Priscilla Gibson-Roberts: Winter cheer?

Written on Tuesday morning, December 18:

I just got off the phone after a conversation with Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, also known as PGR. It was great to hear her voice. She’s been out of touch for more than a month, gone on the road in search of a bit of warmth, which she seems to have found, although she’s back in the cold country again. She sounds a lot better than she did before she left. She sounded pretty bad then. I’ve been worried about her, so this morning’s phone call was a relief.

This post contains an introduction to a small portion of Priscilla’s work in the knitting and spinning worlds and also a small request for folks to be thinking of now and to perhaps act on after the new year, when all the holiday flurry has faded and we’re facing the low-sun, chilly weeks of January and February.

I’d like to ask folks who know her work (or are just discovering it) to send cheering e-mails or cards for Priscilla to me, and I’ll assemble the messages and get them to her, wherever she is at the time. If you’d like to participate, you can send e-mails to nomad at nomad-press dot com. "Stuff" isn’t what she needs; good thoughts and support are.

Written later, to elaborate:

So who’s Priscilla Gibson-Roberts?

I’m not sure how many people are aware of Priscilla’s work, since she had to give up traveling and teaching a number of years ago. The knitting magazines continue to publish as many designs as she’s had the stamina to produce, but readers might have trouble putting the scattered bits together and identifying them with the one person.

This won’t be a comprehensive overview because if I take time to collect the information this post won’t get posted. There’s a lot. I’m not going to talk about the sweaters, the wimples, the weaving, the curtains, the cooking, the rugs, most of the spinning, the artwork (although she might not call it that), or the gardening.

I’m going to focus on socks, because they’re easiest to find and represent here, with a few sketches of the wider realm of her contributions.

Here’s an almost-complete collection of Priscilla’s books so far on knitting and spinning:


(What’s missing is High Whorling, the precursor to Spinning in the Old Way.)

She has other books in mind to write: the revision of the book on Cowichan sweaters (a new edition of Salish Indian Sweaters, above), at least one more book on ethnic socks, possibly a collection of articles or designs that are now long out of print, and undoubtedly some new ideas because she keeps having them. It’s a question of energy (and, to a significant extent, warmth and freedom from pain).

Here’s where you may most obviously have seen some of her work recently—on the cover of Vogue’s book on sock knitting:


Priscilla wishes the model’s feet were the same size as the socks, because the socks’ heels are extremely distorted in that photo. The sock heel should fit neatly and precisely on the person’s heel. She guesses there’s about 2.5 shoe sizes difference between footwear and wearer. Nonetheless, the image is so striking and appealing that it’s easy to understand why the book designers chose to put it on the cover.

Here’s another wonderful pair of Priscilla’s socks that are also in that book:


The principles that Priscilla uses for designing many of her socks are in her Simple Socks, Plain and Fancy, which leaves the color and play part up to the reader while explaining the techniques she prefers (some of which just naturally lead to some of the effects she achieves, if you let them).

Here’s another bunch of Priscilla’s socks that were featured in the Summer 2006 issue of Interweave Knits, although the pattern for these Bazaar Socks is not in the issue of the magazine. It is on the web (PDF).


Interweave Knits has featured many of Priscilla’s sock designs, and has yet another stupendous pair online as a free pattern, her Caspian Sea Socks.

For more than a decade, Priscilla was the spinning editor of Knitter’s magazine, and her work has recently been featured in Vogue Knitting (the Fall 2006 issue, with the socks on the cover of the sock book above, in an article called "By Invitation Only: Fancy Footwork").


Two of her designs appear in Interweave’s Favorite Socks: Priscilla’s Dream Socks (basic, comfortable socks) and her Eastern European Footlets (ankle-height and subtly decorative). My photos of the book pages aren’t adequate, so you’ll need to browse the book itself to see those.

PGR has also been featured in Melanie Falick’s America Knits (originally published in hardcover as Knitting in America):


There’s a heap more, but that gives you an idea.

Why this request?

Priscilla has chronic health problems that she’s dealt with for decades.  They’ve limited and several years ago eliminated her teaching—and those who have had classes with her will attest that that’s a great loss for the rest of us.

Knitting has been her lifeline, and this fall she was not able to knit. She has a rough time with the cold, which makes winter hard, too. Throughout the middle part of this year and reaching a very low spot in November, a number of things were going wrong, including adverse reactions to some medications. We nearly lost her a couple of different ways, but worst was that she could not knit.

There’s a lot of good news in today’s call: she has changed doctors, her routine of medications is shifting, and she is able to knit again. She’s back in contact by phone and sounding better. She’s making plans to alter her living situation to decrease some stress, although it doesn’t look like the big changes will be able to happen until summer 2008.

She could still use some cheering-up to get her through the winter and across some of these transitions.

I’ve asked her permission to share this with you and to ask folks to send notes, if they’re inspired. I’ve said that I’ll coordinate the receipt and transfer, because her time at the computer is limited and some regular mail has been going astray (including, alas, all of the preliminary charts for the Cowichan book, sent to her in early November with the plan that they would cheer her then, but they can always be reprinted and re-sent . . . GOOD NEWS! located just now . . . delivered to a neighbor’s house about five weeks ago and stuck in a pile there).

She said yes.

So once the holiday hubbub calms down, we’ll get this winter cheer effort underway. She doesn’t need anything that requires storage or hauling around: cards (homemade?) and thoughts will be perfect. nomad at nomad-press dot com is the coordinating point. Even sending good thoughts via imagination will be helpful. Thanks in advance.


9 thoughts on “Priscilla Gibson-Roberts: Winter cheer?”

  1. PGR has been one of my favorite designers! The gansey I knit last summer was her pattern from an early Knitter’s magazine (recently bas****ized in IK, which totally ticked me off.)I’ve read her work now longer than I’d like to admit! I’ll be happy to send encouragement in January after your reminder.

  2. Long years ago, I had the great good pleasure of having a workshop with PGR in Atlanta. (The inscription in my copy of “Knitting in the Old Way” says it was in March of 1991.) I remember having a good time there, but the big thing that sticks in my mind was the story she told about washing fleece. She mentioned that she could wash a fleece and go back out in an hour or so, and it would be dry. All the handspinners, in unison, heaved a sigh of longing. In humid Atlanta, we’re lucky if our fleeces dry overNIGHT! 🙂

    I remember Ms. Roberts as being cheerful and informative, and I’m heartily sorry to hear that she’s having problems. Getting old is no fun for anyone. When you get to the point that it’s hard for you to do the things you love, it must be that much harder.

    My very best wishes and good thoughts to her, for warmth and health and dry fleeces this winter! 🙂

  3. My most precious book is Ethnic Socks and Stockings. She did the research, and when I needed answers (after being given 4 pair of socks from Turkey) I just had to go into her book and she told me how the socks were done.

    I teach Turkish socks. I write Turkish-inspired sock patterns. I could not do much of what I do without the information I’ve gained from PGR’s work.

    I am SO glad you posted this. I’m only sad that I’ve been so busy with my own life that I did not notice the post for most of a week.

  4. Hello. I first “met” Priscilla Gibson-Roberts 1n 1997 in “knitting in America”. I fell in love with the wimples and the idea of spinning for them. I managed to knit one, but never got to spinning for them. Still, the article inspired me to go beyond my comfort zone and do somethings that I never thought I could do. Take care and get better, Priscilla.

  5. i love priscilla’s book that i find so useful and intelligent and which has helped me eliminate a few problems i had with my knitting. i love the cultural history of knitting that she addresses so very well too.

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