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Inheritance

February 7th, 2013

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Editor’s Note: It’s that time of month! Knit-wit Franklin Habit joins us for his regular column.

At odd moments throughout her otherwise pleasant life, my mother has been confronted by the sight of me, her only son, with my pants on backwards; with my fingers stuck together by glue; trapped in the bathroom by an aggressive cat; frantically hunting for a pair of glasses I was holding in one hand; and standing sheepishly under a dripping splotch of tomato soup that had spoiled the pristine white of a newly-painted kitchen ceiling.

Every time, she has turned to my father and issued the same official statement: “He gets this from your side.”

My father, the diplomat, has never countered with examples of what I get from her side; but the list is long and certainly includes my propensity for flying into fits of rage when thwarted by inanimate objects—including my knitting. If you could break yarn by hurling it against a wall, this room would be neck-deep in shattered bits of sweater.

Happily, that isn’t the greater part of my inheritance.

If creativity, like male pattern baldness, runs in families, it was inevitable that I’d wind up creative. (And bald.)

A few months ago I was sorting a basket of sewing notions left to me by my paternal grandmother, who had worked as a professional seamstress for eight decades. She was the first person I remember doing needlework–a piece of crewel embroidery in a large hoop. She was, on the sly, my first needlework teacher. When I was a child, boys as a rule were not permitted to partake of embroidery. But my grandmother did not observe that rule.

I picked up a pen and started writing down the things she had taught me: threading, basting, running stitch, back stitch, feather stitch…. Within a few minutes I’d covered an entire sheet of paper. I made another list, covering another sheet, for my maternal grandmother. Then another, for my mother. And another, for my father. And another, for my mother’s eldest sister, Eva.

I began shuffling the pages around, then linking them together, and realized I was building a family tree–but rather than births, deaths, and marriages, it was a record of attitudes, passions, and techniques. It was my lineage…of creativity. Here was the line of needlework, there was the line of problem-solving. Not to mention the line of teaching, the line of making do and mending, and the especially pronounced line of why-buy-that-when-I-can-make-a-better-one.

Or maybe it’s less a tree than a river–the creative impulse flowing from one generation into the next. Sometimes it broadens or narrows, but it all ultimately bubbles from the same sources. Sometimes it evens flows backwards. Many folks learn knitting at mother’s knee—my mother learned knitting at my knee. (That sounds a little weird, doesn’t it? Sorry. I get it from my father’s side.)

Where do you get it from?

Franklin's Family Tree

—–

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 KnittingYarn Market NewsInterweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkCast On: A Podcast for KnittersTwist 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.

  • Marilyn

    Great story, makes me think about who I get certain attributes from.

  • melodie

    Marilyn, me to

  • JenW

    My mom is amazingly talented at sewing and knitting. I know how to do both (reasonably well), but learned neither from her other than rudimentary basics. I think she knew better than to possibly ruin a happy moment with a lesson about something that can be frustrating! So, I learned to sew at a class taught at the sewing-machine store at the mall (when I was about ten), and learned to knit at a local yarn shop (when I was about 30). What I did learn from my mom, however, is an appreciation for the skills required. And I think that’s pretty precious.

  • Ann

    I love this, you were and are a wonderful son and I wouldn’t want you any other way. Love, Mom

  • Mazomanie Knitter

    I recently sorted and organized my 4-generation craft closet. As I held their items, I was reminded of crocheting rag rugs with my great-grandmother, learning knitting across the table from my left-handed maternal grandmother, being warmed by my paternal grandmother’s quilt, and learning embroidery and sewing from my mother (who taught me cross stitch when I was sick in bed at age 7 and regretted it when she had to pick stitches out of my sheets – I ran out of embroidery cloth). I miss them all, but feel that they are still with me when I knit or crochet. The men in the family were woodworkers, so I’ve been blessed with many gifts and tangible memories. Thanks to my angels!

  • Libby

    This is a beautiful essay. What is our legacy?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ruth.lekson Ruth Lekson

    My step-grandmother was infinitely patient with this little girl who asked too many questions and said *show me how* far too often. Grams motto was *waste not, want not,* and she pieced quilts from tiny scraps and the bags that chicken feed came in. When I was 9 I begged her to teach me how to knit and she set me to making 9 inch squares to be sewn together by the Red Cross for wounded soldiers in WWII. Then it was socks and she told me if I could make a pair of socks I could make anything so I did, and I have. She was not a blood relative, but a lover of yarn relative–so for 70+ years I’ve honored her by doing my best and making anything!

  • Sally Thomas

    This is great. The family tree of creativity is very special in my life too.

  • Peggy Hagberg

    My maternal Grandma raised 3 girls alone in the slums of Panama. Antonia sewed and crocheted for the hookers and the nuns. I had a closet full on clothes and hand knit sweaters made my Mom. I am very proud of being a long line of creative people in my family.

  • Raymonde Gagnier

    I think I got most of it from my blind aunt Madeleine, who used to knit lace, cables, colour work and weave complicated patterns. My mother would set up the huge loom and then my aunt would lock herself inside the room and count everything in her head. Her example was very important to the little girl I was. She was my model, the living proof that you can achieve what you set your mind to!

