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Tributes in Memory of Elizabeth Zimmermann, Part 1

Knitters around the world were saddened to learn of the death of Elizabeth Zimmermann on November 30, 1999. You can learn more about her life through her books, such as Knitting Without Tears, Knitter's Almanac, Knitting Workshop and Knitting Around. You may also be interested in the New York Times obituary that appeared Sunday, December 12, 1999.

Rather than presenting biographical detail, this page is a compilation of the personal tributes and memories of individual knitters, many of which were posted to the Knitlist. I thank all of you for your contributions to this page.

If you would like to add your own tribute, or if you would like me to add a link to Elizabeth Zimmermann information on your web site, please contact us.

Elizabeth's daughter Meg Swanson still runs Schoolhouse Press, and attempts to keep copies of all her patterns in print.


Joy Slayton's tribute at Joyknits.com

Personal Tributes

It has been a year since Elizabeth passed on. I was one of the lucky ones to have taken a class from her. In about 1976 or 1977, I was living in Iowa and she was teaching a class in southern Wisconsin. I drove about 175 miles to get there and walked into the shop where the owner told me that I hadn't registered ahead of time and there wasn't room for me that day. Elizabeth pooh-poohed the owner and told her that she (EZ) could perch on a counter and I could have her chair. Needless to say, it was a wonderful day; I still have the notes I wrote. I learned so much even though I had been knitting since I was a child; there was so much more to learn. And the most important thing I learned was to write at least one letter or postcard a week to someone expressing my opinion or my praise for something that person said or did. And that wasn't even about knitting; she encouraged us to become activists or advocates in our own ways about things that were important to us.

EZ signed my dog-eared copy of KWT at the end of the day and I went home and knit a yoke sweater for my 6'5" husband (who has a 50" chest measurement and a waist of 40"and a very long torso). It was the first sweater of many that I knit him and it fit.

In 1990, I had a young dog (rescued when he was 18 - 24 months old) who used KWT as a chewy, but left the page intact where EZ had autographed it. I called Schoolhouse in half hysterics. About a week later, the replacement arrived with a new authograph from EZ to continue "good knitting - here is a book to replace the one that Nibs ate." Nibs is now about 11-12 years old; he will be wearing his first EZ sweater soon to keep his old bones warm when he goes outside.

It's been a year since Elizabeth's death; I think of her often; I miss her still.

Maura Stone
Zuni, New Mexico

Although Elizabeth Zimmermann passed away almost two years ago, she still teaches new knitters. I am learning to knit by viewing her "Workshop and Knitting Glossary series". I feel like I am in the same room with Mrs. Zimmermann as I go on to the each new step and wish that I could have had the chance to meet her. I thank her daughter Meg for the foresight to produce the video tapes and companion books which have given me this opportunity to learn how to knit.

Judi Schwartz
Alexandria, Virginia

In preparing to once again teach a crop of young high schoolers the joys of wool, I took up my keyboard and typed in the 'Immortal's" name to find your page and this wonderful list of tributes to Elizabeth Zimmermann. I am one of the many who, as well, never met her, but found the woman a sage and beacon at the end of a long dark tunnel needing enlightening ideas. I learned to knit at seven when my mother thought there were two things every man needed to know, cooking and knitting. Since then, I have spent years plunging in the dark myself, unventing things and trying to break the molds because they were two confining. Upon finding my first copy of "Knitting Without Tears" it was as if a kindred spirit from somewhere in the northwest yelled to me and said "Free at last, Free at last, thank God almighty I'm free at last!" Elizabeth Zimmermann was that voice. Somehow she gave me the permission I had been looking for to break the rules and play with wool--that there was no right or wrong. I now, periodically take a group of my students (I teach school) to upstate PA, and we spend a week learning of the wonders of wool and creating with our hands. The first thing I hand them when I give them yarn and needles is their own copy of "Knitting Without Tears." I want them to learn from the start the joy of the craft, not its limitiations. Elizabeth Zimmerman, I wish I had met her. She must have been an incredible woman. I wish her joy, happiness and an endless supply of Icelandic wool on the other side. In Pace Requescat.

Wayne Anthony
Toledo, OH

I never met Elizabeth Zimmermann, but she was one of my dearest knitting mentors and friends.

When I took up knitting again in 1984, "Knitting Without Tears" had already been in print for 13 years. Elizabeth taught me about the wonders of wool, gave me sage advice on picking up that extra skein of yarn as insurance, and taught me that even if I ran out of yarn, not to worry! She had me look over her shoulder while she worked on various knitting challenges and she was there holding my hand the first time I cut my knitting (and afterwards, I did lie down in a darkened room).

