Long Thread Podcast: Meg Swansen, Knitting Maven

Season 6, Episode 3: Beginning under the wing of her legendary mother, Elizabeth Zimmerman, Meg has spread her wings to become one of the most influential and best-loved figures in the knitting world.

Linda Ligon Feb 11, 2023 - 4 min read

Long Thread Podcast: Meg Swansen, Knitting Maven Primary Image

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Keeper of knitting legacies, explorer of techniques, publisher of significant knitting books, teacher of many. In Meg Swansen’s world, knitting is so much more than knit and purl. It links music, mathematics, deep history, and world-wide communities. It is a platform for creativity, invention, and technical mastery.

Music, you say? That’s how Meg proceeds merrily along a pattern round of several hundred stitches. She sings the repeat. Or at least chants it. And those long, long pattern rounds comprise her favorite kind of knitting: color-stranded Fair Isle designs. The interplay of color and motif and deep tradition are of endless interest to her.

Mathematics are integral to the craft, too, in Meg’s world. Her mother’s famous EPS, Elizabeth’s Percentage System, has empowered generations of knitters to devise their own patterns to suit their own gauges and their own body measurements. Now Meg’s son Cully has taken the concept to a new level, riffing off the famous Baby Surprise Jacket with new formulae to suit almost infinite sizes, shapes, and styles. It seems to be a family thing.

Impeccable technique matters to Meg, not just for its own sake but for the stories it tells of knitters in far-flung countries and cultures. She’s introduced the knitting world to the traditions of Latvia, Armenia, Estonia, Iceland, the Scandinavian countries, the list goes on and on. And it’s not just the motifs and styles of these cultures, but the ways of working, the ways of tending to details, that have been refined over many generations, even centuries. Meg has added her own tricks, too, and takes great pleasure in all the difference a simple slip of a needle-tip makes in her signature increase.

From her cozy, iconic Red Schoolhouse in the Wisconsin woods, Meg reflects on the hundreds of individual knitters who have come to the annual knitting camp that her mother started in 1974. So much sharing, learning, and teaching have come from these gatherings, and Meg is careful to credit the individuals that have made special contributions. While the camp happens only in the summer, it provides the spirit for a vast community that connects through her semi-annual newsletters, occasional book launches, teaching forays, and social media posts. So much more than knit and purl.

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