Knitting rebellion: Elizabeth Zimmermann, identity, and craftsmanship in post war America

Maureen Lilly Marsh, Purdue University


At mid 20th century, hand knitting in the United States was practiced as a minor and fading chore of the domestic economy, with decreasing pattern publications in national women’s magazines, and the demise of Vogue Knitting Book by the late nineteen-sixties. By 1990, it had rebounded into major new publications in periodicals and books, new and revived artisanship practices, gallery exhibitions and major international conferences and gatherings. A driving figure in this resurgence was the knitter, writer, teacher, designer, and publisher Elizabeth Zimmermann. With her initial publication in 1955 up to her retirement in 1989, Elizabeth’s philosophy of knitting stressed each knitter as an independent craftsman responsible for material and design choices, in opposition to the uncritical, or “blind follower” of the patterns knitter of the knitting industry publications. This shift in the practices of knitting intersected with increasing feminine autonomy and increasing interest in fiber arts to shape a new identity of ‘the knitter’ as original and self-determining craftsman, rather than the mere producer-reproducer of knit objects for domestic consumption. Building on both Sandra Alfoldy’s cultural/craft history work in Crafting Identity (2005) and on Holland and Lave’s cultural studies work in History in Person: Enduring Struggles, Contentious Practices, Intimate Identities (2001), and on a significant archive of contemporary book and periodical publishing, as well as the collection of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s papers at Schoolhouse Press, Pittsville, Wisconsin, my work traces an evolving popular craft process as identity formation and cultural production.




Curtis, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American studies|Cultural anthropology|American history

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