The Opinionated Knitter may be gone from this physical plane, but she left so much of herself behind in her writings, in the way I think about knitting, and even in the name of the computer server that brings us messages from both KnitU and the KnitList that it is clear than she has not entirely left us.

So, taking Elizabeth's own advice, I shall go "knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises" and be eternally thankful that she shared her opinions with us.

Yours in knitting,
Jennifer Tocker

i kinda taught myself to knit from a book back in my early 20s. amply sized even then, i found few patterns written in my size and soon moved on to other crafts - crocheting afghans, counted cross stitch, needlepoint, tatting and sewing my own clothes. in my middle 30s i bought a couple of computerized knitting machines and started making afghans - again stumped by the scarcity of clothing patterns in my size.

then, about 4 yrs ago, i got on the 'net and joined the machine knitting list. one thing led to another and i soon found the hand knit list. i just lurked but soon was bitten by the sock bug. then i started hanging out in used book stores and discovered a battered musty smelling copy of Knitting Without Tears. i devoured that book!! i discovered that i could be the boss of my own knitting! i discovered how to knit things to fit me - something i had no problem with in sewing but had never mastered in knitting. i learned to think outside of the box. :) elizabeth zimmermann set me free to think about how i could do things better or faster or just plain different from what was written in the pattern.

tho i never met her in person, i think anyone who has read any of elizabeth's books or seen her videos has met her. as long as the books are around and the videos available and as long as knitters speak to each other, elizabeth will live on and will continue to set new generations of knitters free.

Sande Francis
Fresno, CA, USA

It has been very meaningful to read all of the tributes to EZ, for one person to affect the lives of so many others is a great gift.

Another side of EZ I think no one has mentioned yet is what a brilliant artist she was. Seeing her drawings and paintings in her books is a great pleasure and another form of inspiration. EZ was talented in so many ways.

Ann in NYC

I've been reading all the EZ tributes with appreciation and sadness. I discovered her late in my knitting career also, having been a solitary knitter for many years. Just didn't realize what great resources were out there. I certainly hope someone is collecting all the personal notes. I had the pleasure of attending one of Meg's classes at Stitches West and would like to repeat the experience someday. My deep condolences to Meg and her family.

Joan Di Rito, in Tacoma WA

Back in my 20s I put down my knitting needles because nothing I made fit me--it would fit those Size 6 models in the photos, but not big-busted, short-waisted ME. Then I picked up Knitting Without Tears and like so many of you, I was reborn. Haven't looked back since, and rarely make a sweater with seams, thanks to Elizabeth. My first thought when I read of her passing was a quote from Obi Wan Kenobi in the first movie that went something like..."I sense a great disturbance in the force, as though a million voices had cried out in pain". A silly thought, maybe, but I feel that Elizabeth was THE knitting force of her time.

Carol McFadden

I don't have a copy of Knitting Without Tears; I've bought at least three books then give them away to friends who want to knit but think it is too difficult. I tell them that Elizabeth Zimmerman explains it all, gives you permission to change anything you don't like, and it will all make sense at some point. I already knew how to knit but I became a knitter when I first read EZ and had The Knitter's Epiphany! I have copies of the rest of her books and while I don't neccessarily knit as per her instructions--she taught me that I don't have to follow patterns--I use her books more than any of the other knitting guides on my shelves. Any of us who have read Elizabeth Zimmerman's books have had the pleasure of meeting her in print and a very pleasant, generous, and wise companion she is.

Claudia in SF

I came to know EZ, thru her books, rather later in my knitting career, than most people. The books are so wonderful, and liberating, they are like listening to a friend speaking to you. I would have enjoyed knitting with her, in person. So I missed getting to know an "original".

While we all feel like we have lost a mentor, and in some cases, a "personal friend and guide"...let us not forget that Meg has lost her mother. Meg has had a very difficult couple of years. My heart goes out to her on her losses. And I offer her, her father and her family, my sincere condolences.

Marian Paul

I don't remember which Marine library had EZ's Knitting Without Tears, but I checked it out and read and reread it before time to turn it back in. I would read bits of it to my husband, who doesn't knit at all! I kept checking it out at that base,and when my husband was transferred, I looked for it at the next base library and the next. Finally, when we were in Okinawa, I realized I could order my own copy! I have probably knit 2 dozen of her Tomten jackets - I would knit while waiting my turn to bowl! Following the directions in the book, I realized I was wrapping my purl stitch wrong and corrected it. (I knit continental) My knitting has gone in many directions since I first encountered Elizabeth Zimmerman. It's all due to her.

Many, many thanks, Elizabeth - you have made a wonderful difference to many of us. Knit on, with confidence!

