A View from Sierra County

Small town life and politics, lots of knitting, and travels with and without my five burros

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Location: In the Sierra Nevadas, United States

I blog about rural living and social issues, and the creativity that comes from knitting, as well as post random pictures of the Sierras and my burros. "In order to be an artist, one must be deeply rooted in the society" - Simone de Beauvoir


Monday, January 16, 2006

Product Review: Knitting Around


Yarn name: Knitting Around, by Elizabeth Zimmermann
Manufacture:Schoolhouse Press
MSRP: $28.00 (hardcover only)

I know you are wondering why I am writing a Product Review about a book published 15 years ago, but I know that there are a lot of new knitters who aren't familiar yet with the amazing work of Elizabeth Zimmermann. This book is subtitled: Knitting Without A License, which is exactly what EZ gives us permission to do.

She started out much the same way as many of the young web-based designers offering us cute patterns from their websites lately (except for the electronic part). Many of her first designs were based on flat pieces sewn together and were sold to the illustrious publications of post-war US, including Bernat and McCalls Needlework and Crafts. However, she came from an English family of knitters, and learned about circulars from a dear aunt, then decided to start adapting many conventional designs to circular, seamless styles in much the same way traditional garments had been made in wool-oriented parts of the world for centuries. This helped the designs towards completion much faster. Over the years, EZ published many books, including Knitting Without Tears, and Knitters Almanac, as well as putting out a public TV program in the 1980s and follow-up videos, which enabled knitters to have an instructor right in their own living room. She started Schoolhouse Press (now owned by her daughter Meg Swanson), which continues to be a prominent source of knitting supplies, books exploring the cultural connections in knitting from around the world, and offers their own lines of yarn.

I discovered her books while working as a school library aide back in 1988, and went through my own knitting renaissance. I taught myself to knit continental-style, so that I could do two-stranded colorwork, carrying a different color in each hand. I pulled out a really complex Aran patterned poncho left over from the last time ponchoes were in vogue (it had been too elaborate to finish before the style fell away, but the Unger Rygia yarn was too good to give up on), followed EZ's "exposition" as she calls it (meaning a general schematic of how to get the correct shape, allowing you design freedom along the way) and turned the panels into a tomten jacket, with garter stitch yokes and sleeves, figuring out how to add in some extra Peace Fleece yarn to have enough to finish and adding ribbing to make a zipper placket down the front, but just couldn't bring myself to cut into the cables to put in an "afterthought pocket", another of EZ's "unventions" (she claimed that she wasn't really inventing, but merely rediscovering design elements that knitters preceding her had used). I promise to take pictures on the next sunny day, as I still have this rugged coat, and am still considering whether to put those pockets on the sides, so that I will wear this coat more often. Elizabeth and Meg established a summer Knitters Camp, much like summer camp for big grrls, which I used to wish I could afford to fly across the country to attend. I greatly enjoyed subscribing to Knitters Review for many years, and rushed out to buy The Opinionated Knitter, a collection of past newsletters and designs published last year.

All of that aside, the main reason why I decided to write a Product Review on this particular one of her books is the wonderful watercolor paintings and family stories that are interspersed among the patterns. I bought my copy just recently, so that I could make a PiR2 Shawl, a variation on the circular Pi design that EZ designed many years back. This design starts with the same circular shaping for the back and then creates triangles on each front side which drape across the shoulders more like a ruana.

I had never purchased the book before, as it has always been in print in the expensive hardback format, but am enjoying the stories so much, with pictures from her childhood, her days as an art student, and her courtship with her German husband, as well as those of her young children modeling mother-made knitwear, and later designs done in collaboration with her daughter and featuring glamorous teenaged grandchildren as models. How wonderful to live that long!

The writing is pithy, entertaining, and almost as if Elizabeth, who passed away in 1999, was amongst us blogging today. Shelob asked me which was my favorite so far, and I have to say that her descriptions of ski outings in the Alps back in the 1930s really reminded me of my mother's stories of skiing at Sugarbowl while in high school, and my own adventures backcountry skiing when in my late teens and early 20s. So far, this account has been my favorite.

Visit Margene's blog for pictorial inspiration to get you out skiing, snowshoeing, or snowboarding; I love winter! We get to wear more wool, and go out and play in the snow.


Blogger Marguerite said...

I recently bought Knitting Around also and have enjoyed it as much as you. It's still on my nightstand and I'm still debating starting a PiR2 shawl even though I've decided not to knit one right now.

Some decisions are more firm than others.

7:10 PM  
Blogger KnitNana said...

EZ's books are next on my list...along with Barbara Walker Treasuries.
Ahh...there's so much to fill my time with that has nothing to do with work! I need to buy a lottery ticket and see if I win - lolol!
Your review inspires me to make this book my next one!

6:11 AM  
Blogger margene said...

I think one reason you don't have the views I do is that you LIVE in the mountains. I love the way winter looks and wearing wool. I need to get some snow shoes so I can enjoy winter more.

8:41 AM  

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