Do you know this Woman?

October 1, 2008 at 8:12 pm Leave a comment

If you recognize her immediately, good for you!  If not, and you have any interest whatsoever in knitting, then please let me introduce you right away!  Although she now is with us only through her books, videos, patterns and “children,” she still has so much to teach!  I’m talking about Elizabeth Zimmermann, knitting heroine.  She guided knitters gently into a new, free, creative way to approach our knitting, and I personally believe she planted the seeds that have lead to the current flowering of creativity and innovation in patterns and knitting techniques.  Without Elizabeth’s guiding light, today’s growing ranks of avid, excited knitters would be doing something else.  Perhaps getting into all kinds of unsavory mischeif.  Anyway…

I was fortunate to encounter Elizabeth’s writings when I was still a young and impressionable knitter who just couldn’t stop changing things in the patterns I was trying to follow.  She gave me the license to change away, and more.  And now, 20 or so years later, I still find her writings and patterns to be fresh and knitable.

One Elizabeth Zimmermann classic is the Baby Surprise Jacket.  It is knit all in one piece, in garter stitch, and is a puzzle of sorts in that as you are knitting it looks rather like a misshapen blob.  But trust Elizabeth, and in the end, a few folds and two simple seams, and you have a lovely little jacket:

This one (which I did years ago) is made of handspun merino and angora, and I keep it with my spinning samples for demonstrations just to show people how soft handspun can be.  I’ve made others… none handy to photograph.  This little jacket was (and has been) so popular, that Elizabeth eventually gave into demand and created an adult-sized version, known as the Adult Surprise Jacket. (ASJ)

The  ASJ has long been on my “to do” list, and this summer I went so far as to go though my stash and pick out some yarns that I thought would work.  This is a wonderful project for using up left-overs, odd-balls, yarns that just never got used.  Elizabeth once suggested to pick one yarn to match every blouse you owned so that the sweater would match everthing in your wardrobe.  I think it would also be a great pattern for using your handspun (or combining handspun with commercial yarns).  Her instructions guide you in how to make the sweater to the correct size regardless of what gauge you are knitting at — so any yarn you like can be used for this pattern.

So, anyway, I was already planning to make an ASJ this fall, and then today on ravelry (if you haven’t heard of it, go to and request to join –another knitter thing!) I discovered a group of fellow Elizabeth Zimmermann “children” who were getting ready to do a knit-a-long of the ASJ… starting TODAY!  I took it as a sign… time to get out those needles and yarn and get started!  Anyone want to join in?

Here are the yarns I’m thinking of using (unless I decide to switch to handspun).  I’m working from a version of the pattern that appeared in Knitter’s Magazine issue 60 (Fall 2000), which is already drafted for a gauge of 4 st./inch.  The instructions are also in her books “Knitting Workshop” and “The Opinionated Knitter”, as well as being available individually from Schoolhouse Press (, the publishing company that she founded with her daughter Meg Swanson (another knitter/designer extraordinaire!)  Time to go get needles and get started!


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