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Tributes in Memory of Elizabeth Zimmermann, Part 2

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I was saddened by the announcement of our losing EZ in physical form but know that she lives in all of us who were her devotees. I did send a card and a donation to the camp scholarship so Meg would know we cared. I think we ought to find out when her birthday was and have annual Elizabeth Zimmerman knit days to celebrate her life.

Judy Sumner

I was very saddened by news of the death of Elizabeth Zimmerman. I have been knitting since I was a child, but only discovered her books, patterns and knitting ideas in the last 2 or so years, since I joined the knitlist.

I was once raving about EZ's ideas to someone who doesn't knit, whose eyes were glazing over, and finally had to say, "Elizabeth Zimmerman is to knitting what Julia Child is to cooking, she made you feel that you could do things you hadn't thought possible."

In the last year, I have made the Wishbone sweater, the Maltese Fisherman Hat and the Pi shawl from Knitter's Almanac and the Hand-to-Hand Aran from Knitting Workshop. I am in the midst of a Baby Surprise Jacket and planning an Adult Surprise Jacket. Each and every project has been a pleasure to work on because EZ thought it all out.

But something else occurs to me about EZ. She was a marvelous knit designer, but she was also a wonderful writer. She could explain how to do something that was both perfectly clear and wonderfully chatty. She made you realize that you would never know as much about knitting as she did but never made you feel small or stupid because of that. What other knitting books, even very good knitting books, get read for the pleasure of reading them? After reading her books, I felt that I knew EZ and her family.

I am a nonfiction writer myself. I write about health and medicine, which isn't quite analogous to knitting. But in the past 2 years I have found myself occasionally thinking, "How would EZ write this?" I am especially thinking this now because I am writing a medical/health book for young people and I need to be clear but warm and friendly. EZ has been my guide.

When Fred Astaire died and everyone was lamenting on how all that great dancing was gone, I thought, "Well, I have three of his movies on tape and can rent the rest. He isn't dead." As long as an EZ book is on someone's bookshelf and one of her ideas is on their needles, she isn't dead either.

Valerie DeBenedette

I had no one to teach me to knit, and tried to learn from books and magazines. I was usually unable to obtain the recommended yarn for patterns, and tried substitutions. These efforts left me incredibly frustrated.

Someone recommended "Knitting Without Tears" to me and it changed my knitting life. Suddenly, I could "design" my own garments, using any style of yarn and any size needles. I read the book cover-to-cover in one sitting, laughing at Elizabeth's wit and being charmed by her no-nonsense advice. I have a couple of her other books, and those also are enjoyable reads, whether you intend to knit something out of them or not. I especially enjoyed the one (Knitting Around???) where she tells of her early years and of meeting her husband.

And oh-my-gosh, knitting in the round! No more putzy seams to sew? I was in HEAVEN! And of course I never would have been able to steek, all alone and with no actual example, without her words of confidence and explanation.

If it wasn't for EZ, I probably would have given up on knitting... I wouldn't have garments that my family and I can actually wear... and I wouldn't feel so free to add my own touches to others' patterns. She has left so many the legacy of her creative mind. I am still amazed at her ability to think three-dimensionally for her unusual designs - what an incredible person.

Stasia in WI

I, too, am saddened by her death. I have one of her books and had borrowed one of her videos from my knitting guild. It was so much fun to watch, I didn't even knit along, I just watched. In a way she reminded me of my own grandmother (who died 20 years ago and was a crocheter). She seemed to have such patience.


I am a knitwear designer, because of Elizabeth Zimmermann. It's that simple.

When my paternal grandmother tried to teach me to knit, when I was about 10 years old, I couldn't do it. She used 2 straight needles. Those needles kept hitting the floor. Awkward was an understatement. So, instead, I learned crochet from my maternal grandmother.

Then, I had a small shop about 10 years ago, that floundered and died and left me with a couple copies of EZ's Knitting Workshop. Why I carried a book about knitting which I had never read, because I did not knit, was surely just serendipity.

