The Enduring Brilliance of Elizabeth’s Percentage System

April 3, 2018

I have been catching up on some small projects recently, things that I promised my family some time ago…a jumper darn, a uniform repair and a wee jumper for a beloved doll.

Winter is coming and even plastic bodies feel the cold apparently. Our Dear Girl really really wanted a jumper for her doll companion. It was to be a jumper not a cardigan, snuggly and big enough to go over her other clothes. These were my instructions.

With approval, I picked out a lime coloured merino sportsweight in left over from a Ferris cardigan for Our Dear Girl.  Whilst I have no doubt, that there are many patterns out there for 19 inch doll sweaters, I didn’t fancy trawling through Ravelry or Pinterest to find them. Instead I turned to Elizabeth Zimmerman’s extraordinary gift to knitters: her EPS (Elizabeth’s Percentage System). If you don’t know about the EPS, it is a simple system that allows you to create a sweater to fit any sized person based on a series of percentages relating to the chest measurement.  The system is fully documented in her books Knitting without Tears (1973) and The Opinionated Knitter (2005).

It is a system that frees the knitter from reliance on patterns, making us autonomous makers (should we wish to be so). It was a revolutionary unvention when it was conceived of in the early seventies and remains a truly radical concept now amidst the current culture of hyper-consumption of knitting designs.

Based on the chest measurement and my gauge, I calculated that I needed 80 stitches for the body. From then on, the EPS is able to provide me with the number of stitches I need to cast on the sleeves, the stitches I need to increase to for the forearm and how many stitches to cast off for the underarms and all sorts of other useful bits of information. The sweater is knit in the round, bottom up, the sleeves are united with the body at the under arms and decreases every other round form the raglan shaping.

The EPS continues to delight and thrill me. There is nothing quite like a bit of DIY in the knitting department.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Glorious! And yes–what a truly liberating experience it was to encounter the percentage system and from there design my own first hand knit jumper. It made knitting jumpers from hand spun yarn seem immediately viable. I, too, remain indebted to EZ.

  2. I need to try this for a Weasley sweater some day. I feel like, although I’m getting more adventurous with knitting, I won’t have really hit a home run as a thinking knitter until I’ve made something with EPS. 🙂

  3. Alas for my rubbish maths ability! Oh the times I drifted away on flights of fancy while my maths teacher droned on and on. I always used to say “when am I ever going to need to use this?” If only he had pointed out one single practical application my ears might have pricked up! Well, I think I might have to revisit percentages! Jane could do better if she would just apply herself. I hear you!

  4. Brilliant! Happy is the owner of the beloved doll too.

    Hyper consumption of knitting patterns I can very well relate to. I have resorted to my old Rowan books and some vintage Penny Straker as Ravelry has my head in a spin. I cannot keep up with the new knitting magazines beautiful though they are and am unable to afford them anyway. I am aspiring to a Marie Wallin fairisle cardigan though.

    Lovely work ….

  5. Yes, yes, yes!! Oh, she was such a gift to the knitters’ world. I couldn’t agree more with everything you wrote, especially consumerism with knitting patterns (although I do like to support Australian & NZ designers and purchase theirs, even if I know I won’t knit it!).

    I knitted the “foxes” jumper for my son, a yoke sweater based on her EPS and also her mysterious formula for the yoke, doubling the decreases as I moved along the radius to the centre. Just brilliant! Thanks for another engaging piece x

  6. A very lovely little sweater it is! I used EZ system to knit a pullover for my husband and it worked perfectly. Her books all have a wealth of information for the novice to the experienced knitter.

  7. I have to say this, you’re a great mum to knit this for your young’un. And Elizabeth Zimmerman is a Goddess to me! I haven’t knit anything using the percentage system but I have a cardigan in my mind that might become a first project. Eek – steeking?

  8. I am with Lydia…….wherever she is 🙂 Rubbish math skills is right. EPS or the Bakers % for bread……I applaud you. Lovely sweater. She and the dolly should be very happy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *