Textile legacies: In this case, Cat Bordhi’s

There is a problem with textile legacies–that being, we have no reasonable way to preserve, and be able to build upon, the substantial individual and collective work if it has not been captured in, for example, the published form of a book. Even then, parts of those accomplishments become inaccessible as the books go out of print, or were available in electronic format, or otherwise vanish.

Exceptions exist. Meg Swansen has worked tirelessly to maintain and expand the legacy of her mother, Elizabeth Zimmermann, while also making her own significant contributions.

Yet I can think of numerous losses as well. When the American Textile History Museum closed in 2016, it represented a huge loss of resources for the fiber community. When my friend Deborah Pulliam died in 2007, frantic efforts ensued to protect the research she had done, with mixed results.

We lost the incomparable Cat Bordhi on September 19, 2020, and while she left an enormous gap in many lives, there is good news with regard to her legacy. Cat planned ahead, and she coordinated with her friend Val Curtis and her daughter Jenny Low to keep both the work that Cat generated and the community that she collected intact and available.

I participated in Cat’s Visionary Authors group, which supported and encouraged many creative textile publishing projects. The Explore 4 retreats that I facilitate at Lakedale Resort on San Juan Island came about due to Cat’s encouragement; she even came up with their name. Like many others, I owe a lot to Cat’s enthusiasm and am grateful that Val, supported by Jenny, is not only keeping Cat’s work available but delving into the archives to bring forth more.

Here’s the back story behind that.

Val Curtis (left) and Cat Bordhi: friends forever.

Cat Bordhi was one of the most creative people we’ve ever known, and one of the most generous.

Many people know her creativity through the patterns and unique ideas that she sent forth into the knitting community. Not as many know about her exquisitely crafted bears or the prize-winning young adult novel she wrote.

Her generosity burst forth in her teaching, in school systems where she helped the curriculum come alive and lose its confusion for students, and then in the fiber world, where she came up with inventive ways to teach not only skills but an approach of joyous experimentation and discovery.

Throughout much of this time, Cat experienced cancer. She held it off with her characteristic enthusiasm for many years. We lost her in the fall of 2020, as the covid-19 pandemic was upending multiple aspects of our lives.

Cat’s clear-sighted awareness meant she knew that she would be leaving us, and she knew she had built a legacy. She knew that legacy would need an attentive guardian, and she asked some friends to be its champions. Chief among those protectors is her good friend, Val Curtis, who bravely agreed to continue maintaining Cat’s website, original works, patterns, and books and to do everything possible to make sure the knitting community has ongoing access to the incomparable and valued resources Cat had generated over so many years. Cat asked that her daughter, Jenny, and Val come to an agreement that they both felt was fair with regard to compensation and they did. They, too, are dear friends. Jenny used to be Val’s next-door neighbor and their boys were babies together.

As organized as Cat’s public presence was, behind the scenes that abundant, inventive spirit left more good stuff than we have seen yet, things that need to be shaped into shareable formats. In some cases these need to be made out of scraps and crumbs that Cat left behind: enough to work with, but not enough to make that job simple or straightforward.

Preserving Cat’s legacy is a job Val volunteered for and has taken on with alacrity and dedication. But to do this, she needs our support: emotional, for sure, and with an appreciation for her time and effort, and skills (which, as Cat knew, are plentiful). She has played many roles in Cat’s absence to keep the community afloat. These have ranged from emotional support to Cat’s beloved friends to keeping the spirit of Cat’s Silent Knitting group via bi-weekly Zoom gatherings and developing Test Knit groups to piece together patterns that are almost complete.

While Val has felt the love, kindness, and creativity of Cat’s community, a number of us would like to make more widely known and acknowledge the yeoman work she has done in maintaining that community.

Val is not Cat. NO ONE is or can be Cat. But with fortitude and a generosity akin to Cat’s, Val—with the support of everyone who has benefited from or will benefit from the resources that Cat left us, in every form—is willing to do her best to keep Cat Bordhi’s spirit active and inspiring our work and lives. That “best” is remarkable, and those of us who know the work Val has put in behind the scenes are both grateful and amazed. Val has published a bit about her background with Cat here: https://catbordhi.com/about-this-site/

This letter comes as an appeal from many of Cat’s friends and associates: let’s all pitch in and give Val the appreciation her work deserves. Let’s also make a team effort to keep the magic going, to the best of our ability.

This is how we all can honor the treasure that Cat was.

Initial signatories:

  • Lorilee Beltman
  • Anne Berk
  • Janine Bajus
  • Judy Becker
  • JC Briar
  • Beth Brown-Reinsel
  • Ann Budd
  • Carson Demers
  • Franklin Habit
  • Sivia Harding
  • Amy O’Neill Houck
  • Marta McCall
  • Jamie McCanless
  • Sandra McIver
  • Sunne Meyer
  • Syne Mitchell
  • Alasdair Post-Quinn
  • Andrea Price
  • Sean Riley
  • Deborah Robson
  • Gayle Roehm
  • David Roth
  • Myrna Stahman
  • Jeny Staiman
  • Jill Wolcott

. . . and more. . . .

Val is preserving Cat Bordhi’s legacy at: http://catbordhi.com/ 

Cat’s digital patterns continue to be available on Ravelry. There is also a new Ravelry forum: https://www.ravelry.com/groups/cat-bordhis-legacy-community 

Cat began a Silent Knitting group, which Val is continuing via Zoom. It’s the place to go for news about test knits and new patterns: https://catbordhi.com/silent-knitting/ 

A private Facebook group, Cat’s Cradle, has a wealth of information as well: https://www.facebook.com/groups/510967569873268


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