The Rare Book & Manuscript Library welcomes the Tennyson Library of Crochet with a Main Library Exhibition July 1-August 31. The Tennyson Library of Crochet was created by Gilbert Witte in 1990 and named for Witte’s great-grandmother, Flora Emily Tennyson (1874-1962). The collection documents the history and practice of crochet through more than 7,000 journals, patterns, samples, and manuals, ranging in date from 1844 to the present. The collection also includes related arts such as knitting, tatting, macramé, embroidery, and cross stitch.
Witte was inspired to crochet after reading a copy of his great-grandmother’s Workbasket magazine. A self-taught artist, he soon began using his new skill to make gifts. Witte notes, “Once I got the hang of crocheting I began to make baby blankets for all my pregnant co-workers. But I was not happy with the way corners were turning, so I started to look for books to find out how to turn corners.” Witte’s quest to improve his craft turned into a passion, and he began collecting pattern books and magazines. “I became curious about how many titles Coats & Clark had produced and then American Thread Star, and so on. They were not too expensive so I started buying them. And thus, the Tennyson Library of Crochet was born.”
Witte decided to donate his collection to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library after extensive research revealed that no other library in the country had a similar collection. “Although my collection now resides in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, I still plan on collecting and filling in gaps,” said Witte. “It is my hope that it will interest and be of value to not only sartorial savants, but also students and scholars of arts and crafts, art history, theater studies, photography, and cultural history.”
In addition to being a talented crochet artist, Witte also specializes in problem cataloging. Rare Book & Manuscript Library Director Valerie Hotchkiss notes, “The collection came with the added bonus that Mr. Witte – a consummate cataloger himself – has cataloged and prepared every item for its addition to our collection. Not many donors can make such a claim.”
There will be multiple events throughout the month of July to celebrate this fabulous collection. Witte will lead exhibit tours on July 15 at 12:00pm and July 24 at 12:00pm. There will be crochet classes for adults and children on Friday, July 18, along with a reception in the Marshall Gallery from 3:00-5:00pm. Visit http://www.library.illinois.edu/rbx/ to sign up for crochet classes and view event information.
Statues in Stitches
Even the “Daughters of Pyrrha” statues outside the library’s east entrance have been yarn bombed to celebrate the art of crochet. Yarn bombing (also known as knit or crochet graffiti) is a recent worldwide phenomenon that often involves “decorating” public property (including statues, trees, buildings, etc.) with hand knit or crocheted work. Rachel Suntop is the artist responsible for yarn bombing the statues. She explains, “I chose to adorn each of the sculptures differently. The northern sculpture uses a natural hemp yarn that is loosely crocheted to show the airy and free form structure of the material. In contrast, I created a tightly crocheted fabric with the undyed cotton yarn for the southern sculpture. Done on a much smaller scale, it has a more structured, intricate and delicate look. Elements of unpredictability, such as rain, wind, the natural aging of the material and human interaction will add a further element of surprise.”
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