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How Elizabeth Zimmerman Empowered Knitters

Updated on December 29, 2017

My Own Knitting


The Incomparable EZ

If you ever spend much time with a serious knitter, you will probably hear the name "Elizabeth Zimmerman" at some point. It is hard to express just how influential this one humble knitter has been to the knitting community. Humble and influential? Indeed, for in her humility she helped us all believe we too could knit like she did! She taught us to trust our own hands and eyes.

Fearless Formulas for Knitting Success

As a knitter with an engineering degree, I was thrilled to find Elizabeth's book Knitting Without Tears at my local public library branch. Her "percentage system" for knitting a seamless sweater is simple and brilliant; for example, a sleeve is 50% of the stitches used for the body of a sweater. Her formula enabled a knitter to knit a swatch, measure the gauge (stitches per inch) and translate that gauge into the number of stitches needed for a particular size of sweater, hat, or whatever, as well as the spacing of increases or decreases for shaping.

EZ (as many now call her) also popularized the "pi shawl." You may remember from geometry that the circumference of a circle is equal to pi multiplied by the diameter of the circle. Zimmerman used that formula to determine how often to double the number of stitches in a round to create a circular shawl from the center out.

Humility and Confidence Together

One of EZ's most endearing qualities was her "aw shucks" attitude toward her great insights. She maintained that nothing new was ever really invented. Rather, she coined the word "unvented" to describe what happens when something that was just waiting to be found is found out by a knitter. It was there all along, like calculus waiting for Newton and Leibniz to find it! Her humble demeanor and motherly/sisterly advice still encourage knitters through the books she left us. When people ask me to recommend knitting books, I always include at the end of my short list "...and everything written by Elizabeth Zimmerman."

Note: There is a Ravelry group called Zimmermaniacs for those who, like Elizabeth, love to "unvent" things as they knit.

What kind of knitter are you?

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    • captainj88 profile image

      Leah J. Hileman 

      4 years ago from East Berlin, PA, USA

      I'm a blind follower, but maybe with a book that helps me translate instructions into something versatile, I would branch out. I'm always afraid to undertake a huge, time-consuming project because I might get 2/3 done with it and realize it's going to be the wrong size. I'd like to try EZ's method.


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