Elizabeth Zimmermann

the opinionated knitter

Top 5 Favourite EZ Books

1. Knitter’s Almanac: Projects for Each Month of the Year (Dover Knitting, Crochet, Tatting, Lace)
2. Knitting without Tears: Basic Techniques and Easy-to-Follow Directions for Garments to Fit All Sizes (Knitting Without Tears SL 466)
3. Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitting Workshop
4. Knitting Around: or Knitting Without a License
5. The Opinionated Knitter

Elizabeth Zimmermann is the nicest person I have never met. Bizarrely, for me, the year of her death (1999) happens to also be the year that I picked up the needles and re-learned what my Nana had tried to teach me as a child. EZ captured an ideal, a lifestyle approach to knitting that existed in a world before the internet and elevated it far above the “women’s work” attitude of the time.

As you may (or may not) know, she became so well thought of that her obituary was printed in the New York Times. As far as I am aware her books have never been out of print (quite a feat for craft books written in the seventies) and are a touchstone for many. I have listed them in my own order of preference and I encourage you to look beyond the black and white photos and the old-fashioned formatting to see the pure goldmine of information.

Elizabeth Zimmermann Books

1. Knitter’s Almanac: Projects for Each Month of the Year (Dover Knitting, Crochet, Tatting, Lace)

Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac: The Commemorative Edition of the Bestselling Classic

knitters almanac

This is easily my favourite one of her books. Quite simply it is a blog written before the internet and like all blogs it follows her musings, rememberings and craftings of her life as it happened. It is divided into the twelve months of the year and outlines the projects she was working on and the things she had been up to. I personally own both the (now battered) pocket-sized version and the swish new commemorative edition, and despite having two copies I never lend them out! I often dip in to get a pattern and find myself drawn in and re-reading the chapter, which then results in me re-reading the book.

Favourite patterns
I love her mitred mittens and totally agree that May is the best month to make them in (small, light and portable and ready long before the first bite of winter). This pattern works especially well with self-striping yarn as the chevrons are shown off nicely. I also like her re-solable socks and I plan to use it as a basis for a pair of ruby slippers.

2. Knitting without Tears: Basic Techniques and Easy-to-Follow Directions for Garments to Fit All Sizes (Knitting Without Tears SL 466)

knitting without tears

This is the first knitting book that agreed with (and encouraged) my personal belief that patterns should be the starting point of an idea, not a be-all and end-all. Before this book I always felt that my free-fall approach to knitting was something I would have to grow out of (as everyone else used patterns) and not something I should embrace and run with. EZ not only ran with it she spent her time actively working out new ways of doing things. This is the first time I had come across circular needles and the idea of knitting jumpers in the round (I never did like not knowing how it was going to look until the final sewing up). This is more of a technique book that a straight forward pattern book, but there are patterns in here too.

Favourite Pattern
This book has so many techniques and alternative approaches that I rarely manage more than half an hour reading at a time before I am off testing out what I have just read. Using circular needles for jumpers is the best piece of advice I took away, as well as understanding how different increases and decreases affect the fabric.

3. Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitting Workshop

knitting workshop

This was a companion book for her American TV series and is much more structured as a pattern book than her other work. It is a good touchstone for wardrobe basics (such as jumpers, shawls and socks) and has multiple approaches that read more like instructions in a letter from a friend than a formal book.

Favourite pattern
This has to be the baby surprise jacket (which I knitted for my first nephew), it is fun to make with an unusual construction that gives you just two small seams to sew up.

4. Knitting Around: or Knitting Without a License

knitting around

In many ways this is an extension to the almanac, it contains “digressions” which give an insight into her childhood and early married life, peppered with techniques and patterns. This makes it an easy book to read cover to cover (rather than one pattern at a time) and gives a window into what it must have been like as a first generation American in the post war years. Like her other books it is interesting to see the logic behind the patterns as well as possible variations.

Favourite pattern
It has to be the Mobius (which is like a twisted cowl). It is a great little pattern for those times when a scarf gets in the way. I am also a massive fan of the EZ percentage system which makes working out the cast on for jumpers so much easier.

5. The Opinionated Knitter

the opinionated knitter

This is the printed up copies of her newsletters that she sent out in the sixties. Again, it is basically a blog before the internet existed and you get a sense of the knit community of the time as she answers questions and advises techniques her readers have asked her about. A good range of techniques and patterns (the baby surprise pattern is also here) that builds nicely alongside her other work.

Favourite pattern
Again, I use it more as a technique book than a straight forward pattern book. I like the various approaches to jumpers (although I’m not brave enough to try steeking!) and the interesting construction approaches to hats. As ever, the pieces seem simple enough but often have an elegant execution in the technique which makes it more interesting to knit.



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