix Group Museum Consultants and Appraisers, spoke about the challenges and expense of creating, governing, and sustaining a physical museum.

A personal high was moderating a panel comprised of Trisha Malcolm, editor of Vogue Knitting; Susan Strawn, author of Knitting America; Karen Kendrick-Hands, symposium chair; Melissa Leventon, principal of Curatrix; and Jack Blumenthal, vice president of Lion Brand Yarns. Each panelist shared their perspective of the value of heritage and why it matters.

Karen Kendrick Hands and Jack Blumenthal
Karen Kendrick-Hands, symposium chair, and Jack Blumenthal from Lion Brand Yarns. Photo courtesy of Lawrence M Hands.

A professional facilitator was utilized to guide the group discussions. The entire group of attendees was able to engage and work together on mutually beneficial goals and next steps.

As the symposium came to a close with alliances and friendships formed, the Center for Knit and Crochet was born. Decisions made included the intent to form a nonprofit organization designed “to preserve and promote art, craft, and scholarship.” A nine-member interim advisory board was formed to seek federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and set the agenda for developing a digital entity.

And as if all of this wasn’t enough, the symposium closed with an official Wisconsin Book Festival affiliated sale of knitting and crochet books. Many authors, those attending the symposium, and additional local authors were on hand to mingle, stitch, and sign books. Sitting next to me was another Martingale crochet designer and author, Janet Rehfeldt.

This was one November weekend in Wisconsin that I felt honored to be a part of. My volunteer time pulling together the details for facilities, speakers, meals, and more was well spent.  I’m proud to say that I was part of the group that made this symposium happen!

Visit to follow the progress and learn how you can become involved.

Thanks for making us aware of this fantastic project, Sheryl!

Would you visit a crochet and knitting museum? Tell us what you think of the idea in the comments.

15 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I would visit a museum of knitting & crocheting!

    PJ Jacobsen on June 14, 2013
  • Yes, I definitely would visit a museum for knitting and crochet!

    —Jan staples on June 14, 2013
  • I would plan a trip from Australia to visit this facility. A museum is such a great idea.

    —Kay Morrison on June 14, 2013
  • I think it is a wonderful way to continue the fine art of knit and crochet and make people more aware of its history.

    I definitely would visit a museum for knit and crochet and think it would be great if people could donate pieces they want remembered.

    —Roe on June 14, 2013
  • I think it’s a wonderful idea, but I live in CA and with no other reason to go to Wisconsin and I am a Senior Citizen, I doubt I would visit. Sorry, but I noticed that the above commentors would, so that’s good news. I wonder how many museums have knitting/crocheting pieces in their collections. In the late 90’s I went on 2 Quilt History Tours on the East Coast, but don’t recall seeing any crocheting/knitting. I know the deYoung Museum in San Francisco has some Textile Arts, but I think they’re limited to pieces made outside of the United States. I know it would be a lot of trouble, but it would be interesting to survey museums around the country as to the kind of collections they have in the area of Textile Arts. Sometimes hand made pieces are not always displayed, they’re hidden away in storage and seldom brought out.

    —Rosemary on June 14, 2013
  • I surely would visit a museum dedicated to these needlecrafts. I am the holder of my grandmother’s collection of patterns from the 1920’s and ’30’s and enjoy looking through them for inspiration. These crafts particularly connect many generations of my family.

    Mistea on June 14, 2013
  • A Knit and Crochet museum would give me a reason to visit, wherever it might be.

    —ChocPieMom on June 14, 2013
  • I will happily purchase their complete history book, from shepherd’s knitting to lacework to granny squares. Please let us know in the blog when that is available!

    —Lynne on June 14, 2013
  • I would visit a crochet/knitting heritage museum. I do not do those arts, but do appreciate all needle craft.

    —Pat on June 14, 2013
  • I would love to visit. (And drag my husband along…LOL) I knit and crochet. I have seen some older items and they are just gorgeous.

    —Amelia on June 15, 2013
  • I’d love to go! I come from a long line of knitters & crocheters! My mom was an editor of a crochet magazine for many years. I’d love to see how the art evolved over time and see how it’s been done around the world.

    —Elizabeth Tallau on June 15, 2013
  • I would vist a crochet and knitting museum, but as always these things seem to be in the states and none in the UK:-(

    —Viv on June 16, 2013
  • I would definitely visit a museum. I live in Midland Ontario Canada and although we visit the US often we would have no reason to travel to Wisconsin (except the museum of course) but I very much doubt it. I think it’s a fabulous idea and I wish we had one in Canada.

    —Karyn on June 17, 2013
  • I would like to visit the Museum. I actually lived in Maine and used to go to Local Fairs to see what others were crocheting & kitting, crafts. Fairs are great to see peoples hard work and ideas. I have health issues & unable to remember how to do it all…I get upset if I can’t remember how to do it! I have my grandmothers Baby Set & unable to figure pattern out due to health issues. It is not fair to be so young and not be able to crochet & knit things like I used to.

    Rhoda Freeman
    Orginally from Maine, NOW in Florida 🙂

    —Rhoda on June 22, 2013
  • I have crocheted since I was young. My grandmother taught me. I’m 74 now. I have been going through books and found some very old ones, some not in very good shape, of crochet instructions from my grandmother (very old), and many from when I was younger. No one else in my family does crochet. I found you as I was searching for a museum or some other group who might appreciate these. Would you be interested, or do you know anyone else who might?

    —Josie Watts on February 7, 2021

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