Later today, I’m going to take a few minutes for a cup of tea and a bit of knitting in honor of my
friend, Deborah Pulliam. Knitter and writer Carol Rhoades came up with
the idea by e-mail and I decided to join her in spirit, if not in person. If you read this today, or some other day, and feel so inclined, you might like to gather with us in an appreciation of Deborah’s life and work that may stretch across distance and time.
Beginning this post is a card Deb P. sent me from one of her trips to Scotland. I’ll translate the back, because Deb’s handwriting was sometimes challenging. It says, “What more could you want? (Except maybe the wheel.) Just talked to a shepherd about black Ryeland fleece—hurray. Friend of a friend also has llamas, Jacobs & Highland cattle! Deb.”
Last week, I was in Maine visiting Deborah because I’d gotten an emergency call. This morning, another sad call came in.
Deborah Pulliam died peacefully at 8:30 a.m. today at her home in Maine. She was resting, and there were good people nearby. I have lost both a long-time friend and a staunch, sometimes fierce, ally in the quest for historically accurate information on a wide variety of topics, including textiles and books. She would have been 55 in early June.
One of the many projects she had been working on was a book that I would have published some day—a historically accurate group of patterns for caps from the folk tradition. She’d chosen the specific caps, outlined the book, and begun some of the chapters.
We do have a great, if scattered, legacy in Deborah’s work that others can build on. Deborah wrote for
Spin-Off, Interweave Knits, and PieceWork magazines and was active in the Textile Society of America and
the Costume Society of America.
When I edited Spin-Off, I never knew whether she would next approach me with something like information about luceting or a pattern for a charming knitted pig (Spin-Off, Winter 2001). She appreciated Edward Gorey along with Beatrix Potter. She loved rare breed sheep and was a proponent of the much-overlooked down-breed wools,
especially for socks and everyday sweaters. We both dreamed of visiting Saint Kilda, off in the Atlantic west of Scotland and home to Soay sheep.
Deborah wrote articles like the “Knitted Artifact” column for the most recent issue of Interweave Knits (Summer 2007, page 9), the “Fiber Basics: North Ronaldsay” article in Spin-Off (Summer 2006), and “Gunnister Man’s Knitted Possessions” and “Knit a Wool Miser’s Purse” in Piecework (September/October 2002 and January/February 2007, respectively). She was also involved as a scholar in collecting and recording information that others will depend on for their future quests; a small sample is represented by the bibliography that she prepared of Janet Arnold’s work.
In a second post to follow not long after this one, I will add a list of Deborah Pulliam’s publications in just one of the magazines to which she contributed, Spin-Off, which I edited from 1988 to 2000. The list gives a glimpse into her curiosity and intellectual rigor. As I am compiling it, I find myself compelled to pull out a few quotes from her book reviews. I’m selecting them to give a sense of who my friend has been and the kinds of things we have talked about over many years, quite often late into the night on Saturdays, with phone headsets in place and knitting in our hands, separated by thousands of miles and brought together by many kinds of fiber. Fibers are such small things to create such strong bonds that last so long.
All who would like to do so are invited to join me, then, in a cup of good tea and at least a few moments with our favorite textile explorations—or whatever you are passionate about—in appreciation of the way that Deborah Pulliam has always been rigorous and generous and down-to-earth in her pursuit of knowledge and understanding and connection without compromise.
Deb-in-Maine: I miss you. Deb-in-Colorado