Judy Schroeder in Shoreline, WA

I have enjoyed reading all the influences that EZ had on us. I remember buying Knitting Without Tears in the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto. At the time, I did not realize the gem I had bought. I knew EZ's name and was interested in what she had to say about knitting. Later that day, I stopped for a cup of tea and took KWT from my bag and began reading. I couldn't stop reading and stayed in that cafe reading and drinking tea until closing time. When I got home, I continued reading until I finished. I have subsequently bought all of EZ's books and have read them all from cover to cover more than once. I really enjoy her slices of life interspersed with the knitting information.


Others have noted the lovely and extensive obituary in Sunday's NY Times. I'm late in my own tribute to this wondrous, inspiring woman, but I've been tallying my FO's and WIP's for 1999 and find that a significant (and somehow comforting) number can be directly attributed to or inspired by Elizabeth Zimmermann: a tribute square for the (stalled?) afghan project, a Valentine Heart, a Heart Hat, two Baby Surprises, numerous watch caps, a percentage system raglan, part of a Pi Shawl and a Wonderful Wallaby - there are probably more if I think about it.

Knit in peace, EZ -

Terri D. in NYC

I was saddened to hear of Elizabeth's passing this week. I know how liberated I felt when I read Knitting without Tears. I found a remaindered copy in a bookstore and picked it up because the cover sweaters looked so intriguing.

Her words of advice gave me a frisson of recognition. Since I seemingly couldn't slavishly follow a pattern, and had always felt somewhat guilty about it, I was relieved to know that there were other knitters who didn't WANT to follow a pattern. In a single moment I went from all alone with my knitting to a larger community of knitters.

I'll never forget that one of my knitting sins, which I hope will be forgiven in the fullness of time, is that I have "taught an innocent child to purl first."

My grandmother taught me to knit, but I have found myself wishing on occasion that I could have had Elizabeth as a teacher. I will knit on with confidence but I will miss her easy grace, her wit and her charm.

Someone has probably already posted this web site, but I'll mention it again. Jan Zlendich has compiled a bibliography of Elizabeth's and Meg's articles, books, and videos and has kindly posted them to this address: Elizabeth and Meg: A Bibliography

Caroline Laudig

As a new widow in 1972 living then in Tampa, Fla. I found a copy of KWT at the big downtown library, I renewed it so many times the librarian asked me if I was memorizing it, I replied yes I am. Then decided to order it myself from a bookstore, when it came I started corresponding with Elizabeth (and for some strange reason saved all her notes on the half sheets of paper). She was fond of reminding me after I moved to Canada in 75 that I had one of the few pronounceable zip codes in the country. The year I move here I bought alot of yarn from her and in just a few short years used it all up, the 2 ply sheepswool was my favorite.

I now have all her books, several videos and a capability to knit without a pattern, no more a blind follower. And now feel such a great loss. Just finished making my third of six surprise jackets, from the original leaflet from EZ herself think I have had a subscription to Wool Gathering since it started and have all the leaflets before it. Am I a fan. You betcha.

My condolences to the whole family.

Lynne Rettberg
BC Socklady

I first read Knitting Without Tears in 1993. It was and remains a revelation. I was a blind follower of knitting patterns until just a few years ago, and now, EZ's example is a constant inspiration.

In addition, she was a wonderful writer, whose humor and wit are evident in everything she wrote. If you haven't yet read any of her works, do yourself a favor and do so! I own all of her books.


I am one of the many knitters whose lives she touched but who never met her. I ran across Knitting Without Tears in the late '80s in our local public library. I had finished graduate school, taken a job and actually had free time, so I'd started knitting for almost the first time since childhood. But the garments I produced never looked like the pictures on the models--the proportions were all wrong. After reading Knitting Without Tears, I had an epiphany--it was all mathematics, I could do this myself! I have rarely knit from a pattern since.

Over the next 10 years I matured as a designer, and began to think that I'd like to publish knitting patterns. By 1991 I was self-assured enough that I began teaching for TKGA, and did indeed begin publishing patterns a few years ago. I find myself rereading sections of Knitting Without Tears periodically, just because I enjoy the writing so much. When I teach locally, EZ's books are among the first I recommend to my beginning knitters to help them move from insecurity to assurance.

While I still rarely knit from anyone else's patterns, when I make socks for myself I always use her heel with the garter stitch edge and I refer back to Knitter's Almanac to make leggings for my children. It was in her books that I first ran across the idea of knitting with two colors, holding one in each hand and (horrors!) cutting your knitting. I find myself frequently quoting EZ, especially her response to those who hate knitting: "If you hate to knit, why, bless you, don't; follow your secret heart and take up something else." That's what EZ gave to me--the very idea that I could follow my secret heart, which led me into knitting, designing and teaching.

