When I first launched my series on 1970s crochet designers, I’d never heard of James Walters and Sylvia Cosh. You terrific crochet lovers quickly informed me that these were crochet designers and authors that I needed to know!
Readers Love James Walters and Sylvia Cosh
In my first post listing the 1970s crochet designers that I was going to research, I received a comment from Susie Hewer who said: “Oooh, don’t forget James Walters and Sylvia Cosh!” That was quickly followed by a comment from Marie (@UCrafter) who said: “I second James Walters and Sylvia Cosh. (She passed away but he is still alive.)”
Later when I did my roundup of 20 top male crochet designers, AltoBarb commented that it would have been nice to see James Walters on the list. And in a comment on my 100 Unique Crochet Shawls roundup, Janice Davey commented: “Let us not forget our eleder crochet statespeople, Sylvia Cosh and James Walters, early scrumblers, the moth coat, freeform etc.”
I did mention James Walters and Sylvia Cosh on this blog myself in my overview post on Bosnian crochet, noting that these two had done work in that niche. But I admit that I hadn’t really taken the time to truly explore these 1970s crochet designers yet, so it’s about time!
About Crochet Designers James Walters and Sylvia Cosh
I learned from my online crochet research that these two crochet designers began working together in the UK in 1977. They specialized in scrumbling (a word that describes freeform crochet; they also often called it organic patchwork).
They continued to work together all the way through 2000 when Sylvia passed away from cancer. I know from my own very brief correspondence with James (who was such a sweetheart to respond to me at all!) that Sylvia passed away during a short period that they considered their “gap year”; they’d moved and stopped doing workshops and planned to resume that again but then she got ill and passed on. James hasn’t done a lot with crochet since; understandably dealing with the grieving process of such a loss.
As for their early starts in crochet, Sylvia learned when she was quite young and pretty much crocheted throughout her entire life. James Walters was a dancer and musician who learned to crochet at the age of 30. Sylvia also knew how to knit and James learned the basics of knitting, too; you could even find some hand and machine knitting in a few of their pieces if you looked hard enough but mostly they stuck to their love of crochet.
1970s James Walters and Sylvia Cosh
The Woad Coat; Sylvia and James’ first joint project; see tons of photos here
It was at the beginning of the 1970s that James Walters turned 30 and got into crochet. From the website:
“In 1971, as an impulse-driven self-taught crocheter, he won a nation-wide knitting and crochet design competition, moved to a cottage in Wales and immersed himself in handspinning, natural dyeing and experimental crochet”.
James published his first book, Crochet Patterns, in 1976 through Queen Anne Press. It featured 18 crochet patterns for garments. At this same time Sylvia “was the director of her own company making trimmings and accessories for the fashion trade”.
These two designers started working together in 1977 after meeting at “at the first of Pauline Turner‘s memorable Crochet Summer Schools in Morecambe, Lancashire”. They basically did it all when it came to crochet. Their website says that they spent their years together “designing, making things, doing commissions, writing books, appearing in films and on television, and teaching”. They lived 150 miles apart and still managed to collaborate creatively in a time when people weren’t just an Internet click away!
In 1978 the two published their first collaborative crochet book. It was an update to Crochet Patterns and was called the same thing but this time read “by James Walters introducing patterns by Sylvia Cosh”. It featured a whopping 51 crochet patterns (including the original 18 by James).
In 1979 James Walters came out with his next solo book called Crochet Workshop.
Although the two seem to be known mostly for their crochet wearables (particularly capes, cardigans and sweaters, but also accessories) what I personally really love is their home decor crochet art like their crochet wall hangings (above), chairs (below) and mobiles.
1980’s Crochet from James Walters and Sylvia Cosh
The two crochet designers published four different crochet books in the 1980s:
Octopus, published in 1980, featured 20+ crochet projects from multiple designers
Harmony Guide to Crochet Stitches, in 1986, which James says on the website is “the original volume of the Stitch Dictionary which the publishers extended to become a series without our involvement”.
The Crochet Sweater Book, published in 1987; this was the first one to list Sylvia’s name first.
The Crochet Workbook. This was their only crochet book that wasn’t a pattern book but instead discussed the whole process of freeform /scrumbling and encouraged crocheters to get creative!
James Walters’ website mentions about Sylvia: “In 1986 Sylvia was featured in the J&P Coats film, “All in a Day”, about crochet around the world. I have looked high and low to find any footage of that film and haven’t found it so if you guys dare to try I’d love to see what you come up with!
During the same time Sylvia was creating ready-to-wear crochet garment collections using detailed yarn processes to create texture work all the while hand-dyeing her own yarns. These garments were sold to stores in the US and UK.
I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) that this was also the time during which they were teaching classes. From the website, James says:”For more than ten years we were closely involved in the activities of The Knitting Craft Group of the British Hand Knitting Association, promoting the teaching and learning of crochet, writing and designing resource material for schools and participating in workshops and in-service training courses for teachers.”
1990’s Crochet Workshops by James Walters and Sylvia Cosh
The 1990s were a rich time for these collaborative crocheters, as they traveled the world spreading their crochet inspiration to othres through workshops. Many of the handouts from their crochet workshops have been archived online. These are generously offered for free download in both American and British crochet. You can learn a wide range of things including Bosnian crochet, Tunisian crochet scrumbling, color/yarn/hook choice, openwork freeform, intermeshing crochet and more! You can also find a few free crochet patterns there. In 1995 and 1996 Walters and Cosh traveled to the United States and taught workshops at the annual CGOA conference called Chain Link; did any of you see them there?
In a beautiful eulogy of Sylvia (that you can read) her son said: “While we were growing up we didn’t really see another side of her that was blossoming as the years went by; her teaching of crochet. There are now many thousands of people around the world that have been privileged to have attended one of her workshops.” He notes that she didn’t limit her creativity to crochet, though; she loved exploring texture and color and was getting more and more into photography as her years drew to a close.
21st Century James Walters Crochet
As I mentioned earlier, James hasn’t done a lot with crochet since Sylvia’s passing. He did participate in the TAFTA Forum in 2003 because that had been booked before Sylvia’s condition was discovered. He noted that it was an especially significant event for the kind of freeform crochet the two of them had been teaching. I would guess that was both painful and cathartic but I’m just projecting my own feelings onto that; I don’t actually know what his personal experience was. He thinks that crochet will probably find him again when the time is right; he just doesn’t know yet what that looks like. And of course, that’s okay. He gave us more than twenty years of devotion to the freeform craft of crochet, which we can all celebrate!
What other 1970s crochet designers would you like to know more about?