I’ve been thinking a lot lately about impermanence. My grandfather passed away last winter, shortly before Thanksgiving, and there was a lot I wish that I had said to him and heard from him before he went. (Don’t worry–I got to say and hear the important things: “I love you” and “I love you, too.”) I felt–and still feel–the same way about my maternal grandfather, who passed away when I was twelve. I miss them both.
This is a personal loss. There’s another kind of loss, the loss of someone you feel as if you know, even if you never met that person. This is how I feel about Elizabeth Zimmermann. She was a Knitter. But she was so much more than a Knitter–she was a teacher, a mentor, a friend to everyone who ever read her books. She told stories about her life, what she and her husband (“The Old Man”) did all day, how they lived and worked and rested. She encouraged people to take their knitting (and their lives) into their own hands, to take risks, and to take charge. I wish I could tell her how much she has influenced me, but I can’t.
I’m not the only one who feels this way about Elizabeth. I recently picked up the Commemorative Edition of Knitter’s Almanac, published to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s birth. I already owned the little paperback version, which I had read repeatedly and loved. (I hope, one day, to actually make one of the patterns from it.) One of the main reasons why I bought this book (besides the pretty color pictures) was that it had an introduction by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, a.k.a. The Yarn Harlot.
I adore Stephanie. I’ve been rereading her blog archives recently, enjoying again her triumphs and struggles as a Knitter. I settled in with her introduction and a cup of coffee, prepared to enjoy her inimitable writing style and humor.
I got that, but I was also struck by how she wrote about Elizabeth Zimmermann–what an influence Elizabeth was on her, how Stephanie felt like she was the only one who knitted for the love of knitting itself, how Elizabeth’s words showed her that she was not alone.
I finished reading and thought a bit. In this age of e-mail, it’s really, really easy to reach out and tell someone what you think of them or how they’ve affected you. I couldn’t write to Elizabeth Zimmermann, but I could write to Stephanie, who has influenced me and my knitting in a very similar way to how Elizabeth influenced her.
This is the e-mail I wrote:
Hi. I’m Amanda, and I’ve been reading your blog practically since I became a knitter almost six years ago. At Knit’s End was one of the first knitting books I ever read, and it was like meeting–you know the kind of person that you didn’t know was your friend until you met them, but when you finally met, it just clicked? Like that. Here was someone else who knew what I was thinking and feeling about knitting and, on top of that, felt the same way.
Today, I picked up the commemorative edition of Knitter’s Almanac at the bookstore and, as soon as I got home, happily turned to your introduction. I enjoy your writing style, and I always take something away from what you say (even if it’s “never knit a sweater without checking gauge because you will knit a tent, and here is photographic proof of same”). I read about what Elizabeth Zimmermann meant to you, how she validated you and your love of knitting and wool, how she encouraged you through her words and experiences, how she inspired you to take risks and to do what you love. I read about what an influence EZ was in your life and how she helped you grow, as a knitter and as a person. I read how, even though you never met her (I am assuming this, but I also assume that, had you met her, you would have mentioned it), you read her words and felt as though you knew her, because she shared that love of knitting with you.
As soon as I finished reading that, I knew I had to write to you and tell you something very important.
Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, you are all of that to me. I am the knitter–and the person–I am today partly because of you. From you, I learned that it is really okay to love knitting and the challenges and puzzles it presents. It is okay that knitting is not just a hobby, but a passion. It is okay to modify patterns and do my own thing. (It is also okay to completely rip out experiments that don’t work–the yarn is still there, after all.) You are also one of the reasons why I tried spinning. (I still spin occasionally.)
It is okay–I take that back, it is FANTASTIC–to be a Knitter.
From one Knitter to another–Thank You.
With Gratitude and Love,
It felt really good to write that. I sent it off, felt a warm glow, and went continued knitting the pullover I was working on. (Pictures later–I’m done with the body and about to start work on the sleeves.)
A short time later, I checked my e-mail, and Stephanie had written back. This is what she wrote:
I have to tell you, that this is just about the nicest email I have ever gotten. I could wax poetic about that fact for a good long time, but the truth is that this is just really, really darned awesome.
I wish that Elizabeth could have read what I wrote about her, the exact way that I read what you wrote about me, because it was pretty freakin’ awesome.
I’m forwarding it to my mother.
Thank you, and you don’t know how much.
If there’s someone out there who has influenced you as a Knitter, as a Writer, as a Bricklayer, as a Whatever-Your-Passion-Is, let them know. Tell them how they’ve helped you become the person you are. You’ll make their day, and you’ll never regret it. Tell them while you can.