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Knitting Without Tears

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Knitting Without Tears

Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmermann.

Fireside/Simon & Schuster.

Elizabeth Zimmermann is well-known among knitters for her classic designs, mostly ski and Aran sweaters knit in the round from the bottom up, and which provide instructions that are a lot more like descriptions of how a garment should turn out than a step-by-step road map of how to get there.

Zimmermann's first book, Knitting Without Tears: Basic Techniques and Easy-to-Follow Directions for Garments to Fit all Sizes, introduced the world to this bold, innovative knitter who taught readers that knitting isn't difficult and we are all clever enough to figure out how to do exactly what we want to do with our needles (circular, please!) and string (nothing but wool, of course).

An Opinionated Spirit

Zimmermann liked to refer to herself as the Opinionated Knitter, and she certainly had strong opinions about just about everything having to do with knitting. She was a fan of circular knitting because she hated to purl, and liked to work from the bottom up so she had something fun to look forward to at the end.

She only worked with wool yarn and used the left-handed, or Continental/German style of knitting, even though she was English (she was taught English style initially by her mother, then learned the German style while watching her Swiss governess knit). But she also advocated knowing how to knit both ways for ease in working with color.

Though Zimmermann certainly had her opinions, she also held passionately the idea that there are very few actual mistakes in knitting and there's no one right way to do anything, as long as you are getting the results you want.

The way to knit is the way that suits you, and the way that suits the wool and the pattern and the shape that you are currently working on. Show me any "mistake" and I will show you that it is only a misplaced pattern or an inappropriate technique. There are patterns that include dropped stitches and twisted stitches. There are projects which should be as tight as you can possibly knit; there are others where you have to relax to the point of lethargy in order to make them loose enough. I've not yet found a pattern which includes a split stitch; this is the only real mistake I know.

The Patterns

While the first part of Knitting Without Tears explains Zimmermann's knitting philosophy (including the importance of gauge, to which a short chapter is devoted), most of the rest of the book deals with patterns.

There are instructions for a ski sweater using color patterns and a variety of seamless sweater patterns (with a patterned yoke, raglan shaping, saddle shoulders and a hybrid shoulder that's somewhat like a saddle and a raglan). These patterns are the most detailed in the book and really talk the knitter through what they are to do rather than giving a real pattern like most of us are used to.

A chapter on "other knitted garments" includes descriptions of her Kangaroo Pouch Sweater (a circularly knit sweater with set-in sleeves), the classic modular Tomten Jacket (super-cute for kids, though there's an adult size as well) and a variety of hats.

There are also thoughts and a few techniques for sock knitting, as well as a Garter Stitch slipper pattern, and some thoughts and simple patterns for mittens and scarves. She also writes briefly about skirts, shawls, afghans and blankets and rounds the book out with information on washing, storing and caring for knit sweaters.

Zimmermann's patterns are not necessarily difficult, it's just that you have to be paying attention and have your wits about you if you're used to just blindly following patterns that don't expect you to think much. There's nothing wrong with that style of pattern writing or knitting, but there is something really rewarding about working your way through one of Zimmermann's patterns and coming out the other side with a really beautiful project you almost feel like was a collaboration between you and her.

Publication date: 1971

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