Elizabeth Zimmerman

Last year, we lost two well-known personages in the knitting world, both of whom made contributions that will last far after their passing: Cat Bordhi and Annie Modesitt. If you're not familiar with the work of these two women, I invite you to do some research and prepare to open up your knitting world through their books and patterns and wonderful work.

Their passing made me think about others who have gone before them, and the big name that pops into mind is Elizabeth Zimmerman. Many of us are familiar with one of her quotes: "Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises." (It seems most appropriate for 2020.)

So this weekend, I picked up some of the books I have on my shelves by Elizabeth Zimmerman and explored some of her writings. In particular, I read through The Opinionated Knitter, which includes her newsletters (sent through the mail) from 1958-1968 as well as excerpts from her journal, memories from those who knew her, and commentary throughout by her daughter Meg Swansen.

Yes, there are patterns in the pages of this book. (Though not like the patterns we're used to today with every round/row written out and explained. Instead, she trusted knitters to know best what worked for them and to take the outlines of the pattern she gives and run with it.) But what I most enjoyed were the little notes she included in the newsletters and some of the stories her daughter told. I wanted to share a few bits with you, but I encourage you to pick up the book yourself (as well as other EZ books) and get to know this woman as well.

In describing the sizing for a sweater, she writes, "make your sweater wider than usual, to leave room for the wearer inside." I just love the image that creates. 

Or just the stream of thoughts/tips found here: "If you want to make a matching pram-cover, ask me; no more room for that here. Have you noticed that I leave sts on a thread, not a holder? Much more practical. In garter-st I cast off on the wrong side. I slip all 1st sts; it's years since I knitted a 1st st."

Since this was before the internet, business was conducted via mail order. She has this note in one of the newsletters: "A small plea: I do appreciate payment with order. This eases my bookkeeping, saving time for me, and thus money for you in the long run. If uncertain of amount, some even send blank cheques, as I am perfectly honest." That level of trust!

Or how about the story about EZ driving down a narrow street and meeting up with a car coming the opposite direction. The man in the other car shrugged and crossed his arms as if to say that he would wait while EZ backed up to let him through. Instead, EZ picked up her knitting and made sure the man saw that she was well-occupied and could wait happily. The man angrily back his car out and let her go through!

Or the letter from a woman who had taken a class with EZ, who learned so much about knitting and more that day: "And the most important thing I learned was to write at least one letter or postcard a week to someone expressing my opinion or my praise for something that person said or did. And not necessarily about knitting; she encouraged us to become activists or advocates in our own ways about things that were important to us."

At the end of this book is the issue of Wool Gathering (from Meg Swansen) with a note about the weeks after her mother's passing. In it are included several pages of comments from knitters about Elizabeth Zimmerman and her impact on them. I admit that I had to go get a tissue while I was reading through the comments.