Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Reverse Elizabeth Zimmermann Moment, Part One: Knitters Are Artists

I'm having a reverse Elizabeth Zimmermann moment.

But first, a little context:
Elizabeth Zimmermann and Barbara G. Walker modernized hand-knitting.  They are the reason we can do what we do.  Walker either researched and published or invented and published hundreds of stitch patterns.  Most of those wonderfully inventive stitch patterns that you find in knitting designs these days are sourced from one of Walker's Stitch Treasuries.

Zimmermann, or "EZ," released knitters from blindly following how publishers had always seen fit to put out patterns.
She challenged the notion that knitters should always make sweaters in the same pieces as tailored (hand-sewn) jackets: front or fronts (cardigan or pullover), back and sleeves all knit separately then sewn together.  Why not knit in one piece and avoid seaming?

Oh, and while she was at it, she 1) started her own design business, 2) started her own yarn business, 3) was the Julia Child of knitting on public television, and 4) started her own publishing business.  (The latter is Schoolhouse Press, going strong under the leadership of Meg Swansen, EZ's daughter  (you've read her stuff in Vogue Knitting magazine).  Though EZ was English, having emigrated to the U.S. with her husband in 1937, she defied English convention to knit Continental style.  Oh, and she loved garter stitch.  She invented that latest craze as well.

Before sitting down to draft this post, I grabbed five EZ books from my collection.  My favorite is a compilation of her newsletters from 1958-1968 titled The Opinionated Knitter.  And back in the day when I was coming back to knitting as an adult, it was EZ's Knitting Without Tears that started me off.  I bought a second copy of Knitting Without Tears after loaning my original out and never seeing it again. Did I need it anymore?  No -- EZ would have been proud.  It's on my shelf out of respect and sheer sentimentality.

You just can't write or understand knitting in the modern era without knowing what EZ and Walker did.  The amazing work they did for a craft which was at that point not particularly respected.  They took it seriously.  Even before the fiber mills started coming up with the magic yarn we work with in the 21st century, it was EZ and Walker who brought knitting out of the house and into the 20th century.  They regarded knitting as an art.  Not just sweaters or hats or mittens or blankets made by loving hands at home but as works of art.

That means we knitters are artists.

And artists break rules, even ones made by grande dames.

That's what I'm going to talk about in Part Two.  And I have to tell you it's taking some courage on my part.

See you tomorrow.


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