Elizabeth Zimmermann, my knitting guru.

I thought I’d take a moment to talk about my knitting guru, Elizabeth Zimmermann.

I recently found this little clip from one of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s knitting videos titled Knitting Workshop. She is the complete reason that I knit.

I found her book Knitting Without Tears in the mid 1970’s in a unique craft shop in Berkeley titled Straw Into Gold. Since that time I have become an avid but admittedlly traditional knitter.

Her outlook on knitting was unique. A genius engineer, she could make a flat piece of knitting make shapes all on it’s own, without knitting in pieces and sewing things together. She was want to guide you with one hand and push you out the door of independent thinking with the other.

She made you think for yourself, laugh at your failures, picking you up with a gentle guidance that is the most endearing attribute of her teaching skills.

Elizabeth’s books were written by herself admittedly because she found that most of the publications were just doing it all wrong. Frustrated with knitting magazines that insisted on taking her instructions and shoving them into the new wave box of knitting in pieces and sewing things up like a garment, Elizabeth decided to publish on her own. She started with a little 2 paged mimeograph newsletter.  This little publication titled Wool Gathering, soon developed into a little digest which is still being published today.  Schoolhouse Press, the company that evolved out of Elizabeth’s publications and love of all things knitting and wool is still alive and well today, being run by her dear daughter Meg Swansen. Meg has carried on the legacy of her mother’s wisdom and added so much more to the world of knitting in her own right. It’s a fabulous family to be a part of, and a great source for one of my favorite knitting wools Unspun Icelandic.  Do check them out and see if you don’t start “thinking for yourself” when it comes to knitting.

Now, let us all take a deep breath and forge on into the future; knitting at the ready.–Elizabeth Zimmermann

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Primitive Breeds..oh how lovely you are.

Unspun Icelandic and Shetland Yarns

I’ve learned something from the primitive breeds this last month. I’ve learned to loosen up and let go. Leave room to bloom.

All this from a simple fiber, made from a simple breed of sheep. I started working with Shetland wool the first time I washed, prepped, spun and knit my own Shetland fleece into a Stonington Shawl. What an amazing experience.

Lately though, I’ve been working with a couple of pure Shetland wool yarns that are commercially prepared, and what I saw was that this prep is not much different than my own first attempts. The 2 ply is loose and relaxed. When knit up, especially in two color work, the relaxed ply allows the Shetland fibers to open up, filling the spaces within the stitches, adding warmth while keeping the garment light and airy. This is true of the Unspun Icelandic fiber too.

Here is a photo I took comparing the fibers side by side:

Icelandic-Shetland hor-sun-labeled.25

The top is the unspun Icelandic. It’s more of a roving than a yarn as there is no twist inserted into the fiber here. Under that is my own homespun Shetland. This is an example of some of the shorter fibers I drum carded then spun with a higher twist than the 2-ply beneath it, which is my original, ‘spun from a flicked lock’ product. Much more akin to the two commercial preps below it.

Unspun Icelandic is a fascinating fiber to knit with. It is much like a spinner’s very thin pencil roving, carrying no twist at all.  The long fibers stick together and carry the undercoat along with them. Those who know Icelandic wool call this a blend of the tog and the thel fibers. When you knit with this fiber, you have to learn to loosen up, let go, no tension. Pulling unceremoniously on the fiber will cause it to drift apart and separate, so it’s loose going… relax… breathe. When the fibers do drift apart, no worry, just overlap them a few inches and carry on, a wonderful life lesson in and of itself.

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Unspun Icelandic


I’m swatching for my Elizabeth Zimmermann Icelandic Overblouse pattern. This is my first time working with this unspun. The fiber is like a very thin pencil roving, that can drift apart if you’re not a bit vigilant. I’m looking for a 4 spi gauge. Often EZ’s patterns call for using the fiber doubled, which would make me feel more confident.  I love these colors.  The “cakes” of unspun hold possibilities. You can find your own Icelandic “cakes” at Schoolhouse Press.  And her is a wonderful article on the Unspun Icelandic yarn over at Knitters Review.

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I’ve started making 3×5 documentation cards for the various samples in my rare breed sampler box. The information includes a washed lock of the breed, samples of singles, combed and carded 2 ply and 3 ply yarn samplings, along with notes on how the particular breed was to work with.   I hope to knit swatches and weave swatches of the various breeds after getting them all documented.

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The Wool Community

The Wool Community.

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Rare Breed Sampler

I received a box of rare breed wool samples early this year and they’ve been sitting in my fiber closet. I’ve opened them and looked and petted them but it’s time to comb, card, spin and swatch these little gems. To record the experience with each of these rare sheep breeds and see what each has to offer.

I’m using The 2012 Olympics as a springboard and participating in the Ravellenic Games on Ravelry (a more than fiber community/forum).


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Washing wool with the Suint Method…slow wool.

One day I was reading a Spin Off magazine article about cleaning wool fleece. Up to this point I had not had the greatest luck washing my fleece in hot water and detergent, mostly because I couldn’t keep my hands off it and I did a good job of felting a lot of it. In this article I read of a fascinating cold water technique called the “fermented suint” method. The article was very basic, with little to go on as far as step by step instructions.

Take an unwashed fleece, soak it for 2 weeks in rainwater, rinse and repeat.

It worked!



See my Fermented Suint Method page for more on my how to.

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