Founding Mothers of Modern Knitting
Knitting is completely different from what it was 50 years ago. Today, it has a long list of inspiring patterns, larger-than-life designers and personalities and mainstream attention. This growth is largely due to the impact of the women I call the founding mothers of modern knitting: Elizabeth Zimmermann, Maggie Righetti, Barbara G. Walker and Mary Thomas. The combined effect of their teaching styles and attitudes led the way in inventive design, crafting resurgence and, ultimately, confident experimentation. And yet, their wise words didn’t just teach us knitting; they taught us about the joys in learning, the laughter in quiet moments and the connection we all have to each other through our knit-loving hands.
Elizabeth Zimmermann is to knitting as Julia Child is to cooking, leaving a legacy of creative exploration, encouragement and fun. Her books continue to be a staple of every knitter’s library, not only because of the valuable tips and tricks that they offer, but because of how her heartening voice and quirky humor infuse the pages. From Elizabeth’s Percentages System (EPS) to her tutorials on recognizing when fudging is completely acceptable, her writings remain just as pertinent today as they were when she penned them.
With her dry wit and charming sarcasm, Maggie Righetti is the teacher we all wish we could meet in person. She explained things in such a straightforward manner that confusion simply evaporated! Maggie was on the front lines of the yarn store renaissance, when knitting became a pleasure rather than a necessity or obligation. Her guidance on gauge changed my life, and I still chuckle when I read The Dumb Baby Sweater, published in her book Knitting in Plain English.
The iconic Barbara G. Walker is quite possibly the most famous knitting celebrity alive today, having authored several volumes of stitch pattern encyclopedias that have become landmarks for knitters and designers alike since 1968. Her astounding intelligence led her to think outside the box of knitting norms, and she has drafted patterns that have opened a new world of lace and texture.
Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book, a long-standing classic that has been in publication since 1938, is the Swiss Army Knife of knitting. In her well-known, meticulous methodology, Mary encouraged her students to learn knitting in a progressive, thorough and prepared manner. Paired with infinitely delightful drawings by Margaret Agutter, Mary’s lessons are ones you can come back to over and over again.
The founding mothers may have thought they were only writing a knitting book or two, but the impressions of their words, their encouragement and their invisible mentorship is ever alive in the modern knitter today.