It was at the Interweave Knitting Lab, October 2012, in Manchester, New Hampshire. I was teaching a class about how to knit mosaic patterns and design your own. The workshop participants were enthusiastic and they were close to completing our first mosaic sample: a dotty heart pattern.
All at once, the door opened, and in walked a small white-haired lady wearing a sparkling mosaic sweater. We saw, as if in a dream, Barbara Walker, the first champion of the mosaic knitting technique, the developer of a very clever mosaic knit charting method, the designer of many, many mosaic patterns. All this and much, much more.
Barbara examined the mosaic samplers and graciously allowed us to photograph her and her lovely sweater and bag. She never uses a sweater pattern. She just decides which stitch motifs to use, and then knits from the top down.
She left us star-struck, and we continued our workshop with renewed vigor.
Barbara was the keynote speaker for the conference. I wouldn’t have missed her speech for anything. She produced several treasuries of knitting stitch patterns, which to my mind are the foundation for all modern knit stitch treasuries and the inspiration for many knitting patterns we’ve seen in books and magazines for the last 30 years.
A 1952 graduate of University of Pennsylvania, Barbara wrote for the Washington Star newspaper for years. The paper closed two or three years after she left. At some point, she took two classes in medieval history, where, oddly, no mention was made of the Inquisition. This got her started researching the history of religion. Among other things, this study resulted in the publication of her thoroughly engrossing encyclopedias of feminine symbols and mythology.
Here are a few lines from Barbara Walker’s speech, which made me admire her even more:
Regarding the relative creativity of the people in the room:
“You have probably knitted as much as I have, but you didn’t keep count. You are as creative as I am, but you just haven’t put it in books.”
Regarding how she was able to produce so much:
The television broke. About six years later, she called a repairman. “I got a lot done in that time,” she said.
“I was always solitary. That’s how I got so much done.”
“I want to surprise myself. I don’t want to be bored.”
Thank you, Barbara Walker. Your work has made a large and lasting impression on my life.