Virginia Textile Artist Had a Knack for Knitting
By Joe Holley
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Witt Pratt, 48, a masterful knitter whose sweaters, shawls, purses, scarves and other utilitarian items were essentially works of art, died May 20 of probable sleep apnea at what his mother called "his favorite place on earth," a mountain cabin near Front Royal, Va.
Mr. Pratt lived in Winchester, Va., and Arlington County but knitted wherever he happened to be -- in the gardens around Washington National Cathedral; in parks, coffeehouses and museums; at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown; on the Metro. Trained as a costume and clothing designer at George Washington University, he held jobs over the years at a Washington law firm and Gallaudet University, but knitting was the focal point of his life. For him, taking a skein of yarn and transforming it into something beautiful and useful was "creation in motion," he told Dan Vera, publisher of the journal White Crane.
"Like so many things, if we take the time to notice, when you've got a ball of yarn, which to many of us represents nothing short of infinite possibility, the world just opens up before you," he said. "I consider myself extremely fortunate to have found this for myself."
He had been playing around with knitting, origami and other forms of weaving since he was a boy, but he remembered when he got serious about it. He told the Washington Times in 1997 that he was attending an Adams Morgan dinner party and noticed that the hostess had a loom and a bag of yarns. "Her loom and the yarn were far more interesting than the dinner guests," he recalled. "At one point during the evening, she asked if I was interested in learning to knit."
He was. At first awkwardly and then gracefully wielding needles, he learned casting on, the knit stitch, the purl stitch, binding off and other knitting basics at the Woolgatherer on 21st Street NW. Gradually his work became more sophisticated, more creative. He became particularly adept at an innovative knitting technique popularized by Elizabeth Zimmerman called the Moebius cast-on.
"The more complicated, the more intrigued he was," said his mother, Bobbye Pratt of Arlington. "Anything casual knitters couldn't do is what fascinated him."
Although knitting in centuries past was primarily a masculine enterprise, the stereotypical knitter these days is female. A Washington Post reporter once asked Mr. Pratt whether residents of a sophisticated urban center like Washington even take note of a knitter's gender. "Oh, but they do," he said. "When I was little and knitted, I was a sissy; well now I'm a 6-foot-8-inch sissy with a sharp instrument."
Witt Guise Pratt was born in Memphis and was named for his grandfather, Witt Guise, a baseball player who pitched for the Cincinnati Reds. He grew up in McLean and graduated in 1978 from Langley High School, where he learned German, won German-language oratory contests and as a teenager traveled to Germany on his own.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from George Washington University in 1985, he became a legal secretary in the Washington office of the international law firm Nixon Peabody. He later learned American Sign Language and worked in information technology for Gallaudet University.
As knitting became more important to him, he became a consultant to a number of knitting organizations and wrote for various knitting publications.
He also helped found the Logan Circle Knit & Crochet Group, an all-male organization that meets twice a month for knitting and socializing. Although members of the group come from all walks of life -- a security guard, lawyers, government workers, a man trying to knit a lap blanket for his girlfriend -- Mr. Pratt once noted that the men all face the same existential question: whether to "come out" and knit in public. "I long for the day when it's not a big deal," he said.
His father, George Pratt, died in 2001.
Survivors, in addition to his mother, include his partner of eight years, Gary Wilt of Winchester; and his sister, Kelly Pratt of Austin.
I have to agree with him. "I long for the day when it's not a big deal." Love the coming out metaphor. Though I don't think it's an existential question.