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.
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!