Margaret Radcliffe
Maggie's Rags

I am very saddened to hear of EZ's passing away. She was such a lovely woman when I took a weekend workshop with her in Maine in the 80's. She was such an inspiration to us all--luckily she will live on thru her wonderful, thoughtful, and most helpful books! You get the feeling she is right there with you, guiding you along! I am proud to have my knitting bag with her famous quote on it! And, to have my autographed copy of Knitting Without Tears.

Knit On!
Judy D. in RI

I never knew EZ except through her writing and then only in the last year since I've been on the various knit lists. I'd like so much to read how she touched the lives of other people whether in person or through her writing. Maybe someone could collect those stories and make a presentation of them for her family. It was with a deep sense of sadness that I read Amy's post yesterday; I can only imagine the sense of loss that those who knew her must feel.

Dave Burrows

Once upon a time there was a lonely knitter in South Australia who came across an extraordinary book in a library. The book was called "The Knitters' Almanac" but the knitter lost sight of it and went off to university and thought it was a dream because nobody, but nobody could knit the way that the knitter did without a pattern and always wanting to break the rules and try something new. Then one day in another library the knitter came across the book she thought she had only dreamt about. This time she borrowed the book and read it and then wrote a letter to the writer care of the publisher who was kind enough to send it on because, although not one for writing fan letters to authors, she had to tell the writer that she suddenly felt a whole lot better about her own knitting. The writer replied! What is more she did so in her own handwriting and it was obvious that she really did care about other knitters! I have had thousands of letters in my lifetime. I have written thousands more, including more than 8000 to world leaders to get Int'l Literacy Year off the ground, but only a few remain in my memory as strongly as EZ's letter to me. She brought laughter into my knitting and encouraged me to continue what was, until I went to university, a very solitary occupation because the only other people I knew who actually knitted were my paternal grandmother (who taught me) and my mother (who had little time to knit). Now I know many people who knit but I have yet to meet a knitter with EZ's wonderful approach. Thankyou for encouraging me to remain free of the slavery of following the pattern exactly EZ. I have no doubt you are teaching St Peter to knit while he is on gate duty!

KM Gunn

Add my voice to the chorus- I am deeply saddened by Elizabeth Zimmerman's passing. She was an inspiration, and her legacy will continue.

Let's give our grief this structure- those who wish to do so should post to the list about how EZ has inspired our knitting. Remember, this is a *knit*list, let's stay on topic. I'd also love to hear from anyone who had the privelege of attending one of her Knit Camps or classes. I wish I could say I've met her.

If someone local to Meg (Swansen, her daughter, proprietor of Schoolhouse Press) can collect these tributes and give them to her, I think that would be a most fitting tribute.

Myself, I ran across EZ's Knitting without Tears in the mid 80s. Someone in my spinning adventures had recommended it to me. (my early spinning was useless for commercial patterns.) Through EZ, I realized that I can "knit outside the box"- I don't have to be a blind follower. It opened new vistas for me, and life hasn't been the same since.

I had the pleasure of attending Meg's Knit Camp, which she continued in E's tradition when she was no longer capable. I surely hope there will be another knit hero to continue the legacy after Meg... but also that it won't happen for at least 30 years!

Ruth Hiebert

Quite a few years ago I saw Elizabeth Zimmerman on a PBS station. I was overwhelmed by her manner and knowledge. I guess it was a video but no matter. Just yesterday I responded to a 'fan letter' from Catherine of Catherine Knits who wrote me about my GD's finished Sleeveless Vest (finally...after 4 months of knitting it). I thanked her for her kind words and said that I'd bought knitting/crochet books from her and that I am interested in Elizabeth Zimmerman's writing and could she recommend any. This was before I knew of EZ's passing. She was a wonderful lady.

Alice (Brooklyn, NY)

Knit: Elegy for Elizabeth

To the best and most beloved Knitting Curmudgeon,
Thank you for telling me to knit the ribbing until I'm sick of it.
Thank you for telling me that there are no mistakes in knitting (except for maybe split stitches)
Thank you for pooh-poohing the knitting establishment.
Thank you for teaching me how to Kitchener stitch.
Thank you for teaching me to knit anything, any time, anywhere.
Thank you for giving me the confidence to *unvent*.
Thank you for everything. My mother taught me how to knit garter stitch. You taught me the rest.
Your voice and your spirit live forever in the thousands of knitters you've cozened and the legions more to come.
Rest easy, EZ.

The Knitting Curmudgeon

Tributes, Part 2

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Copyright for each tribute is held by the individual author. All other text and images copyright © 1999, 2003 Margaret K.K. Radcliffe