Elizabeth Zimmermann Profile

The Grandmother of Modern Knitting

Basket Full of Yarn
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If you've been a knitter for very long, you've probably heard the name Elizabeth Zimmermann or seen the initials EZ used on a forum or message board.

Knitting Nobility

Zimmermann is probably one of the most well-known knitters in recent history, famous for her many clever patterns, which rely on the knitter's intellect to get her through, and her many opinions about the art of knitting, which she viewed as the best pastime and lifestyle out there.

Biographical Details

Born: Elizabeth Lloyd-Jones August 9, 1910, London, England

Died: November 30, 1999, Marshfield, Wisc.

Early Life: Zimmermann spent her childhood in England and went to art school in Switzerland and further schooling in Bavaria.

Family: She married Arnold Zimmermann in 1937, and they promptly moved to America, where Arnold worked as a brewmaster. The couple had three children, Thomas, Lloie, and Meg. Arnold was often referred to in Zimmermann's writings as the Old Man.

The Knitting Empire

Upon Arnold's retirement, the family moved to a converted one-room schoolhouse in northern Wisconsin, and Schoolhouse Press was born. The company imports and sells wool knitting yarn (Zimmermann was always proud to point out they didn't sell synthetics) and publishes knitting books and DVDs, including Zimmermann's publications and now those of her daughter, Meg Swansen, among others.

Zimmermann's publications include:

  • Knitting without Tears (1971, originally published by Simon & Schuster)
  • Knitter's Almanac (1974, originally published by Dover)
  • Knitting Workshop (1981, Schoolhouse Press)
  • Knitting Around (1989, Schoolhouse Press)
  • The Opinionated Knitter (collection of newsletters and writings, 2005, Schoolhouse Press)
  • Knit One Knit All: Elizabeth Zimmermann's Garter Stitch Designs was edited by her grandson Cully (2011, Schoolhouse Press)

Zimmermann also appeared in three knitting videos: "Knitting Workshop," "Knitting Glossary" and "Knitting Around." An audiotape was also made of her reading portions of Knitting Around.

Zimmermann produced two series before "Knitting Workshop: The Busy Knitter," which aired on PBS in 1966, and "The Busy Knitter 2" in 1967. Swansen notes in The Opinionated Knitter that the series were stored in the PBS vaults in Washington, D.C., but the tapes were destroyed, and no known copies exist.

She was widely published in magazines such as Vogue Knitting, McCall's and Woman's Day, and also had designs in yarn company booklets. But her frustration with the way publishers dealt with her patterns led her to start her newsletter, "Wool Gathering," which was originally distributed free to purchasers of Schoolhouse Press yarn (others could get copies for 25 cents).

Zimmermann's Legacy

Zimmermann is well-known for what she called "unventings," discoveries of a knitterly nature that she didn't want to claim as having invented herself (such as the I-cord). Many of her patterns are still popular among knitters, such as the Baby Surprise Jacket and the Pi Shawl (You can see many of her designs on Ravelry).

She was unusual among designers of her time for knitting as much as possible in the round, and in particular, is known for bottom-up sweaters worked in the round, with sleeves worked in the round, and all joined for the yoke.

She developed a multitude of ways to attach sleeves worked in the round and is known for the Elizabeth Percentage System, or EPS, which allows knitters to make seamless sweaters of whatever size and gauge they want, so long as they know their gauge and desired body circumference.

Zimmermann gave legions of knitters the courage to be more experimental with their knitting, to remember that they are intelligent creatures and don't always need to follow a specific pattern and that experimentation and innovation are the hallmarks of all great craftspeople, which knitters surely are.

At her death, the New York Times said she "revolutionized modern knitting," and that is surely true.