Wednesday, August 10, 2011

R.I.P. Richard Rutt

Last year, as I embarked on the beginnings of a multiyear and multistage project on theology and handwork, I read the only comprehensive history of knitting to be published in English in the last fifty years.  The author of this indispensable work, A History of Hand Knitting, was Richard Rutt.  It was clear from his extraordinarily winning book that he was an amateur historian, with very definite opinions and biases on controversial topics in the field, and also that he was a charming Englishman with a passion for his subject and plenty of energy for research.

On August 3, Rutt died in the UK at the age of 86.  Reading through some of the obituaries and remembrances posted after his death, I find what an interesting and multifaceted man he was.  As an Anglican priest, he rose to the rank of Bishop of Leicester after serving almost 20 years as a missionary in South Korea.  In 1994 he switched allegiance to the Catholic church, was ordained as a priest therein (although he remained married), and was made an honorary prelate (with the title of monsignor) in 2009.  The impetus for his conversion to Catholicism was not opposition to female priests or other liberalisms, as with more recent Anglican defections, but dissatisfaction with moves to bring other Protestant groups into full communion with the Church of England.

The bulk of his published works related to Chinese language translation and Korean studies, some of which were groundbreaking.  Knitters valued him for his singular History, however, as well as for a few patterns published in English magazines.  He was known for knitting his own vestments, bishop's miter, and sacramental textiles.  At the time of his death he was the president of the Knitting and Crochet Guild, a national organization that publishes the journal SlipKnot.

Rutt's book was one of the first pieces of my serious research into craft history, and produced a wealth of notes that will form a strand in my work going forward.  Rest in piece, Monsignor Rutt.

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