You won’t find a whole lot of people who get excited about book classification. But when it comes to numbers stuck to the spine of a library book, Kathy Erickson’s face positively lights up.
“This is so cool!” she says of the Bauerliches Stricken series, a three-volume set whose components, until recently, were in two different places on the Textile Center library shelves. These three unassuming-looking books by Lisl Fanderl, who has been called “the Barbara Walker of Bavaria,” contain a wealth of German knitting- stitch patterns, all with charts. Now that they are all under the same classification number, they’re lined up together on the shelf. Furthermore, a note in the library-catalog record means that all three books will turn up under a keyword search for “patterns for knitting.”
Erickson is not a librarian, which makes her enthusiasm for a somewhat arcane corner of library work all the more surprising. What got her started was tracking down Horst Schultz’s Patchwork Knitting last spring, when she was especially interested in color in knitting design. “I groove on geometry,” Erickson says of Schulz’s knitting technique, which involves knitting outward from a central “patch,” rather like putting together a quilt. The Textile Center library had two copies of the 1997 book, but they were shelved under two different numbers. And, except for the author, there was nothing in the catalog record to link it with his 2000 book on “patchwork knitting” for children.
Erickson is nothing if not thorough. In researching Schulz’s construction method, she found that it was called “domino knitting” in a 2002 book by Vivian Høxbro, and “number knitting” back in 1952, in a book by Virginia Woods Bellamy that Erickson calls a “seminal work—the original thought where others have taken off.” These and many more are books she considers treasures. In fact, for Erickson, every visit to the library is like a treasure hunt.
Although she volunteers countless hours in the Textile Center library, Erickson’s background is not in books or libraries but, rather, in computer programming and, now, medicine. For many years, she designed computer programs for a large insurance company, and now she is studying towards an R.N. But she was an undergraduate math major, and Erickson is clearly as at home in numbers as a fish is in water.
Erickson also is one of the library’s most prolific patrons, checking out an estimated 50 books a month—although never more than the limit of 10 at a time, of course. A three-day workshop in “The Art of the Swatch” that she took last June from the University of Minnesota’s Split Rock arts program led her to explore different aspects of color work. Lace knitting is another passion; she figures she could fill a two-hour MKG program on all her unfinished lace socks. Her last finished project, she says, was a colorful garter-stitch vest from a kit offered by East Coast designer Candace Eisner Strick at the last Yarnover.
Erickson, an MKG member for several years, answered the Textile Center library’s constant call for volunteers last year. At the time, Nancy Mambi was newly hired as the Textile Center librarian, the library’s only paid position. One of Mambi’s immediate concerns was insurance records. The library had opened only five years before, and it had been cataloged somewhat hastily,patching together the different systems of the 14 guilds that, like MKG, have books in the library’s collection. This meant that, without the actual book, magazine, or CD in hand, it was difficult to tell what guild owned it or how much it was worth. Mambi realized that, in the event of (God forbid) a library fire or flood, figuring out how to replace damaged materials was a second disaster waiting to happen.
So Mambi organized volunteers into what she calls the “catalog completion project,” which is still underway. From the existing catalog, she printed out a list of every item in the 10,000-volume library in shelf order. Volunteers like Erickson go through the shelves and compare the catalog record to the real item. They note any inaccuracies in the title, copyright year, or guild ownership, then they look up the cost of replacing the book, using online used- booksellers such as Amazon and ABE Books.
It is tedious, exacting work, but Erickson, who made the knitting- book shelves her specialty, found she enjoyed it. However, she also found, as she puts it, that sometimes “I didn’t like the way the books were cataloged.” Mambi’s response, according to Erickson, was, “If you don’t like it, babe, you can fix it.”
And fix it Erickson did. She expanded Mambi’s check-off list until she was looking at more than a dozen things in each book she pulled off the shelf, including if the call-number label was hard to find (a pet peeve) and if the book itself needed mending or other “TLC.” She also started writing summaries of some books for Mambi to add to the catalog, and asking her to reclassify books that weren’t next to books on similar topics, such as Fair Isle knitting. And she made sure that duplicate copies and multiple editions of such books as Latvian Mittens (by Minneapolitan Lizbeth Upitis) were easy to recognize in the library’s catalog.
