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The University of Southampton
Winchester School of Art

Exhibition on Knitting Opens at Special Collections Gallery

Published: 14 February 2014

Despite the resurgence of interest in knitting from the Noughties onwards, the knit as craft or art debate continues to run and run. Outside the circles of initiates, the perception that knit is an activity largely undertaken by women and somehow therefore less valuable and domestic seems to cling on obstinately despite the best efforts of feminist art historians, the impressive virtuosity of knitwear artists such as Kaffe Fassett, and works by fine artists such as Rosemarie Trockel and Louise Bourgeois.

It is timely then, that knitting is valued in the wider research culture as a form of making that is worthy of high esteem, and one that has provided visual pleasure and practical and therapeutic succour to men and women on myriad levels for hundreds of years. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the exhibition KNITTING 1914-2014 currently on show at the Special Collections Gallery on Level 4 of the Hartley Library at the University of Southampton’s Highfield campus.

The exhibition, curated by Winchester School of Art staff member Linda Newington, draws from material from the Knitting Collections that are part of the Hartley Library’s Special Collections and the Knitting Reference Library situated at WSA. Centred around a small number of themes, it includes a delightful range of material, from wartime knitting patterns, exquisitely knitted bandages and photographs of men and women knitting for their country, to examples of knitting work from the Montse Stanley Collection and, moving to a new generation of makers, a showcase of WSA student responses to the Collection for the project, “The Devil is in the Detail”. On the subject of details, there are plenty more here to please the eye and jerk the memory; a knitting pattern of Morrissey’s cardigan and a teenage Kate Moss posing for Rowan are just some of the pleasures on offer.

What is striking, overall, is how rare and vital this exhibition feels; careful labeling, thoughtful displays, a genuine valuing of knit and research through making. Also noteworthy are the conversations the work initiates among visitors, pointing to a blurring of boundaries between the amateur and the professional that is both energetic and enlivening. But perhaps above all, is the sense that the exhibition’s attention to wartime dynamics as well as developments in fashion is extremely important as a means to stimulate further reflection on the potential role knit might play in contemporary contexts in terms of human well-being and survival, a leading question that rather puts the art versus craft debate into the shade.

The exhibition KNITTING: 1914-2014 is located in the Special Collections Gallery on Level 4 of the Hartley Library at the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus, and will be on display from February 10th to 4th April 2014. For further information on Winchester School of Art’s Knitting Reference Library see https://www.southampton.ac.uk/intheloop/

Image caption: Exhibition poster designed by Jane Birkin, PhD student, WSA


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