Your godmother was Elizabeth Zimmermann?
August 4, 2014 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Channeling Elizabeth: Recreating a Family Heirloom: The sweater was threadbare and holey, but it had clearly been much loved - and, as it turned out, it had been knit by one of the greatest knitters of all time. Elizabeth Zimmermann (1999 NY Times Obituary) popularized knitting in the round, re-introduced the continental method of knitting to the US, and was dedicated to greater clarity in knitting instructions. She also came up with a much-used formula for sizing proportions (EPS), the I-cord, and encouraged knitters to experiment and be creative. posted by julen (22 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

Oh wow, that is the most knitterly article on knitting ever.
Knowing Elizabeth’s aversion to knitting back and forth, I felt certain that the sweater had been knit in the round and steeked. But the mitered hem gave me pause. It would be interesting to try a steeked miter. I knitted a circular swatch with full fashioned decreases, then increases on either side of five stitches. When cut, the edges fell into a very tidy miter. In the end, however, I abandoned this technique as an affectation.
I'm more of an armchair knitter, meaning, I don't sit in an armchair and knit, I sit in an armchair and look at pictures of knitting, so I'm both pleased to have understood this passage, and also humbled to the ground by someone swatching like half the sweater as a test.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:11 PM on August 4 [9 favorites]

EZ fanatic here: Thanks for posting this. Everyone should know of her greatness! My only quibble with her has to do with her insistence that small children should be made to wear wool, in order to get them used to its (potential) itchiness.
posted by GrammarMoses at 2:12 PM on August 4

Wow, that is just great. Talk about finding the perfect person to take on this project. This reminds me of how much I love good knitting writing - it captures the thoughtful decisionmaking processes that make knitting such a fun intellectual/technical exercise, as well as EZ's culture-making aesthetics and warmth.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:21 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]

PB just fixed my link (the word clarity is now hyperlinked) to a really nice appreciation of her as a knitting writer. Having slogged through some 1920s patterns recently, I am particularly filled with appreciation for clear knitting patterns from a human perspective.
posted by julen at 2:26 PM on August 4

That article about her writing (and knitting) as poetry is spot on.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:29 PM on August 4

That whole Twist Collective zine is full of wonderful stuff, thank you.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:37 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

That's inspiring. I've been knitting since high school, and about twenty-five years have passed since I was dubbed Madame DeFarge for my constant in-class knitting habit, but aside from a collaborative Dr. Who scarf in 1984 that got out of hand and ended up thirty feet long, I have never knitted anything from a pattern, or in anything more complicated than a garter stitch.

I knit the same scarf, over and over, in something slightly shaggy to conceal my occasional surges of looseness and the translation of tense moods into tight stitches, rendered with short blue No. 8 anodized aluminum needles that I particularly like because they're easy to tuck away when it's time to get off the train. I mostly give away my scarves to anyone who I think should have them, but I've kept a few, and last fall, celebrating a relief from a relapse of pinched nerve agony, I knitted all four balls of fuzzy faded green mohair someone gave me a long time ago into a narrow fifteen foot scarf that makes me feel so stylish in great cascading loops that I've barely worn it for fear of failing to measure up to all fifteen feet of green.

My trunk of knitting supplies is comprehensive; a merger of my Baltimore grandmother's collection and my Georgia grandmother's, which includes a number of custom-carved wooden implements that are mysterious to me, even with the internet.

I daydream of a zipper cardigan, and is a certain kind that I can zip on in those rare moments when I have achieved that rare state of peace that comes from the temporary abandonment of the self, and sit in perfect, blissful silence, or bumble around in my workshop fixing and making and playing. The needles in my trunk have achieved this perfect sweater at least once, in the creation of one of the few garments in my life history of outerwear that I have ever truly treasured, but the mastery eludes me, and the needles called for in such things are like doll's needles in my big clumsy hands.

When in the supposed capital of the free world, I like to visit a sweater, just out of reach in a glass case, and daydream. One day I will find the right pattern, and not the vapid button-down imposter that is offered in place of the proper plain zippered cardigan, and I will find the motor skills to manipulate needles the size of dry spaghetti, and I will learn to read a pattern that should be no more complex than the Simplicity patterns I've long since mastered, and I will knit that perfect sweater.

In the mean time, the scarves will continue to unfurl annually in a ribbon of poor workmanship, surging and clenching over their length, all by No. 8, all in a nubbly, furry texture to hide the shame, until the time is right.
posted by sonascope at 4:07 PM on August 4 [9 favorites]

Man, I have never wanted to learn how to knit so much as I do after having read that article.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:14 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Get hold of a book by Elizabeth Zimmerman, seriously. You will be glad you did. Knitting is not hard and it's worth learning just so you can get more out of her writing.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:15 PM on August 4 [7 favorites]

That first article is wonderful. The writing is great, as I could easily understand her excitement and appreciate the logical approach she took to deconstructing and reknitting the sweater. I get the reverence too. She makes it charming, which is nice.

