Knitting Inspiration: Elizabeth Zimmermann and Barbara G. Walker

Happy International Women's Day from Knit Picks!

Since today is International Women’s Day, I wanted to talk about three women who have most influenced me as a knitter.  The first is my grandmother, Phyllis Fissel, who taught me to knit and who patiently cast-on and bound off for me for years before I got the hang of it. My Phyllis and Marian dishcloth is inspired by the ones she always knitted.

The second two are women I’ve only interacted with through their writing: Elizabeth Zimmermann and Barbara G. Walker. Both are national icons of knitting and handcrafts. When I started knitting again seriously in my early twenties, I found a copy of Elizabeth’s Knitter’s Almanac and was instantly taken with her warm, chatty style and the way she encouraged the knitter to think for herself when following patterns. I made the iconic February Baby Sweater for a friend’s newborn from that book. From another book of EZ’s, Knitting Without Tears, I made my first adult sweater using her brilliant Percentage System. Through her words, she helped me see that mistakes are also opportunities for “unvention,” and demystified sweater construction.

Once I had learned about bottom-up knitting from EZ, I became curious about adding stitch patterns to my garments. Here I met the brilliant Barbara G. Walker, and her indispensable collections of stitch patterns, the Treasuries of Knitting Patterns One, TwoThree, and Four. I remember looking through the First Treasury and being amazed that there could be so many patterns! To this day, I use Barbara’s books regularly for inspiration for new patterns, and to explore new techniques and skills. I always learn something and get excited all over again about the endless possibilities of knitting.

What women inspire your knitting? Let me know in the comments!


5 comments

  1. frank sally / March 8, 2017

    I know nothing about knitting but am interested in blogging and found it accidentally. The post was really well written, interesting, personal and easy to understand for non knitters. I really enjoyed it. All the best.

  2. JJ / March 8, 2017

    I’m most inspired by my sister, the super talented lacewear designer Joyce Fassbender. She taught me how to knit beyond garter stitch squares and how to “read” my knitting to learn from and repair mistakes. She’s my best friend and inspires me in uncountable ways every day.

  3. Antoinette / March 9, 2017

    My dear mum Agnes was a great inspiration.I was 5 when she taught me how to knit. By the time I was 9 I was already knitting my own twin-sets and jerseys. She instilled in me never to waste time. I have never seen her sit down without picking up her knitting. She carried her knitting everywhere even when taking us to the playing ground. And how fast she knitted !

  4. Laura / March 11, 2017

    Perri Klass (a pediatrician, I believe) used to have a column in “Knitter’s” magazine. I subscribed to it initially just to be able to read her stories. She spoke of the internal world of the knitter and wrote about things like the loved ones we knit for, the thrill of “the hunt” as we feast our eyes on delectable fibers in search of the perfect yarn for our project yet to coalesce, the need to be passionate about a project in order to carry it to fruition because there are boring parts to knitting, the importance of buying absolutely the best yarn we could afford (thank you, Knit Picks!) and the economy in that, and the normalcy and continuity of our knitting as a backdrop to our lives (I am transported to the front seat of the family car and my son still in his chirpy, high voice whenever I pick up the yarn from my first attempt at socks). She has an accessible style that drew me into knitting and assured me that this is not beyond me. She also had the courage to knit through many Grand Rounds despite the disparaging looks she received. She gets points for that one from me!
    She’s a very important person in my knitting journey. Thank you, Perri!

  5. Alice Belous / March 15, 2017

    The first of my two knitting inspirations was my mother, Marie Nana Boothe, an immigrant from South Korea who learned to knit and crochet when she had Scarlet Fever as a child. She was isolated at home and could not attend school or interact with her peers, so she learned to knit and crochet. My mother patiently taught me to knit when I was a child. Her creations still adorn my and my children’s homes.

    My second inspiration is my friend, Cindy George Shaw, who has been my friend for fifty-five years. Cindy and I met in 2nd grade and through the years we stayed in touch. While visiting with her on a vacation, Cindy encouraged me to take up knitting once again. We visited thrift stores on our trip and found knitting needles and cast off yarn. Her encouragement has bolstered me through many projects that I would have judged to be too difficult. My dear friend enjoys the search for the perfect yarn and is also side-tracked easily by the luscious yarns that we stumble upon in our “Good Wool Hunting”. Cindy has taught scores of people to knit, even her husband. She inspires me for many reasons, but is definitely my knitting mentor.