August 6th, 2012
My knitting is sticking to my fingers. As I write this, it’s ninety-four balmy degrees outside the workroom. The plants in the window box are rioting–I abandoned judicious pruning in mid-July–and just below so is a gaggle of inebriated baseball fans, lurching homeward en masse after an afternoon game at nearby Wrigley Field. Sure signs of high summer in my Chicago neighborhood: heat, weeds, and another loss for the Cubs.
A change of season seems impossible. It is hot, it always has been hot, it always will be hot. But through the ceiling comes the first whisper, shortly to become a roar, heralding the approach of autumn. There has been a shopping trip, and the neighbor’s children are trying on back-to-school clothes.
They are not happy.
A muffled voice is protesting a sweater that itches. The pounding of stiff new shoes is shaking the walls. This collar is too tight. These pants are too long. “You’ll grow into them!” says their mother.
She is happy.
Although I do hope they will stop kicking before the ceiling comes down, I’m with the kids. Decades after my final escape from pencil boxes and textbooks the words “back to school” still shoot a shiver down my spine, and in my head “September” will forever be personified by a skeleton in a hooded black gown, carrying a scythe in one hand and a Trapper Keeper in the other.
It took me years to realize that what I hated so much about school was the regimentation. Go here, wear this, do this, don’t do that, read this, write that, stop poking that with a stick or it will attack you, etcetera.
The actual learning, though–that I enjoyed. I started reading most textbooks the way some people start detective novels: from the back. I’d pore in secret over incomprehensible diagrams and alien vocabulary with genuine excitement. “You don’t understand this now,” I’d think, “but you will. You will.”
In our time, unfortunately, learning for the sheer joy of it isn’t much encouraged. Learning is what you do in order to pass the test. If it’s not on the test, you need not learn it. After you pass the test, you are free to stop learning altogether.
I much prefer the attitude of the Victorians, who (in theory, at least) believed in personal improvement through constant industry. My grandmother, who isn’t technically a Victorian, nonetheless echoed them with her constant reminders (usually as she approached me with a potato peeler) that “Busy hands are happy hands.”
And one of the reasons I’ve stuck with knitting long after abandoning countless other diversions is that it’s broad and deep enough to keep my hands not merely happy, but giddy. Downright hysterical, at times. There’s always something new to savor, even if you’re an expert (and who, really, ever is?) in a given technique. A person could knit from cradle to grave and never try all the variations of everything, although perhaps June Hemmons Hiatt (author of the titanic The Principles of Knitting) ought to get some sort of medallion, sash, or tiara for giving it the old college try.
So every fall, as the children are mournfully sitting down to spelling lists and math problems, I find myself pondering self-imposed needlework challenges for the next year. Afghans? I’ve never knit an afghan. We could use an afghan. Perhaps this will be my Year of the Afghan. Entrelac? Possibly entrelac. Have barely nibbled at it, like the looks of it, and it offers the bonus of learning to knit backwards.
Wait a minute. Entrelac…afghan?
What about you? What will send you back to school?
Writer, illustrator, and photographer Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008–now in its third printing) and proprietor of The Panopticon (the-panopticon.blogspot.com), one of the most popular knitting blogs on Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.
Franklin’s other publishing experience in the fiber world includes contributions to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Cast On: A Podcast for Knitters, Twist Collective, and a regular column on historic knitting patterns for Knitty.com.
These days, Franklin knits and spins in Chicago, Illinois, sharing a small city apartment with an Ashford spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.