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Knitting Workshop Book Review

Updated on September 15, 2014
Elizabeth Zimmermann
Elizabeth Zimmermann

Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Workshop

Elizabeth Zimmermann was a pioneer in knitting. In addition to her intriguing patterns, she brought many new techniques to the knitting world. If you've never heard of Ms Zimmermann, this book review is an excellent place to meet her.

Book Data

Knitting Workshop, by Elizabeth Zimmermann

©1981, Schoolhouse Press

EZ and Meg
EZ and Meg

About EZ

Elizabeth Zimmermann, also known as EZ was born in England in 1910 to an upper middle class family. She studied art, and while traveling in Europe, met and fell in love with Arnold Zimmermann. The two married and moved to the United States, eventually settling in Wisconsin in a converted schoolhouse.

In the 1950s, EZ began writing knitting patterns for sale to the major magazines of the time. One of her first sales was an Aran pullover sweater, knitted in the round. The magazine loved the sweater (it was the first Aran published in the USA), but insisted she rewrite the pattern in flat pieces — knitting in the round was thought to be too difficult.

In the late 1950s, EZ began writing a small newsletter, and shortly after, began selling the traditional wool yarns she loved. She eventually produced several TV shows and videos, wrote several books, and became a "knitting guru".

When EZ passed away in 1999, her younger daughter, Meg Swansen, took over the business, naming it Schoolhouse Press.

The Stonington Shawl construction diagram. This is EZ's simplification of a Shetland shawl.
The Stonington Shawl construction diagram. This is EZ's simplification of a Shetland shawl. | Source

Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Workshop: The Review

New knitters may not be familiar with Elizabeth Zimmermann, but she was a pioneer and a true knitting genius.

Ms Zimmermann was the first modern knitter to promote circular knitting - one of her earliest published patterns was converted to flat knitting because "nobody knit in the round". She also utilized garter stitch in unusual constructions, and pioneered what she called I-cord as an edging.

In the early 1980s, Ms Zimmermann developed a 13 episode series on knitting, Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Workshop. This series explores Ms Zimmermann's knitting style, and taught viewers to be "thinking knitters", to trust their own minds and not be "blind followers" of published patterns. The series was picked up by various PBS television stations across the United States. The series is available for sale, see below.

I saw the series when it first aired. I was hooked! I went from being a good but indifferent knitter to a designer, and my interest in knitting has been steady ever since.

The book, Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Workshop, was originally written to go along with the series. However, it stands well on its own. Though it is not a how to knit book, it starts at an almost beginner level, with the anatomy of a knit stitch. It then moves to making a simple hat with stranded color patterns (yes, colorwork is simple the EZ way!), a child's circular sweater the reader designs. We then move to what Ms Zimmermann calls "Master Classes": different shoulder shapings for the sweater, circular shawls, vests, jackets, and what may be Ms Zimermann's most famous pattern, the Baby Surprise Sweater.

One drawback: the layout of this book is a bit unprofessional. The text is a bit chatty in some places, and some details are missing. The drawings were done by Ms Zimmermann herself, and while every detail is clear, she was not a professional graphic artist. Remember, this was intended to be a companion book, and the fact that it has remained in print long after the show was off the air tells you how good the content really is. [And you can now buy a DVD of the show and watch Ms Zimmermann, surrounded by yarn and knitting away.]

Elizabeth Zimmermann knit in her own, opinionated way, and not everyone likes it. If you have never been exposed to her work, the style of this book might be a bit off-putting, but the content is solid. And if you already know Ms Zimmermann, this book is a must-have.

My Opinion

I have very fond memories of watching the TV series and knitting from this book. I stopped knitting in college, this book rekindled my interest and led to my own design work.

Saying that, this book is of limited use. The "patterns" in it are mostly indications of patterns, not specific recipes. If you're not used to seeing "Cast on the number of sts equal to your chest measurement times your gauge," you'll be lost.

The "how to knit" info at the beginning isn't the best, either. Nobody will learn the basics of knitting from this book ... but the beginning knitter will pick up some valuable tips.

And that's what this book really is about — the tips. If you're a "thinking knitter", as EZ put it, you'll get the courage to do some basic design. You'll learn 7 different ways to shape the top of a sweater knit in the round, and while some are a bit odd, most are very useful. If you have any plans to do any design work, even just changing the gauge of a purchased pattern, this book is for you.

Poll: What is Your Favorite Zimmermann?

Are you Zimmermaniac? Do you have a favorite Zimmerman book? Let's see which of her books ranks best.

What is Your Favorite Elizabeth Zimmermann book?

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Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Workshop
Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Workshop

This is a DVD containing the original Knitting Workshop PBS shows.



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