Elizabeth Zimmermann, 1910-1999
For years I have knitted with no knowledge of who Elizabeth Zimmermann was or even her importance to knitting. ( Yes, I know. I can hear your gasps of horror even from here.)
So, to not feel left out of knitting group conversations I set out to learn about her. I read everything I could find about her- books, magazine articles, blog postings, etc. The one thing that remained out of reach for me was her famous and well-loved book, “Knitting Without Tears”. Countless of knitters learned and even re-learned to knit from the pages of this knitting holy grail. I was determined to find it and read it myself.
To my surprise, after almost a year of being constantly checked out at the library, I was able to take it home and have my own knitting ‘awakening’.
From some of the previous work I’ve read I was already use to Elizabeth’s straightforward and trademark opinionated style. Even though I can’t wear wool myself, I respected her views on wool verses synthetics. The book was full of helpful advice. But I hit a snag when it came to her topic of knitting techniques.
I loved when she stated, “there is no wrong way to knit…”, but the next few lines were like a dagger through my little knitted heart. “…although there is one way that is nearly wrong. I mean Backwards, or Looking-Glass Knitting. It is not wrong in effect, as its proponents or shall we say victims?- turn out perfectly creditable garments. But they work in a void of noncommunication, cut off from all run-or-the-mill knitters and nearly all knitting instructions.”
I was speechless after reading her words. Even though she admits to trying to learn the skill herself to avoid purling for an easier ‘stocking-stitch’, she concluded that it wasn’t worth the effort. The grandmother of knitting just made me feel like someone undeserving of the title, ‘knitter’.
So I closed the book and walked to my yarn stash. There laid four newly finished hats, a pair of socks needing the final stitches to complete and a pattern for a sweater that I was in the process of converting to fit my style of knitting.
There, surrounded by my projects, a little voice inside my head said, “you are not a victim. You are a rebel. A marvel to behold. The envy of all knitters who must knit and purl their way through a stockinette stitch sweater”.
Then a thought hit me. I walked back to the book, open the first page and read the copyright date. Copyright 1971! Well, no wonder why she said what she did. I wasn’t even born yet. She had never seen anything like me yet. I laughed at myself, reopened the book and enjoyed the rest of my reading. I realize, Mrs. Zimmermann is the grandmother of knitting, but she is not the final say on the subject. If she could see knitting today she would truly be impressed at its many forms and faces. She may even reconsider learning to knit backwards, and I would be more than honored to teach her.