Mary Walker Phillips

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Mary W. Phillips
Born (1923-11-23)November 23, 1923
Died (2007-11-03)November 3, 2007
Nationality American
Alma mater Cranbrook Academy of Art
Known for Revolutionizing Knitting in the 1960's

Mary Walker Phillips (November 23, 1923 – November 3, 2007) was an American artist, author and teacher. Born in Fresno, California, she attended the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to study contemporary weaving and textiles from 1946-1947 and then returned from 1960-1963, earning her MFA. In 1962, she moved to Greenwich Village, New York City.

Through writing books about hand knitting for the mass market and workshops, Phillips revolutionized the mass production industry, shifting it from woven fabrics to knits, as well. Previously, knitting was only used to create sweaters. Her works and influence also stemmed a hand crafted, 'DIY' revolution. She is well known for her architecturally inspired knitted wall hangings that were very abstract. These knitted art pieces incorporated unusual materials such as linen, silk, paper, tape and metals. Unlike past knitting forms, she strayed away from the usual stitch patterns and instead created works that resembled tapestries and lace.[1] As a fellow of the American Craft Council, she is noted as being the first to acknowledge knitting as a form of artistic expression.[2]

Jack Lenor Larsen (a textile designer) wrote in the forward to Phillips' book, Step by Step Knitting, “she is the great knitter of our time. She has taken knitting out of the socks-and-sweater doldrums to prove that knit fabric can be a blanket, a pillow, a piece of art ... she demonstrates that knitting is a creative medium of self-expression.”

Her works are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design (Smithsonian) New York. She has written five books on knitting and macramé including Step-By-Step Macramé (1970) which sold 700,000 copies by 1972.[3]

In 1984, she was awarded a fellowship grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for her last book, Knitting Counterpanes: Traditional Coverlet Patterns for Contemporary Knitters.

Her nephew John Phillips wrote a book about her family: The Good Intent: The Story and Heritage of a Fresno Family (New York: Magnolia Group Press, 2007).

She died from complications of Alzheimer's disease on November 3, 2007 at the age of 83.[1]


  1. ^ a b Fox, Margalit (2007-11-20). "Mary Walker Phillips, 83, Knitter of Art, Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  2. ^ Lindsay, Jennifer L. "Mary Walker Phillips and the Knit Revolution of the 1960s". 
  3. ^ Auther, Elissa (2009). "String, Felt, Thread". University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved 2017-03-05. 

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