allow me to say that my purpose in this review is not to slam Rutt, not to attempt to make everything Rutt says or concludes wrong. instead, my conversation is to discuss the value of Richard Rutt's books as a source. Richard Rutt, it would appear, took a bunch of books, primarily written in English, and read them and made his notes in the margins and his wife encouraged him to publish his conclusions.
he reached some good conclusions, he reached some questionable conclusions, and unfortunately for us, there is no way to tell from his book, which are which. His book is helpful in that it brings up the questions about naalbinding, that hadn't been asked by the general knitter before. I don't like or dislike the book--i find it irritating that Rutt didn't bother to make this book valuable.
Most random knitters would never read this book cover to cover. and moreover, they would simply assume that since Rutt got it published and he states things so authoritatively and has so many sources, etc, that he must be right. so, his book got some people interested in the history of knitting--and in the process gave plenty of information--which may or may not be true.
the vast majority of people who would really READ this book would actually be interested in an authoritative source. and if it were an authoritative source it would have more value to everyone. if Rutt had given sources, (author and page) people who wanted to know could check those sources. instead, the book is a series of conclusory comments that no one but Rutt knows precisely why or how he came to.
is this the best we've got? probably in a single source. in some ways. What Rutt's book needs is a disclaim in bold capital letters on the first page of text (not in the introduction at the very end). It needs to say: this book is an amateur bit of research. it is not the be all end all of knitting history information. it is actually a long ways from that. it is not authoritative. if i turned this book in as a high school research paper, i'd fail.
is Rutt at fault? not at all. he wrote what he wrote, and managed to get it published. more power to him. the problem is that people are using it as the "bible of knitting history". instead it is at best a tertiary source of information. it does not appear, for the most part, that Rutt went and looked at the textiles that he describes in such detail. had he done so, there wouldn't be mistakes in describing color. Hell, if he had bothered to look at his own book he wouldn't have. in my particular copy of the book there is a color plate of the swiss pouch in the last post i made. this type of "research" isn't research.
I suspect that Rutt read a bunch of books--assumed those books were telling the truth as they knew it--and published his own comments on those books. a lot like these blog posts. only he got them published as an authoratitive bit or research. it is clear that he intends it to be authoritative. he got it published. (if he thought he was mistaken it's unlikely he would have published it, and even if he did, he wanted poeple to read and believe what he said). now, how authoritative is he when there is easier research to be done? (in the Victorian age and later) i've no idea... i've not read those chapters with an eye for mistakes yet.
in the end, the flaw in Rutt is two fold--first Rutt himself is a lazy academic. he makes too many conclusory statements without any source to back him up--and in many cases he doesn't even bother to explain his own thought process. the second problem is in the use it is being put to--which Rutt, to some degree or another intended. this is not the final authority on knitting history. and yet, when people propose alternative possibilities and theories, they are most often met with "but Rutt says...". i've encountered on numerous occasions. the words are not always "but Rutt says...", but the meaning is clear. no other book puts forth the claims that Rutt does, and Rutt's theories have, for the most part, been accepted, whole cloth, as the TRUTH. as such, anyone working outside the confines of what Rutt proposes, is considered wrong by many people. and that is unfortunate, and far from encouraging further scholarship, it has apparently been heralded as the be all, end all... and so no further research is needed.
so, my point.... read Rutt, but read it knowing that it is a tertiary source and that Rutt's conclusions are not the only conclusion that could be reached from the information. take it with a grain of salt...and don't slam people who assume there is much more to learn, because even Rutt says he asks more questions than he answers and that further research is needed and necessary.