Elizabeth Zimmermann

Elizabeth Zimmermann (August 9, 1910–November 30, 1999) was a British-born knitter known for revolutionizing the modern practice of knitting through her books and music instructional dvd series on American public television. Though knitting back and forth on rigid straight needles was the norm, she advocated knitting in the round using flexible circular needles to produce seamless garments and to make it easier to knit intricate patterns. She also advocated the continental knitting method, claiming that it is the most efficient and quickest way to knit. During World War II, German or continental knitting fell out of favor in the UK and US due to its association with Germany. Most English books on knitting today are in the English or American style. Elizabeth Zimmermann helped to re-introduce continental style knitting to the United States.

Born in England (née Elizabeth Lloyd-Jones), she attended art schools in Switzerland and Germany. Her autobiographical “Digressions” in the book Knitting Around reprinted many of her original artworks alongside the text. Zimmermann learned to knit first from her mother (English style) and then later from her younger sister’s Swiss governess (German or Continental style).

EZ (as she is affectionately known among knitters) eventually emigrated to the United States with her new husband, German brewery master Arnold Zimmermann, eventually settling in Wisconsin in a converted schoolhouse. The schoolhouse would become home to Schoolhouse Press, a mail-order knitting business still based in the schoolhouse and run by her daughter Meg Swansen.

Zimmermann is credited with knitting the first example of an Aran sweater seen in an American knitting magazine (Vogue Knitting).

In one episode of the Knitting Around DVD/video series, a police officer (and friend of the family) pulled Zimmermann and her husband over for “knitting without a license.” (Always knitting, she’d even developed the ability to knit while on the back of her husband’s motorcycle). In The Opinionated Knitter, Zimmermann’s daughter Meg notes that while her mother wanted to call her first book Knitting Without a License, her publishers changed it to Knitting Without Tears. However, the former perhaps best expresses Zimmermann’s knitting philosophy. In all her published works (print and video), she encouraged knitters to experiment and develop their own patterns.

Her “EPS” (Elizabeth’s Percentage System) is still widely used by designers: it consists of a mathematical formula to determine how many stitches to cast on for a sweater, given that the sleeves and body are always proportionate no matter what yarn or gauge is used. Other patterns and techniques for which she is well known are the so-called “Pi Shawl,” a circular shawl that is formed by regularly spaced increases based on Pi, ‘i-cord‘ (or ‘idiot cord’), and the “Baby Surprise Jacket,” which is knit completely flat and then folded, origami-style, to create a nicely shaped jacket.

She also founded a series of summer camps for knitters that continue to this day under her daughter’s direction.

Zimmermann was the first knitter to be honored with a full obituary and article in the New York Times titled “E. Zimmermann Is Dead at 89; Revolutionized Art of Knitting.” It appeared on Sunday, December 12, 1999. Her motto “Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises,” continues to inspire modern day aspiring designers and knitters.

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