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Blog Week Day 3: Elizabeth (Who Else?)

Elizabeth Zimmermann knits on the sleeves of the sweater she is wearing.
Elizabeth Zimmermann knits on the sleeves of the sweater she is wearing. (Photo by Walter Scheffer; photo provided by Meg Swansen)
When I first read on Eskimimi’s Blog about Blog Week, and saw her proposed topic for Day 3, “One Great Knitter,” my mind gave me the answer in just one word.


Even when I wasn’t yet a knitter, when I would crochet from a pattern with a specific gauge as for a baby sweater, I was always dismayed at no matter how I tried, I couldn’t achieve the stated gauge in the pattern. Because of the way I held the yarn, my stitches were even and well formed, but short and squatty, as opposed to the same stitches that my grandmother would make. (Now, I’m smarter than I was then and I realize I might have been able to compensate by adding extra rows here and there, but then…)

So, when I started knitting, I discovered a similar phenomenon. It’s hard today for me to “get gauge” for a stated pattern. I thought this would limit my abilities as a knitter. But then, I read Knitting Without Tears. I learned that even I could knit anything I want to knit… that what is important is knowing my gauge, whatever it is, and then I can make practically anything, in any yarn, without following a step by step pattern.

So many of Elizabeth’s ideas are timeless, and pure genius. Who would have thought that a wonky parallelogram folded just so, would make one of the most often knitted garments in knitting history?

A couple of years ago, I attempted my first-ever sweater. It was a baby sweater, but a sweater nonetheless.

My version of the baby sweater
My version of the baby sweater

I loved this pattern immediately (commonly called the “February Baby Sweater,” from Knitter’s Almanac) because it said this: “Gauge: About 5 sts to 1 in. But babies come in various sizes.”

There she was, not “trapping” me with a pattern, but freeing with me with her thoughts on how this baby sweater could be made. I did mine with sock yarn, and instead of using the lace stitch I opted for stockinette with a cable and eyelet panel on the fronts. With a few calculations based on my gauge, I was free to take her idea with my yarn and my thoughts, and just go.

Elizabeth Zimmermann taught me to think as a knitter, and to find my own way. Instead of feeling limited by my dexterity disabilities that cause me to hold my yarn differently and maybe not get gauge (ever! I am the loosest knitter I know), I know that instead I can accomplish anything when it comes to knitting. I still have a fear of sweaters, and someday soon I hope to be over it. I know Elizabeth would tell me I can do it.

There are other knitters whose work really inspires me and keeps me moving forward in my quest to master our craft:

  • Kristen Nicholas–whose color sense is something I find to be nothing short of amazing,
  • Janet Szabo–whose understanding of cables is completely amazing. (She even took the time to help me fix a dropped cable on my baby sweater project once),
  • Bev Galeskas–whose felted hat pattern (OMG it’s downloadable now?) is the first knitting pattern I ever bought, and it’s still my favorite,
  • Stephanie Pearl-McPhee–who always tells the truth about knitting and helps me to laugh about it, and
  • Nora Gaughan, whose amazing sense of shape and form take knitting in some pretty amazing directions.

As I was saying yesterday, though, inspiration comes from so many sources I could not possibly list all of the knitters and designers who have given me so much inspiration. But Elizabeth? Thanks to her videos, I can hear her voice in my head. She is my knitting guide, telling me to trust myself, and helping me believe that I can do it.

Special Note: I’d like to thank Meg Swansen for providing the photo of Elizabeth Zimmermann that accompanies this blog post. I sent an e-mail and she responded so quickly. Thanks, Meg, for sharing such a great photo!

8 responses to “Blog Week Day 3: Elizabeth (Who Else?)”

  1. Rae Avatar

    I remember when I found some EZ videos at my library when I first started knitting. Listening to her & watching her knit she made is look so easy. When she made mistake she never made a big deal out of it she would simply fix it & go on her way. I learned from her even the best knitters make mistakes ever now & then. I still enjoy picking up her videos at the library when I go.

  2. Wool free and lovin' knit Avatar

    what a beautifully written tribute to the role that Elizabeth’s teaching has influenced your knitting. I think I might just have to read that book now.

  3. Fiolinn Avatar

    How cute is that sweater? 🙂 I’m totally inspired to go and read EZ now. Thank you for such an inspiring post!

  4. Sarah Avatar

    Oh my how could I fail to mention EZ in today’s post! I was thinking too much about linking blogs. oh well. I am a fellow VERY lose knitter btw!

  5. yarnpiggy Avatar

    An ideal choice. :o)

  6. Snowcatcher Avatar

    Wonderful, and that truly is an awesome photo. I’m so glad you were able to include it.

  7. Sara Avatar

    All hail EZ!

  8. KnitMinion Avatar

    I need to go read up on some of EZ’s stuff. Have been meaning to for ages! Must add something to my Amazon wishlist for the man to buy 🙂

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