One of the things I like about EZ is that she often refers to patterns as recipes. Patterns are scary, a recipe I can deal with.
posted by danabanana at 5:35 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Thank you so much for posting this--I love Zimmerman, and this is a delightful read. I'd also missed that Twist's latest was up, so that it was doubly exciting.

People reading this and wishing you could knit, Zimmerman would tell you that you can absolutely learn to knit. Her books probably aren't the ideal place to start, but Knitting Help with some worsted-weight yarn and US size 8 needles might be. Once you've figured out cast on, knit, and purl, grab a Zimmerman book--there's no knitting book more friendly.

There's also a (little-used) MetaStitcher group on a Ravelry, and I bet that many MeFi knitters would be more than happy to offer handholding and support to people interested in learning. (I would be more than interested, anyhow--feel free to MeMail me.)
posted by MeghanC at 5:49 PM on August 4 [6 favorites]

I really should get back to knitting. My first book was Knitting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti, but EZ's Knitting Without Tears was my second.
My top-down Aran
posted by jgaiser at 6:27 PM on August 4 [14 favorites]

Wow, Jgaiser, that's lovely.
Sweaters are my nemesis.

I've not read anything by EZ, but have made her Baby Surprise Jacket a couple of times and it is the most fun thing to knit!

(Y'all weren't thinking that we were going to get through a thread on EZ without that jacket, were you?)

To be honest, it's really the only thing I know her for. I am fascinated to learn what a legend she is. I'll be reading more.

Thank you, Julen
posted by SLC Mom at 6:41 PM on August 4 [6 favorites]

I bet that many MeFi knitters would be more than happy to offer handholding and support to people interested in learning.

True fact! I would also do this thing.

I've been knitting for 22 years, and EZ's stuff has been close to my heart for a long time.

My flickr photos of a few pieces -- I think this is the one I'm proudest of at the moment. (I really should get around to taking more photos of things I've finished...)
posted by dorque at 6:46 PM on August 4 [6 favorites]

SLC Mom: "Wow, Jgaiser, that's lovely.
Sweaters are my nemesis.

Sweaters are not something I do/did regularly. Actually, I only completed two sweaters. The one above and a Gansey. Can you tell I love challenges. Mostly I love lace. It's been 7 or 8 years since I quit knitting. I'm thinking it's about time to start again.
posted by jgaiser at 7:23 PM on August 4

jgaiser, is that one of Alice Starmore's patterns? I've been squinting at it for a few minutes because it looks so familiar and I'm wondering if it's in one of the books I don't have, but it's such a classic Aran that it could be something you made up on the fly for all I can tell. It's lovely.
posted by dorque at 7:38 PM on August 4

(and wow, top-down? From here it looks like piecework with the usual shoulder panels coming up from the sleeves -- now I am engrossed in trying to figure out how I might replicate that in a top-down style if I had to do it with no instructional assistance. So neat.)
posted by dorque at 7:43 PM on August 4

a number of custom-carved wooden implements that are mysterious to me, even with the internet.

AskMe awaits. AskMe is on this, I can feel it.
posted by clavicle at 5:16 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]

A few years ago there was a retrospective of her work at the University of Wisconsin, which included quite a number of pieces knit by her, or knit by others from her patterns. The ones knit by her were particularly notable for the little casual additions, like the relocated sleeve decreases, that in the context of all the other little changes made it clear that Zimmermann liked to play with yarn and see the effect. She seemed to favor knitted hems, and several of the pieces had a name and/or date done in colorwork on the private side of the hem. I'm the only person I know who does that sort of thing, and now whenever I do, I think of her.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:12 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]

dorque: "jgaiser, is that one of Alice Starmore's patterns? I've been squinting at it for a few minutes because it looks so familiar and I'm wondering if it's in one of the books I don't have, but it's such a classic Aran that it could be something you made up on the fly for all I can tell. It's lovely."

The designer is Janet Szabo and I got envolved online with Son of A.R.A.N. Project. The linked page has all the particulars.

A bit clearer picture of the completed Aran
posted by jgaiser at 7:56 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]

Aaaaa, Janet Szabo is amazing. Thanks for the link; I can tell I'm going to be well-occupied today.
posted by dorque at 8:28 AM on August 5

Anyone who wants to learn to knit (and is in Chicago, or hereabouts) just ask me or baniak. We can help, and if we can't, we will find someone who can. More knitters is ALWAYS a Very Good Thing.
posted by bibliogrrl at 4:32 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

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