Knit­ting the EZ WAY

My love af­fair with knit­ting be­gan long be­fore I met El­iz­a­beth Zim­mer­mann. But El­iz­a­beth’s knowl­edge, hu­mor­ous wit and ap­proach to knit­ting gave me the solid foun­da­tion that still in­flu­ences my ap­proach to knit­ting and de­sign­ing to­day.

Creative Knitting - - NEWS - JACKIE DAUGH­ERTY

My road to the EZ way of knit­ting was paved with a few bumps, false starts and even some tears! Of course, I can look back and laugh about it now.

My knit­ting ca­reer be­gan early, at the age of 8, when I in­formed my mother that I wanted to learn to knit like Mrs. White. Mrs. White was a neigh­bor lady who clothed her four ram­bunc­tious boys and hus­band in bulky cardi­gans that had big deer heads and other hunt­ing-re­lated de­signs on the back. Al­though my mother did not knit, cre­ativ­ity was en­cour­aged in our home, with crayons, paints, pa­per, fab­ric snips and yarn bits read­ily avail­able. Mom ar­ranged knit­ting lessons, and I be­gan to dream of all the won­der­ful pro­jects I would make.

Mrs. White was a good teacher, but she as­sumed my knowl­edge of knit­ting was more ad­vanced than garter stitch squares. I clearly re­mem­ber knit­ting one square in a nice bur­gundy wool, and then it was on to mit­tens on dou­ble­pointed nee­dles! I still have mem­o­ries of that poor pa­thetic start of a mit­ten with its un­even cuff and thumb gus­set stitches on a safety pin. I never got any fur­ther and cer­tainly did not un­der­stand what I was do­ing, so the mit­ten ended up in the bot­tom of a dresser drawer as I pined away, long­ing to knit the in­cred­i­ble things I imag­ined.

Be­tween knit­ting at­tempts, my French/Ger­man grand­mother taught me to cro­chet dur­ing a week’s stay at her home. I had never seen her cro­chet, but she pro­duced a carved-bone hook and some white wool. She taught me how to make a chain and sin­gle cro­chet, and then I was sent on my way to prac­tice and stay out of trou­ble.

Lit­tle did I know that my grand­mother’s abrupt teach­ing style would force me to rely on my own in­ven­tive­ness, giv­ing me the con­fi­dence and free­dom to ex­plore, un­teth­ered to in­struc­tions or ex­pec­ta­tions. I spent my teenage years cro­chet­ing my own de­signs, bliss­fully un­aware that pat­terns even ex­isted! This time of ex­plo­ration in­flu­enced my ap­proach to knit­ting once I got over a weak mo­ment of be­ing a “blind fol­lower”!

In my 20s when I was newly mar­ried, I de­cided to try knit­ting again. Ladies Home Jour­nal Nee­dle & Craft mag­a­zine was in its hey­day, and one par­tic­u­lar cot­ton sweater caught my eye. Knit on size 8 nee­dles with three strands of KnitCro-Sheen cot­ton thread held to­gether, it was a les­son in frus­tra­tion and ul­ti­mately tears! I sat with a new knit­ting friend and started cry­ing over my knit­ting mess while she tried to help me. As a joke, she bought me a copy of El­iz­a­beth Zim­mer­mann’s Knit­ting With­out Tears! Even though I was ini­tially hu­mil­i­ated by the gift, that book changed my life and turned me into a life­long knit­ter. (To this day I still con­tend the tears were due more to hor­mones than my knit­ting, as I found out the fol­low­ing month that I was preg­nant!)

Armed with El­iz­a­beth’s book, I faith­fully be­gan ap­ply­ing her prin­ci­ples to my knit­ting. I learned to be a “see­ing knit­ter,” not a blind fol­lower of pat­terns. I ap­plied the per­cent­age sys­tem to my first gar­ment, a pullover sweater for my new­born son out of my own hand­spun yarn.

I spent many happy years knit­ting sweaters for my fam­ily and never felt the need to use a pat­tern. I was thrilled to be a knit­ter, but in the back of my mind I al­ways won­dered whether my men­tor and hero, El­iz­a­beth, was still out there some­where, knit­ting and en­cour­ag­ing other knit­ters like me.

Then one day while on va­ca­tion in Maine, I dis­cov­ered some of El­iz­a­beth’s out­dated news­let­ters in a quaint sea­side-vil­lage knit­ting shop. I was

ex­cited to find them and bought sev­eral old is­sues of Wool Gath­er­ing. I dis­cov­ered a postal ad­dress on the news­let­ter and wrote to El­iz­a­beth, hop­ing she was still writ­ing and pub­lish­ing her news­let­ter.

The day I re­ceived a let­ter back from El­iz­a­beth Zim­mer­mann was a spe­cial day in­deed! Not only was I awed to hear from a fa­mous big name in knit­ting, but I dis­cov­ered a whole world of books, wool yarn and sup­plies that were avail­able through her mail-or­der busi­ness.

I was for­tu­nate to at­tend her Knit­ting Camp twice, where I met El­iz­a­beth, her hus­band (also known as “the Gaffer”), her daugh­ter, Meg, and other mem­bers of the fam­ily. At­tend­ing Knit­ting Camp is like show­ing up for the who’s who in knit­ting, and I had the chance to meet many de­sign­ers and au­thors. Knit­ting Camp is be­yond words, but is best summed up as heaven on earth for knit­ters!

So much of what El­iz­a­beth taught at Knit­ting Camp and what I learned through her books has be­come part of my knit­ting DNA as a teacher and designer. I can hear El­iz­a­beth say­ing, “Learn to look at your knit­ting and fig­ure out what you are do­ing,” and “Don’t rely on the pat­tern—un­vent some­thing!”“Un­vent” was a word she had coined, and it re­ferred to those oc­ca­sions when a knit­ter dis­cov­ers some­thing that is new to her or him (though there is noth­ing re­ally new in the knit­ting world). Al­though El­iz­a­beth passed away in 1999, her in­deli­ble mark on the knit­ting world will be felt by many fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Her knit­ting wis­dom has in­spired many knit­ters around the world to take up wool and nee­dles, and to find their own way.

Thank you, El­iz­a­beth, for teach­ing me to knit the EZ way!

Al­ways gra­cious, El­iz­a­beth re­ceives a crown of daisies, an im­promptu gift from a Knit­ting Camp at­tendee.

Knit­ting and “talk­ing knit­ting” for a whole week? At­tend­ing Knit­ting Camp had been on my bucket list for years! I was for­tu­nate enough to at­tend twice and en­joyed ev­ery minute of it!

El­iz­a­beth Zim­mer­mann’s Nordic Mit­tens were pub­lished in the Oc­to­ber 1982 is­sue of Knit­ting World.

Tra­di­tion Meets Mod­ern Slouch Hat & Mitts were in­spired by El­iz­a­beth’s Nordic Mitts at left.

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