Thursday, June 30, 2011

Elizabeth Zimmerman

It is impossible to guess how many knitters have been inspired over the years, by the patterns, books and teachings of master knitter, Elizabeth Zimmerman. Gabriela and I are both teaching classes focusing on two of her famous patterns, the Baby Surprise Jacket and the Pi Shawl. I thought I would tell you a bit about this remarkable lady.

Elizabeth was born in England in1910 and attended school in Switzerland & Germany. She and her husband Arnold Zimmerman, whom she affectionately refers to as "The Old Man", moved to the United States and eventually settled in Wisconsin. Their home, a converted schoolhouse, became Schoolhouse Press; a mail order knitting business, still based in the original schoolhouse and run by her daughter, Meg Swansen, herself a master knitter, teacher and designer.

Schoolhouse Press publishes several books based on Elizabeth's designs. They are all wonderful.

Elizabeth was a fascinating woman. She was very funny. Interspersed with patterns and knitting techniques, are funny personal stories about her life. One page you are reading a description of one her unique knitting techniques. The next page is stories of how she knits on the back of a motorcycle without the old man being aware she is doing so. He evidently didn't want her to knit while on the motorcycle, feeling it was enough of a distraction she did not lean into the curves properly.

I enjoy her book "The Opinionated Knitter". It contains Elizabeth's newsletters, "Wool Gathering". Additional text and photographs were added by her daughter Meg. Treat yourself to this book. You will learn and you will laugh, a wonderful combination.

In addition to being funny and creative, Elizabeth was obviously a very intelligent woman. The structure of her designs suggests a mathematical mind with a thorough understanding of geometry.

One of my favourite EZ designs is the Baby Surprise Jacket from the Opinionated Knitter. Knit in one piece with strategically placed increases and decreases, it looks nothing like a jacket when finished. See above. After two strategically placed folds and two short shoulder seams, you have the cute little jacket you see below, knit in Kureyon Sock Yarn

The Baby Surprise Jacket is the Number One most popular Jacket on Ravelry with 14,973 projects posted.

Another great book is the Knitters Almanac

Where you find patterns for several more of EZ's now famous designs.

The February Sweater, the #4 Cardigan on Ravelry with 6131 posted projects.

The #1 Cardigan on Ravelry is the adult version of the February Sweater with 11035 projects posted. The pattern for the February Lady Sweater is a Free Pattern linked on Ravelry.

I love her Ganomy hat above, and below with matching Mitered Mittens and Scarf

Gabriela is doing a class this summer focusing on Elizabeth's Pi Shawl, also from the Knitters Almanac. With her knowledge of Math and Geometry, Elizabeth was aware that

Pi = Circumference of a circle divided by the diameter.

I won't bore you with all the theory on Pi. What is important to know, and Elizabeth obviously understood, the ratio between a circle's diameter and its circumference remain constant. So if you want to knit a circular garment, every time the diameter(ie number of rounds) doubles, so should the circumference(ie the number stitches). The increase in the number of stitches can be done as you go along, or all at once in one round. The all at once in one round option makes it easy to place various patterns within the "rings",with out having to worry about incorporating stitch increases into an existing pattern

A quick check on Ravelry and you will find hundreds (1597 to be exact) variations of the Pi Shawl.

A little fluffy felted one as a cat blanket or chair seat cover, I'm not sure.

Gorgeous lace shawls with elaborate lace in single colours.

Each one with different lace patterns placed within the rings.

With a bit of Math & Geometry, the formula can be used to create a semicircular half-Pi shawl.

Just plain stocking stitch with special colour placement is very effective.

The designer of this Pi aptly named it Eggplant Afghan and created it with a number of subtly varying shades of yarn.

Kureyon Sock yarn

More Kureyon Sock Yarn

Rainbow Kauni

Tonal Handpaint.

Ranco Sock Yarn

One of the really neat options available for a Pi Shawl or Afghan is a border that can be knit on joining as you go and cast off.

A Stash buster with simple eyelet rounds

An elegant shawl done is lace weight yarn.

My absolute favourite was the lovely bride who used a lace Pi Shawl as her veil. How beautiful is that.

Gabriela has been working on samples. A lace skirt knit with 4 shades of Bamboo

There is still space in both classes and we do have a few of Elizabeth's books. And just arrived, a new book of Elizabeth Zimmerman designs

Knit One Knit All

Elizabeth had evidently wanted to publish a book of garter stitch designs which was not done before her death, Her daughter Meg has published this book of her mother's garter stitch designs. Some samples came from patterns Elizabeth had written but never published. Other patterns were created by deciphering pieces Elizabeth had knit but for which no pattern could be found. The designs were carefully analyzed, reknit and patterns developed. If you are a knitter who enjoys unusual structures, you will love this book.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jeannette Fraser

With much sadness, Serenity Knits brings news of the death of Jeannette Fraser. Jeannette is pictured above on the right, with Maria, one of her many knitting buddies at Serenity Knits.

