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


Washing a Bison with a Unicorn

I recently won the battle with a beaded cowl kit, which I bought from The Buffalo Wool Co.  I really love the people behind this fiber company and I have always had a great time working their yarn on my needles.

I never consider a knitting or crochet project finished until after a good soak and blocking.  When I started knitting I took a lot of cues from my mom.  She is a wonderful knitter but rarely strays from simple projects and never soaked or blocked her scarves or hats.  As the projects I made became more complex I started looking to other mentors.  Once I washed and blocked my first piece I found out what a difference it makes it to every item.

For this piece I used Unicorn Fibre Wash.  I really like Unicorn Fibre products. The line is from Virginia, which makes it a local product for me. I originally bought the product as a hopeful laugh, because who doesn’t want to be ready when a dirty unicorn shows up?  You can order the product online or at your LYS. Fortunately my LYS, Uniquities, carries all three products.

Nuts and boFiber-Unicorneditlts:

Unicorn Fibre makes three cleansing products – Power Scour, Fibre Wash, and Fibre Rinse.  The Power Scour is a wonderful product for washing raw fleece  or – as it is used my house – to clean hard stains on laundry day. Bye-bye red wine stains!  The Fibre Wash is great for cleaning and refreshing all garments. I like to use it in the wash when seasonal garments come out of storage. The Fibre Rinse is a nice final touch to add softness and has anti-static benefits. I find it helps accentuate the drape. All products are biodegradable & earth friendly.

© Unicorn Fibre

I’ve had great results with the whole line and was glad to use the last of my unicorn wash to bathe my beaded bison.
Name another craft where that is a truthful statement. 🙂

© moldavitesofa

I set the garment to soak in the Fibre Wash and then drained the water when I was ready to block. You can also add a teaspoon of Fibre Rinse into the last clear water rinse but I had run out.

The cowl came out beautifully.  The soaking process washed out any of the oils that had transferred to it when I was knitting it at circles, on the train, or at home.  The Fibre Wash really helped to open up the lace work and even out the stitches in the beaded section.

© moldavitesofa

If you want to try any of the Unicorn Fibre products, you can ask for free samples here.

For more on the bead bison cowl, please see my project page on Ravelry.

What do you do to finish your projects?

Knitting for solitude or for socializing

Most people learned how to knit or crochet from a relative or from a class at a local yarn shop(LYS). Today I hear about a lot of crafters who are learning online – either with YouTube or any of the online crafting websites like Craftsy.

I love the online videos – see earlier post about New Stitch A Day –  and I’m happy so many people are finding a way to learn at their own speed and in their own place.

My transition from only knitting in solitude to being part of several knitting circles was certainly slow.  I originally only started knitting as a way to get a large rectangular shawl.  My mother knits but would only make me scarves and basic knit caps.  The argument that a rectangular shawl was just a large scarf didn’t work on  her.  Once she digs her needles in, she won’t be moved. So she taught me the basics while I was recovering from foot surgery.  My first piece, made of fluffy pinky chunky yarn, was knit when I was still on pain killers.  the 15 stitches she cast on for me zigzagged to 32 and back to 15.  But I didn’t care, or maybe the painkillers helped take away the need for perfection over the fun of practice.

When I finally started my shawl, I only did it in the privacy of my own home.  I couldn’t fathom the knitters who would bring their project bag on the Metro or to lunch meetings. I didn’t feel confident enough to join a knitting circle but my mom convinced me to just visit her group.  They meet on Wednesday at a local Panera and I found myself looking forward to going. It was nice to have other crafters ask about my project or volunteer a different way to fix a problem.

Slowly I added another knitting circle to my calendar. Where the Panera Group is an easy knitting group, with most of the charity projects being whipped using simple patterns, the next group meets at our LYS and is made up of a mix of beginner to advanced knitters.  I have learned a lot from them and through those connections have really been able feel confident about my knitting. I’ve recently been invited to join one on Saturday mornings.  There isn’t much that will roust me on the weekends, but I rise and shine on Saturday.

I still enjoy knitting at home on the sofa, especially when everyone else has gone to bed and it is just me & my needles. But I wouldn’t give up any of my knitting groups. Even for an extra snooze.

To read more about the benefits of knitting and knitting groups, see the link.


Welcome to the first Fiber Friday in the Land of Nod.

There are a TON of helpful knit/crochet videos on YouTube. I really like  A New Stitch a Day for Johnny Vasquez’s style of teaching and the clean shots of his work.

He is one of the crafters who inspires me – since he took his passion and found a way to make it his business.

Where do you turn for help with your fiber projects?

Lap Lanes, a crochet project

I am clearing out my cotton stash by making washcloths for the DFW Fiber Fest contest

DFW Fiber Fest is encouraging folks to support one of their favorite charities:The New Start project.  The program collects washcloths & distributes them to MD Anderson’s radiation facilities.  Patients receive them after their final treatment as a gift to wash away the markers used during radiation & begin their new start in their battle.  

I started toying around with the pattern and thought I’d share 🙂