Thursday, January 20, 2011

Knit like a Zimmermann

(To the tune of "Walk Like An Egyptian", preferably the version by the Puppini Sisters. Go listen, you'll love it.)

I'm ashamed to admit that though I co-host a knitting podcast, I've never written about the podcasts that I listen to- which is why we podcast. Because we love listening to them!

One of the new shows that has popped up in the last year is Knitting Pipeline, hosted by the charming Paula, who also is a bagpiper. (Also, how great is it that there's a niche for bagpiping and knitting?!)

Paula knew Elizabeth Zimmermann personally, and they corresponded by mail. For those of you not in the know, Elizabeth is considered by many to be the mother of modern knitting, such as it is. I knew *about* Elizabeth's books, and I have owned all of them for quite a number of years, but I never deigned to read them- I just collected them for the patterns.

Two years ago, I knit a baby surprise sweater and complained that Elizabeth's directions weren't breathe-here-blink-here clear. You'll forgive me, right? I was young, and it was the impetuousness of youth speaking. I am Much Older and More Worldly now. Also, I just flipped to the pattern, I didn't read the book, and as everyone knows you should read directions All the Way through.

Given that earlier this year, Elizabeth's patterns and books were described to me to be more like recipes than strictly knitting patterns, this makes much more sense. However, if you're used to The Joy of Cooking and you get a family recipe that says "a pinch here" or "a dash there", (or my favorite, "cook until done") and you happen to be a child who thrives on structure and exact measures to feel comfortable initially, it's enough to reduce your normally composed self to tears.

So, I'll say it.

I was wrong.

What? You couldn't hear me?


Elizabeth is brilliant and personable in her books. (Nod if you already knew that; this is my fresh discovery, please share the enthusiasm of novelty.) I don't normally care for people chatting with me in my literature, but it seems that Elizabeth and I have a lot in common. She has a lot of tips and tricks (and my beloved math, in the form of percentages!), and I'm eating it up faster than dessert at Marché.

The only thing that could make me feel closer is if she reached out and asked if she could have the last glass of Syrah- after all, we've been sharing the bottle while I read.

The Blizzard (my nickname for her, since we're good friends now) makes me want to go dig in my back room and start a percentage-based yoke sweater. She makes me want to sing "The Blizzard and I" at the top of my lungs.

Her writing has inspired some of my favorite writers, most notably Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. It's like seeing 10 Things I Hate About You then seeing Taming of the Shrew (preferably performed live, if you're lucky enough it's at Shakespeare Santa Cruz). It's so similar, but the original is what has inspired (now 3) generations of knitters. Good quality and sensible thinking will always outlast the test of time.

Now if only I could get her books on my Kindle. Then, I could have my buddy The Blizzard with me all the time, and not have to weigh down the corners with my lazy Kate and not break the spine.


  1. This post was so fantastic. My grandmother was also a friend of Elizabeth's (though that story is for another time) While I have looked through her patterns, I have never read her book. I know, it is quite embarassing. I would LOVE to, trust me...and I know I should

    Um, there truly IS no good reason. I should order her books through amazon sometime. I have actually been thinking about her books a lot lately. I spoke with my grandmother through skype over the past weekend (I live in Germany and she in America) and she was talking all about Elizabeth's books and how wonderful they are. She noted all of the things you did as well. And so, I guess I am through with excuses. I WANT to read her books and you have given me the extra push !!! :)

  2. I am just knitting the baby surprise sweater now (I too am a child who thrives on structure, especially in it's a challenge.) I've been reading a chapter of the Knitter's Almanac each night before bed, and I *love* the way she writes. I've just asked for one of her DVDs for my birthday, and I cannot wait!

  3. Aaaaand I'm off to go buy me some Puppini Sisters.

    Also, EZ is one of my favourites. I love her approach to design.

  4. The baby surprise jacket is part of the layette I'm doing for the podling's arrival. My hubby is busy spinning the yarn and I have help from my knitting group to understand the recipe. Lol.

    Her writing is very fun and yes, it takes some getting used to for folks who like structure but its more the logic and method of knitting than a true pattern.

  5. I picked up Knitting Without Tears a bit ago, but have kept it close by as a reference book for a lot of things.

    I had to get used to the "familiar" voice she uses, but I like it.

    I'm nearly finished with her percentage yoke sweater I started with handspun & commercial yarn (commercial for the body, handspun for the yoke and sleeve cuffs).

    You should start one too. You'd like it.

  6. I'm so glad the scales have fallen from your eyes and you can now appreciate the wit and wisdom of EZ. The Baby Surprise is nothing short of sheer genius.

    To add to your collection of "Walk LIke an Egyptian" videos, I give you

  7. I really enjoyed this post! Now you MUST try EZ on video/DVD. She is amazing. I have watched the videos, available at my local library, repeatedly. They are so full of knowledge (and the most amazing knits). You can't pick it all up in one viewing.

  8. Now y'all have me curious. Making a note to check out some of her books.


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