So I finally read it. Actually just the first 2 chapters. I ran out and bought some circular needles, and all of a sudden, like a flash, I could knit. I didn't even knit her swatch cap or her Hawser sweater (Chapter 2), I immediately began my own design in a yoked pullover. Why? Because she said I could use whatever yarn I wanted in my own gauge! I had tons of bulky handspun around. Instead of weaving it all into scarves, why not knit sweaters with it!

EZ presented knitting in the original way knitting was done - circular, not pieces knit flat, then sewn. Having spent the years, prior to knitting, teaching myself the ancient textile traditions of handspinning, natural dyeing, rughooking and weaving, my hands and mind were ripe to grasp yet another ancient textile skill. Now knitting made sense, and was not at all awkward, in fact, it felt like a natural extension of my hands.

EZ didn't just create knitters, she created designers. Those of us thwarted by other modes of creative expression saw freedom in her approach to knitting.

And most importantly, to me at least, is how her method reconnected us with knitters of long ago, who knit without patterns, despite being, generally, uneducated. When I picked up that first circular needle, without anyone showing me any "right" way to hold it, how did I do it? Like a peasant! I didn't even know it then, not til years later, upon looking at pics of peasant knitters in one of my many knitting tomes. Elizabeth connected me with my own past. Connected to all those lives we led, where the skills of our hands made our survival possible.

I am a fuller, more creative, and more confident person, because of Elizabeth. I never met her. But one really didn't have to. All one has to do is read her words.

Happy Knitting!
Dawn Brocco

From Anne Claxon:
This email came to me from one of our guild members. I wanted to share it with the rest of you. This is truly in the spirit of giving. I am posting this to both KnitU and Knitlist. EZ was a truly compassionate and fierce knitter that her spirit will on live forever. My condolences to her family.

I think it would be appropriate for all knitters across the world to make a jesture in Elizabeth's memory. I hope some organization will suggest that. What comes to mind is having all knitters knit a zimmerman pattern, perhaps a zimmerman baby sweater, for a needy child to be donated in Elizabeth's memory. It would seem to be the greatest gift we could pass on to the world to thank Elizabeth for the gifts she has left behind for all knitters. I had never met Elizabeth, but, somehow feel a strong bond through our love of this timeless craft for which she contributed so much.

Linda D.

Very simply put, Elizabeth Zimmermann changed my knitting life. I bought and read "Knitting Without Tears" shortly after its publication and learned to be in control of my knitting instead of letting patterns control me. Now, if I find a mistake in the directions, I know exactly who is responsible--I am. I own and have read and reread many times all of EZ's books. Her gentle, humorous, and human approach changed mystery to mastery in this thing we do with two sticks and a string.

My condolences go to EZ's family. I'd like to add my voice to all those others who affirm that Elizabeth Zimmermann had a wonderful and lasting impact on many knitters' lives. I just finished a Baby Surprise Jacket and am doing the companion bonnet; I'll work it with a little more reverence in honor of its creator.

Helen Hood in Bailey, CO

I first encountered Elizabeth Zimmerman's books in either 1977 or 1978. I was working in a bookstore, supporting my then boyfriend and his brother and myself on my biweekly paycheck of $78.78, when Knitter's Almanac came through as a remainder for $2.95. After struggling for weeks with my conscience, which told me I couldn't afford it, I succumbed, and have been a fan ever since. Meg and all, you'll miss her, but what a wonderful life she had and enjoyed!

Elizabeth Durand

Being over this side of the pond, I never met Elizabeth Zimmermann, and own just one of her books, the Knitters Workshop. In fact I haven't ever really made much out of it, apart from loads of hats, but there are two important things which I have taken away from it:

1 - circular needles - I use them all the time now... it was after reading this book that I started to collect them. 2 - she seemed to be always in her text urging experimentation and encouraging the reader to go with his or her initiative.

Both of those have been vital in my development as a knitter.

Euan Bayliss, UK

I was very, very sad to read that EZ had left this mortal coil -- I learned about her only within the past 3 years or so, and had purchased all her books. I liked to read her writing about knitting on nights that I had trouble falling asleep, and I very much enjoyed listening to Knitting Encylopedia while working away on my own work. I wish I could have known her, since she seemed to be such a nice person on the one hand, but at the same time, a demanding person on the other. I don't think she'd have easily suffered boring or dull people.

Cate Williams
Wilmington, DE

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