The Woman who knitted Pi

As March is Women’s History Month and tomorrow being March 14th (3/14) or Pi “π” Day around the world, I thought I’d dedicate today’s post to knitter Elizabeth Zimmerman.


© Schoolhouse Press

I tend to think of Elizabeth Zimmerman as one of the first multi-media knitting teachers in America.  She was a fan of clear and concise knitting patterns. I have always thought of her as believing in your skill set instead of feeling punished by a pattern.

In the late 1959’s she really started to get the word out about knitting with her newsletters.  Her clever patterns helped to revolutionize how designs were written.  The old schoolhouse, that the Zimmerman family renovated in the woods of Wisconsin, remains part of the Schoolhouse Press company that she created. EZ later  entered into homes as the hostess of a public television knitting program, which can purchased as a DVD set.  Her guidance was less a step by step technique and more conversational about shortcuts  or helpful suggestions, like being at a knitting circle with an expert cohort.

She also unvented* the Pi Shawl. The pi shawl isn’t actually based on the pi = 3.14 you probably learned in school. Rather, it’s based on the geometry of pi that shows us the relationship between a circle’s radius and circumference.

Elizabeth Zimmermann’s elaboration on the Pi Shawl:“When you set out on the annual family trip naturally you have to take your knitting; something has to keep you sane in face of the possibly quite ferocious situations you will be up against in the next two weeks. Try a shawl. I have a circular shawl for you which starts at the center, has absolutely no pattern, and only six shaping-rounds in the whole thing.”

Elizabeth Zimmermann’s instructions shows how this geometric relationship, requires only six shaping rows in the entire shawl. The sticky wicket part is increasing the rounds so you end up with a flat pi shawl and not a bowl of pie.

Partly_eaten_apple_pieSo tomorrow you can eat your pie and wear one too!

* “One un-vents something; one unearths it; one digs it up, one runs it down in whatever recesses of the eternal consciousness it has gone to ground. I very much doubt if anything is really new when one works in the prehistoric medium of wool with needles. The products of science and technology may be new, and some of them are quite horrid, but knitting? In knitting there are ancient possibilities; the earth is enriched with the dust of the millions of knitters who have held wool and needles since the beginning of sheep. Seamless sweaters and one-row buttonholes; knitted hems and phoney seams – it is unthinkable that these have, in mankind’s history, remained undiscovered and unknitted. One likes to believe that there is memory in the fingers; memory undeveloped, but still alive.”

― Elizabeth Zimmermann, Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac


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