Barbara Walker collects knitting patterns. Lots and lots and just lots of knitting patterns. By patterns I mean motifs really. She has filled up and published four books worth. You would think that would take up all of her time but, as I learned later, she’s more than a knitter. She’s also a noted author and feminist.
For me, Barbara Walker is the reason I know about and love mosaic color work. Of all the knitting patterns she collected, rescued, and designed herself, the mosaic patterns are my favorites.
When I started to get serious about this blog, I decided I would write about the three authors that influenced me as a knitter, a thinker, and a person. This is the last of those three posts. I spread them waaaaay out and I wrote about these ladies in the order that I discovered them. The first was Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, who taught me that there were plenty of other obsessed knitters out in the world and every one of them is a bit strange and that’s okay. The second was Elizabeth Zimmermann, who taught me how to knit for myself with confidence. She also gave me a few tips on how to charm the socks off of people. Today I’m bragging about Barbara Walker, who taught me there was this whole other way of doing colorwork that i had never heard of. She also taught me quite a bit about myth, religion, and women in history (but more an that later).
Barbara Walker is best known (in knitting circles) for her Treasuries. There are four of them. The first in the series was published in 1968 and the rest followed over the years. They were out of print for a while, but thanks to the increasing popularity of knitting, and Schoolhouse Press, they are back in print.
These are not patterns that will show you have to make a particular hat. These are patterns that show you how to get a particular design in your knitting. They are presented to the reader like this:
There are HUNDREDS of them. Between all four books there are 1,800 knitting patterns (I’m using the numbers provided by The Greater St. Louis Knitters’ Guild and not bothering to count them all up myself). If a knitter owns all of these books they have a deep incurable addition to knitting. Or books. Or both. I have both, by the way, which is why I also own these other knitting books by Barbara Walker.
As you can see she has an entire book on mosaic knitting and I had to get that one too! Mosaic knitting is a method of using two or more colors to create designs. Unlike stranded knitting, the knitter only works with one color at a time. The effect is achieved by slipping stitches from previous rows. I have a mosaic design on my needles right now and that’s because of Barbara Walker. If she hadn’t made mosaic popular, I would have probably never heard of it.
If you’re looking to get started on a Barbara Walker book collection, start with the First Treasury… unless you prefer to work from charts. The Third Treasury is all charted patterns. Or maybe you want to try out mosaic. Or maybe you just buy them all.
Its okay. You can buy them all. I certainly won’t judge you.
But as I mentioned above, Ms. Walker is more than a knitter. I was reading the mini-biography that is included in the Fourth Treasury and came across a reference to her decade long work on a book called The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. That stopped me because.. I have that book too.
I never realized it was the same author. Then I went to the public library and started borrowing her books on history, religion, and feminism. It turns out she has more on those subjects (far, far more) than on knitting.
Knitting is her hobby. Collecting/designing and knitting up 1,800 patterns is just a hobby for her. From what I can tell, she has published over thirty books and two tarot decks. She created all original paintings for those decks, by the way, so she must be a talented painter. I found one mention on the internet of how she is a free-lance journalist and another about her work as a dance instructor.
She is probably an astronaut too. I heard she used to be an adviser to the president of Uruguay. I think she hiked the Appalachian trail last week while translating poems from ancient Sanskrit.
One final note, the gorgeous knitted samples linked here are from The Walker Treasury Project, a cooperative effort to recreate samples of every pattern from Barbara Walker’s books and publish them online in color. Yes, knitters from all over the world are trying to recreate the efforts of a single woman. They seem to be less than halfway done. You can help out by claiming a pattern (not yet done) from a book, and signing up at the site. They will give you three months to finish it and send pictures. Three months for something that Ms. Walker probably did while brushing her teeth one morning.
But then, there are not many like Ms. Barbara Walker which is why she is on my personal list of the truly great knitters.