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.


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