Archive for October, 2009

The Zimmermann Project


I was 16 when I first met Elizabeth Zimmermann. It wasn’t a face-to-face meeting or even a nice chat over the phone. I met EZ in one of the dusty book stacks at Nora Library one autumn afternoon. Her book, “Knitting Without Tears,” caught my eye as I was searching through the knitting books. “I could use that,” I thought.

My mother taught me how to knit and purl. Those two stitches exhausted her knitting knowledge. I wanted to make a sweater but needed to know more about knitting. My local yarn shop was not a source a young 16 year-old girl could draw upon for knitting help. The women in the shop were sour old ladies who hated any disruption in their knitting time. I had no grandmother around. Thus all the “normal” places one went for knitting instructions were dead-ends to me.

As I read “Knitting Without Tears,” a whole new venue of knitting opened up to me. I discovered what it meant to “knit a gauge,” how to decrease and increase,  button holes, seams and phony seams.  Every page of her book held answers to my questions. I felt as if a friend was talking to me, helping me through my knitting and giving me understanding. I had found a knitting mentor.

I looked for other Zimmermann books and found, “Knitting Around.”  I loved it and soaked up the pages about her life as well as the pages about knitting.

The first sweater I had ever made was a flat-pattern sweater and I hated it. It was ill-fitting and uncomfortable. When I discovered Elizabeth Zimmermann’s percentage system I flourished and made sweaters that fit. I began working out my own designs and eventually published some of them.

It is now 12 years since I first “met” Elizabeth Zimmermann and it is amazing to reflect how my life has changed because of that chance meeting. I graduated high school, went to college, became a court reporter, worked as a court reporter for several years and then gave up that career to follow my first love, knitting. When I left my city job I worked at a knitting shop for three years, started designing and editing patterns for yarn companies. The chance to create a second career out of the hobby I loved, knitting, would have been impossible had I not learned how to knit properly, how to calculate a perfect fit and how to fix problems from Elizabeth Zimmermann.

This autumn I left my knitting shop job to have my first child, a sweet baby boy. My husband, a talented journalist, is back at school (and work).  I have found myself needing a little knitting comfort. Someone to knit with, someone to be inspired by, someone to challenge my knitting. I thought about picking up my neglected master hand knitter course again. But honestly, it wasn’t enough of a challenge or inspiration for me.

Then one afternoon I was sitting in my studio, the baby was sleeping peacefully and I was stealing some precious knitting time while listening to “Julie & Julia.” It hit me. The same project Julie Powell did with Julia Childs could be applied to the knitting world. Elizabeth Zimmermann jumped immediately to mind for she was, of course, the knitter I most respected and most admired.

I turned off the CD and pulled out my copy of “Knitting Around.” “This is perfect,” I thought, “I would learn so much.” I would, in a sense, be earning my master hand knitter “degree” at the knee of the greatest knitter (in my mind), Elizabeth Zimmerman.

Despite the fact that I adored EZ, I had only made one of her patterns, the Very Warm Hat. It was time to knit and learn.

So, January 1, 2010 (if I can wait that long) I will start at the beginning of “Knitting Around” and cast on “Moccasin Socks.” I would love to finish in a year and I think I can do it. However, it very well could take me two years; you never know how life is going to go.  My goal is to go through the book systematically, knitting each project and their variations (or at least most of their variations). Yes, I know, what I am going to do with five dickies? I’m not too sure. But I am sure there is something to learn from knitting them.

There are still so many questions to answer and things to sort out like, “How are you going to fund this project?” That I haven’t figured out, but I thought I’d take it one project at a time. I will finish even if I have to beg and borrow some wool.

And I have EZ’s very own motto to carry me through, “Knit on, with confidence and hope through every crisis.”