Ethel Plimack - Master Knitter
by Susan Fortgang
Many of you who are associated with Sunnyside Gardens knew Ethel Plimack who has had the good fortune to live in Sunnyside well beyond her 100th Birthday. She was an exceptional person of many talents but knitting was something she was able to do with a high degree of mastery.
I lived in Sunnyside on 42nd Street on the corner of Skillman Avenue from the time I was born in 1944 until 1965. My parents lived there until 1979. During much of my youth, I was friends with Janet Plimack, Ethel’s youngest daughter. We knew each other from PS 150, JHS 125, and the Girl Scouts. We also went to neighborhood high schools.
From the time I was very young I enjoyed making things such as weaving potholders, doing horse reins, braiding lanyards, making baskets, and embroidering – an interest of my mother. Many of these activities influenced me to become an artist and affected my artwork throughout my life. As a young teenager, I became focused on knitting. Part of my inspiration came from Janet, who always wore fantastic hand-knit sweaters perfectly made for her by Ethel. Ethel was highly skilled at knitting, a master, and although she did work with patterns, she was able to construct a garment by just knowing the measurements of the lucky person who was to receive her creation.
Janet and I spent a lot of time together hanging out in the neighborhood and going to the playground on Skillman Ave. At that time, I was determined to make my own sweaters, enjoying the process of choosing the yarn, pattern, and design. I was particularly interested in Irish Fisherman sweaters and chose to make several that included particularly difficult stitches. Janet often invited me over to her house on 46th Street and Ethel became my mentor. Ethel would sit in the dining room surrounded by shopping bags containing the various projects she was working on. She helped me with numerous tasks including learning how to do button holes, how to put a garment together, how to undo a mistake without ripping out too many rows, and how to navigate intricate stiches.
Although my interaction with Ethel was brief in comparison to her long life, her instruction was an important gift to me and I continued to knit sweaters until the late 1980s. I will always value knowing her and remembering her skills some of which she passed on to me.
Ethel with Sylvia 1941
Ethel at 104
I attended PS 150, JHS 125, Long Island City HS, and Queens College before moving to New Haven where I attended the Yale School of Art and Architecture. I am a Professional Artist (painter) and have also had a career in Teaching and Education. I am married to Robert Schecter since 1967 and have lived and worked in our loft on Greene Street since 1972.