Her obituary appeared as follows:

Jeannette Diane Fraser

Passed away peacefully after a lengthy fight, at York Central Hospital, Richmondhill on Friday, June 24, 2011, in her 66th year. Beloved mother of Brett Foran and his wife Lori. Proud and loving grandmother of Jacob, Madison and Megan. Daughter of Edith Larkin and the late John Larkin. Survived by her sister Susan Campbell of British Columbia. Loving aunt of Reid and his wife Cindy Smith and their children Anson and Kurtis, and Kieron and his wife Hilda Smith. The family had a small closed visitation as per Jeannette's request. The family would like to thank the staff at York Central Hospital and the members of the CCAC who had the opportunity to care for Jeannette. Donations can be made in Jeannette's name to the Canadian Diabetes Association. Online condolences may be made at

Jeannette was a delightful woman, full of life despite her health issues. She participated in several classes at Serenity Knits, making many friends along the way.

Serenity Knits is collecting signatures and notes of sympathy in a book which we will hold at the store for the next couple of weeks and then pass it on to Jeanette's Mom, Edith, also a regular visitor to our store. If you would like to be included, please drop by, or e-mail us a note which we will print and include.


Serenity Knits

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer Fun

Two of my favourite summer pastimes are knitting and reading; in front of the fire on rainy days and out in my gazebo when it is warm. On trips to the cottage, I give more thought to books and knitting projects than I do wardrobe. It should not be surprising that some of my favourite "reads", in fact books which I have read several times, are all the Yarn Harlot books by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee .

Stephanie is funny. Her books are about knitting, knitters and just about anything "knitterly", but I am sure they would be funny even to someone who has never picked up a pair of knitting needles. I think Stephanie could write about road signs and make it funny. She shares stories about her knitting adventures and mishaps, her family and friends. I enjoy things which make me laugh. Laughter is good for the soul; lowers your blood pressure, reduces stress. Laughing is just so much more fun than being worried or sad. My introduction to Stephanie was several Christmases ago when a friend gave me a gift of "At Knit's End". I read it and was hooked.

I was delighted to find out this very funny knitter also had a blog. Every day, after I check my e-mails, I check to see what the Yarn Harlot has to say. You can find her blog at

Stephanie has written several books which have all become best sellers. I have enjoyed each of them. My favourite is Knitting Rules. It is a wealth of information about knitting techniques, yarn and knitting tools. One thing I like are the basic patterns found in this book for hats, socks, scarves, shawls and sweaters. Her "SOCK RECIPE:A GOOD, PLAIN SOCK" from Knitting Rules is the second most popular sock on Ravelry with over 7000 posted projects.

Some of her stories are priceless; the loss of her favourite DPN while on a road trip with her family in a rented van. I won't ruin the punchline by telling you the story.

As teachers we often quote her to illustrate a point. It can sometimes be a struggle to convince even experienced knitters that correct yarn weights, the appropriate needles and a proper gauge swatch are essential to producing a garment that fits. This is not an exact quote as I am working from memory (which is not always good at the best of times). In one of her books Stephanie says of swatching and gauge;"You find a pattern you really like, but can't find the yarn it calls for, so you substitute something that sort of looks like it, you didn't have 4.5 mm needles it recommends, so you used your 5mm, you were in a hurry so didn't want to waste time with a swatch. You will be one lucky knitter if the sweater actually fits, it is more likely it won't and you can't blame the pattern!!"

In the "Yarn Harlot", there is an hilarious chapter named simply " IT". Let me quote part of the opening paragraph:

"Once again, it's Christmastime. How can I be completely blindsided by a holiday that happens on the same day each year is absolutely beyond me. You'd swear they only announce the date for Christmas in November and I have maybe three weeks to cope with the news. Once again I am nowhere near ready......"

This chapter has been my inspiration to start my Christmas knitting in July. Last year it worked out pretty good for the first time. The only unfinished gifts were some hats for my very young nephews who were probably happier with the toys anyway.

All of Stephanie's books are reasonably priced paper backs, usually available at Chapters. Treat yourself to one or two or all of them. If like me you read them several times, you will get more than your monies worth out of them.

Her next book, "All Wound Up" is due out in the fall of 2011.

One final note, in addition to being a wife, mother, author, blogger and self-admitted addicted knitter, Stephanie is Canadian. I enjoy when her blog or books reference downtown Toronto and I recognize the area she is talking about. She is also a bit of a local celeb, throwing out the first pitch at last years Stitch N Pitch.

No word if she is up again this year but Stitch N Pitch is set to go for July 20th.

Stitch N Pitch 2011
Toronto Blue Jays vs the Seattle Mariners

WHEN: Wednesday, July 20th , 7 pm

WHERE: Rogers Centre (or as lots of us remember it ... the Sky Dome)

WHO: You, your family and your friends (non-knitters welcome)

HOW MUCH: $20 at your local yarn shop

Serenity Knits will be selling tickets for pick up at the store, up to July 13th. Tickets may be purchased for pickup at the stadium after the 13th.

For more details on Stitch N Pitch 2011 (including goody bags and door prizes), visit the Stitch N Pitch Blog

The Streetknit Project ( will be at the game collecting hand-made outerwear (hats, mitts, socks, scarves, even sweaters) to be given to the homeless.