Erickson also turned her attention to the library’s backlog of uncataloged, donated books, which fill several banks of shelves on the back wall. Thanks to work by Mambi and by Textile Center member Judith Fletcher, who chaired the library committee until her term was up last April, this backlog is better-organized than it used to be. But someone still has to go through the books, including the knitting books, see if the library already owned them, and, if it didn’t, help Mambi decide if they were worth adding to the collection.
Erickson took on the knitting books. Among the “treasures” she was responsible for unearthing—and adding to the library shelves—was the self-published Manly Art of Knitting, a hilarious 1972 send-up of masculinity, and Knitting with Dog Hair, a 1994 classic. (See sidebar for these and other gems Erickson has turned up.)
Erickson looks back on her continuing contribution to the library’s knitting books with satisfaction. So does Mambi, in spite of the extra cataloging and re-labeling work that Erickson has brought on her head.
“These [books] probably won’t have a lot of check-out traffic, but they sure are great to have in the collection,” Erickson says. “For me, they’re priceless.”
Here are a few of the knitting “treasures” Kathy Erickson has turned up in the Textile Center library, together with librarian Nancy Mambi:Number Knitting: The New All-Way Stretch Method by Virginia Woods Bellamy (New York: Crown, 1952). Erickson thinks this is the first published description of the knitting technique Vivian Høxbro calls “domino knitting” and Horst Schulz calls “patchwork knitting.” Unusually for the 1950s, it’s full of photos. Librarian Nancy Mambi, who is not a knitter, concurs with Erickson that it is “a wonderful read.”
The Knitting Design Book: Using Color, Pattern, and Stitch to Create Your Own Unique Sweaters by Ank Bredewold and Anneke Pleiter (Asheville, N.C.: Lark Books, 1991). Full of brightly colored illustrations and clear instructions, this book has inspired other books in the Textile Center library, including Ginger Luters’ Module Magic (XRX Books, 2004).Christmas Stockings: 18 Holiday Treasures to Knit by Elaine Lipson (Loveland, Colo.: Interweave Press, 2001). There are a few tiresome Christmas-stocking books out there, but this isn’t one of them. And it turned up on the donated-books shelf just as Erickson discovered that both the library’s already-cataloged copies were missing.
Knitting with Dog Hair: A Woof-to-Warp Guide to Making Hats, Sweaters, Mittens, and More by Kendall Crolius and Anne Montgomery (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994). Fun title, fun projects.
Left-Handed Knitting by Regina Hurlburt (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1977). A clearly illustrated book on a hard-to-find topic.
The Manly Art of Knitting by Dave Fougner (Santa Rosa, Calif.: Dave Fougner, 1972). From the cowboy on the cover to the rope-hammock pattern inside (knit on shovel handles with manila rope), this is a true classic. “The projects are amazing,” Erickson says. “I mean, who doesn’t need a dog bed, a watch cap, and a horse blanket?”
Complete Guide to Modern Knitting and Crocheting by Alice Carroll (New York: William H. Wise, 1942). Although it was “modern” more than 60 years ago, the exceptionally clear black-and-white photos make this useful for beginning knitters and crocheters even today.
Knitting by the Fireside and on the Hillside: A History of the Shetland Hand Knitting Industry, c. 1600–1950 by Linda G. Fryer (Lerwick, Shetland: Shetland Times, 1995). No patterns in here, just lots of absorbing history. Erickson especially loves the photograph of dozens of shawls stretched to dry on the grass in Wales, on p. 27.
A Stitch in Time: Knitting and Crochet Patterns of the 20s, 30s, and 40s edited by Jane Waller (Radnor, Penn.: Chilton, 1972). Authentic historical patterns for garments as they appeared in such (largely British) publications as Woman & Home. Don’t miss the bathing suit from 1935, in an article titled “Sea-Waves and Sunny Days Ahead!,” and the 1937 suit with knitted bows down the jacket front.
Rebecca Ganzel Thompson is finishing a two-year term as the MKG’s volunteer librarian.