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Highlights Archives

Wisconsin Magazine of History, Winter 2011-12


Mary Walker Phillips (left), Elizabeth Zimmermann (center) and Barbara G. Walker (right) at Walker's home in 1980

Elizabeth Zimmerman, shown in the center at right, revolutionized modern knitting. Having learned how to knit from her female relatives as a child in England, she developed a clear, distinctive style that she was able to transmit to others seeking to learn the craft. "Stitch by Stitch: The Life and Legacy of Elizabeth Zimmermann" by Kathryn Parks and Colleen McFarland traces Zimmermann's life from her childhood in England, to her art-school days and work as a nanny in Central Europe, and finally to her marriage and immigration to the U.S. at the outbreak of World War II, when she began to show American knitters how to develop their skills.

A 35-Year Career in Knitting

The cover of the winter 2011-12 "Wisconsin Magazine of History"

With a passionate tirade against the unnecessary difficulties of knitting from a typical pattern for a ski sweater, Elizabeth Zimmermann, as a 45-year-old Wisconsin woman, burst onto the pages of "Woman's Day" magazine as a knitting designer in January 1955. Nothing in Zimmermann's personal history particularly qualified her to become a knitting designer. The education and career path of a professional knitter in mid-20th-century America typically would have included specialized courses offered by the major yarn companies and employment by a knitting shop or a department store's needlework counter. Yet Zimmermann's Norwegian sweater pattern launched a 35-year career in knitting that included authoring six books, 22 newsletters and hundreds of patterns, starring in three nationally syndicated instructional television shows, and establishing the first summer camp for knitters in the nation. Today Zimmermann's daughter, Meg Swansen, still runs the knitting camp, which will begin its 39th year in 2012.

Other Stories in the Winter 2011-12 Issue

This issue also includes articles on Cordelia Harvey's life and works after the death of her husband, Governor Louis P. Harvey; "culture wars" and rural schools during the 20th century; Taliesin at 100; and the architect John Randal McDonald. Also included is an excerpt from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press title "History Afield: Stories from the Golden Age of Wisconsin Sporting Life."

Award of Merit Winner

The "Wisconsin Magazine of History" is the proud recipient of a prestigious 2010 Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History's Leadership in History Awards. The awards are presented for excellence in history programs, projects and people when compared with similar activities nationwide.

Wisconsin Magazine of History a Benefit of Society Membership

The Wisconsin Magazine of History is a benefit of Society membership. Individual issues are available through our online store. Sign up for membership today and start receiving this fine quarterly magazine.

:: Posted December 5, 2011

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