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The Opinionated Knitter

A Look Back in Time


The Opinionated Knitter

The Opinionated Knitter by Elizabeth Zimmermann.

Schoolhouse Press.

Elizabeth Zimmermann's The Opinionated Knitter: Newsletters 1958-1968 is not strictly essential reading for people who aren't completely devoted EZ fans, but it is really interesting as a historical document.

These newsletters (which started out free for customers, 25 cents for everyone else) show the original incarnations of many of Zimmermann's most famous patterns and techniques, interspersed with other writings from Zimmermann, comments from her daughter, Meg Swansen, and notes from other knitters.

Knitting Originals

As Swansen notes, in the newsletters you can see the beginnings of the development of what came to be known as Elizabeth's Percentage System or EPS, by which knitters can make custom-fit sweaters based on the gauge they're getting with the yarn they want to use and their personal measurements.

Here readers will also find the original presentation of the Baby Surprise Jacket (the adult version is also included, though it was not published until 1981), the Tomten Jacket (called the Tyrolese jacket when first published in 1961), ski sweaters, baby leggings, a bevy of hats and more.

Unlike Zimermann's other books, The Opinionated Knitter has a good quantity of full-color pictures of the pattern garments, which makes the projects even more inspiring and irresistible. There's this adorable picture, for instance, of a rolly-poly baby on a knit afghan, wearing a knit Pillbox Hat, a Baby Surprise Jacket and knit leggings and booties. It looks exactly like the baby of a knitter ought to look, and any mom of a little one (or mom to be) is sure to want to recreate the picture with her own knits and at least some of these patterns.

A Knit Time Machine

The look back provided by the comments in the newsletters beyond the patterns is also a lot of fun. Zimmermann writes of people sending her blank checks to pay for their orders "as I am perfectly honest."

Of Barbara Walker's First Treasury of Knitting Patterns, now a classic, she says it is "worth thribble the money" (it cost $10) and that Walker "writes as one human being communicating with another; remarkable, to say the least, in knitting books."

Zimmermann herself would later exhibit that same quality in her books, but in 1966 she shared many of her special techniques such as the afterthought pocket and phoney seams in a newsletter "if I won't write a book, that is; and I won't." (To this, Swansen remarked "Ha!")

In addition to the newsletters and notes, included is the newsletter Swansen put out in March 2000 as a memorial to Zimmermann, who had died in November 1999. It was full of pictures and stories from knitters from around the world who had been so influenced by her they felt compelled to reach out and talk about this woman that a lot of them had never met.

All of this isn't all that interesting if you're only in it for knitting patterns, but Zimmermann's philosophy of knitting and of life extends to more than just sharing tricks for better knitting. She explained it herself in the Spring 1967 issue of her newsletter:

I am sworn to make knitting pleasant, and to abolishing unpopular things such as purling, sewing-up, and, when practicable, casting off ... To my mind knitting can be a craft.

Publication date: January 2005

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