Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Richard Rutt Collection

If you love vintage patterns, do I have vintage patterns for you. The University of Southampton's Winchester School of Art has put the Richard Rutt collection of antique knitting books online. Who was Richard Rutt? Well, he was one of those people who can't get interested in anything without pursuing it to some esoteric height of knowledge and landmark level of accomplishment. When he was an Anglican missionary to South Korea for twenty years, he became a founder of what is now considered Korean studies, authoring a number of books on Korea and its culture, among them the co-authored encyclopedia Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary. He became fascinated by classical Chinese and published a translation of a challenging ancient Chinese work, The Book of Changes. When spending some of the later years of his life in Cornwall he learned the Cornish language in order to celebrate weddings in Cornish. He rose within the Anglican church to become a bishop. Late in life Rutt converted to Roman Catholicism, and was soon ordained as a priest, then a Prelate of Honour, with the title of Monsignor, and also an honorary canon of Plymouth Cathedral. I won't list all his accomplishments here, but the Wikipedia entry for Richard Rutt makes for an interesting read.

Richard Rutt also had a passionate interest in knitting, and true to form he couldn't just, you know, make a scarf while he was watching TV like the rest of us. He authored a history of the craft entitled A History of Hand Knitting, published in 1987, which is still in print. Rutt was involved with the Knitting & Crochet Guild from the time of its founding in 1978 and was its president at the time of his death in 2011. He also collected antique knitting books and booklets. And now you can see the Richard Rutt Collection collection of 66 antique knitting books dating from 1838 to 1914, which might just make your rumpled collection of Vogue Knitting back issues look much less impressive than you thought.

All sixty-six volumes are online in their entirety and may be viewed in high quality PDFs and printed off for use as you like. You may find them more interesting from a historical and knitting geek perspective than from a practical one. As I discussed during a recent post on Victorian knitting patterns, a lot of nineteenth century patterns can be difficult to follow because they don't include information such as stitch gauge or yardage amounts. Some of the books, such as the 1838 second edition of The Ladies Knitting & Netting Book, by Mrs. Annesley "the Compiler", the cover of which is pictured above, don't have a single illustration in them, which means the end result of your work may surprise you, and not pleasantly.

Moreover many of the patterns won't be wearable by modern standards. You probably aren't going to want to wear the ladies' silk opera cloak above even if you are a woman who regularly attends the opera. But other patterns are useable still. Baby clothing hasn't changed much in the last century or two, and neither have scarves, gloves, hats, shawls, drawstring purses, men's waistcoats (the ladies' equivalent will require either a substantial rewrite or a corset), or socks. At any rate the collection promises the knitting history and vintage knitting pattern lover many a happy hour of browsing. Vintage knitting patterns don't get much more vintage than this.


  1. What a wonderful resource for knitters and historians alike. I certainly will be looking at the collection, even if just for the wonder of the patterns.

  2. I thought his History was out of print!! Going on the wish list ASAP!! By the way I love your Mirrie Dancers sweater yoke in the profile picture!!

  3. Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing this information! I found your post while searching for Victorian Knitting. I am very glad that I found it :D