Tricia Holman was born and grew up at Wonnacott Farm in Devon. Her mother, grandmother and great-aunt between them knitted all the children’s socks and jumpers, so it seemed natural for Tricia to want to knit some bootees for her new baby sister, who was born when Tricia was 10 years old. Two years later, for another new baby sister, she managed a more ambitious matinee jacket.
What made this different from any other girl of her age was that her mother’s sister was Elizabeth Zimmermann, at that time living in the United States and beginning to make a name for herself as a knitting designer and supplier of good wool. In the 1920s a Swiss au pair had introduced Elizabeth to the German way of knitting (holding the wool in the left hand) and several years spent in Germany in the 1930s had given Elizabeth new ideas about knitting. From the late 1950s, copies of Elizabeth’s twice-yearly newsletters, written for her American customers, arrived regularly at Wonnacott, where they were eagerly read and the new techniques were tried out.
Elizabeth Zimmermann’s career blossomed in the United States, with a TV series, several books and an annual summer school for knitters. She became one of the most revered and innovative knitters of her generation. Her daughter, Meg Swansen, continues her work of designing and teaching to this day. She also continues to run a mail order and publishing business, Schoolhouse Press, that Elizabeth started in order to supply good quality wool from around the world. Elizabeth died in 1999, but her ideas and designs continue to inspire knitters world wide.
Tricia married and moved away from Devon. She continued to knit, though knitting itself seemed to be a declining art. However, knitting for her new grandchild coincided with the resurgence in the popularity of knitting. A new generation has discovered that although we no longer have to knit out of necessity (knitwear being cheaper to buy ready-made), knitting itself is therapeutic and the end product is a designer garment, a one-off work of art that is the envy of all one’s friends.
There was such a reaction to the garments that Tricia made, and so many people asked ‘How DID you do that?’ and ‘it’s so different from the way I was taught – could you show me how it’s done?’, that she decided to run some workshops. Having attended one or more of these, many knitters find they are more confident and are inspired to try new techniques that give them a greater sense of control over their knitting.