  • Sondra

    Wonderful! It made me smile. I truly wish the world could go a bit backwards before the days of electronic wonders when children learned grand skills at grandma’s knee. BTW, you were a cute little boy!

  • Nancy Clark

    I love your story. My grandmother taught me to knit, crochet, tat and quilt. I feel so blessed to have been a part of her life. The first crochet project was a granny square purse. Each of my squares was a different size and shape but she had me finish it just the same. I still have that first crochet project and it makes me smile at her patience with me throughout it all. I always marveled that she could look at some knitting or crocheting and tell you exactly what stitches were used and wished I could do that some day. Well, that day has come and I wish she were here so I could share it with her. Thank you for the fond memories.

  • Dona Coffey

    My grandmother sewed for years and crocheted until she died. One of my aunts even saw her hands moving as if she was crocheting while she was in a coma.
    My mother always sewed while grew up and taught all he daughters how to sew. We each had our own machine so there would be no problem. She still crochets and gives a great deal of them away to Project Linus.
    My younger son made a quilt when he was 11. It brought a tear to my eyes when I saw him pack it in his car to bring to college.
    Thanks for the great article.

  • mistea

    Definitely looks a lot like my creative gene tree.
    Love the picture.

  • Bag Lady

    My Aunt taught me to crochet, sort of, she told me I was useless and would never get anything right. Luckily my mother told me her sister always just had to spoil things for others. 60 years on and I still have a crochet hook beside me in with my pens, sketch first, then do it!!

  • Cecelia

    My grandfather taught me how to knit and he was a retired RN. I am now 69 and enjoy knitting. I am not a great knitter, but I find it restful and creative enough to do small projects and some afghans. You are truly blessed with creativity and more…a wealth of good loving people in your life.

  • Maddytn

    My grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was 5 years old. It all started with miles and miles of chain stitch. Her love for everything-yarn came to me and I, in turn, passed it to my granddaughter. Some of our best times together include shared patterns, new yarn, and crochet time with the TV off (at Emma’s request!). By far, the best emails I receive include pix of Emma hard at work ones displaying newly completed projects.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000283212571 Cheryl Frye

    My grandmother taught me to knit when I was 7 or 8. She was right-handed and I am left handed. She couldn’t find a leftie to teach me so I learned rightie. She had the patience’s of a saint. Many dropped stitches, guages that were so tight, I gripped my needles so hard that the actually had a curve to them by the time I was done. I have so many great memories of her sitting with me and going of my work and making me fix what was wrong and explaining why it was wrong. My Nana, another wonderful woman in my life taught me to crochet when I was a young teen. My Nana was a leftie so crochet came a little easier for me, now I crochet more than knit, but think of both of these wonderfully patience women whenever I am “yarning” (as my three year old grandaughter calls it!). I cannot wait until my granddaughter is big enough to learn, so I can pass the craft along in my family as well. Thank you for the wonderful article, it brings a smile to my face and warms my heart.

  • Debi

    It is refreshing to see a man so connected with the fiber arts and such a strong family connection, two my greatest passions in life. I crochet quite a bit and I am in the middle of a project making a scarf for my son who attends university so I decided to do one in his school colours. Unfortunately due to the lack of spare time and my many other interests it was supposed to be done for Christmas but now it will be probably done by Easter, lol. I learned how to crochet when i was in grade 8 from a kindly teacher and although being crafty all my life I have yet learned how to knit. Oh yeah it is always on my “things to do list” and I will get to it one day that is for sure. My only complaint, and I say this lightly, is that knitting seems to be so “in vogue” and crocheting not so much. I would just like to go on record as to cheer for all the crocheters out there and say “we, too are hip and cool and crocheting is an awesome art form. In closing I would just like to say you are awesome and keep up the great articles!

  • lcfrey

    Please be sure that if you want to go to The Panopticon, that you put the hyphen between “the” and “panopticon”. Otherwise, you probably won’t like what you get!

  • Kathie Boucher

    Very nice essay. I treasure the links of needle and thread flowing through my family too. Only in my case, my paternal grandmother would say to my mother, “You’re not actually letting that child play on your sewing machine?” My mother (bless her) would say, ‘She’s not playing. She’s sewing.”

  • Jean Andress

    My mother taught me to knit, my cousin taught me to crochet and my father taught me how to use a sewing machine. He could make just about anything. And now I’ve taught my daughter how to knit.

  • thestashattacked

    If we look at genetics, I get my knitting from my Grandma Barbara. She died before I was born and was the only knitter within three generations. I picked it up and taught myself, and I didn’t find out until a year or so ago that she was a very accomplished knitter.

    I get woodworking, house painting, spackling, and using power tools from my mom though. My dad taught me how to wire a lamp and how to replace an electrical outlet, as well as the basics of plumbing. Between the two of them, that’s where I learned every single home improvement skill I have.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=835964104 Deborah McGauley

    WONDERFUL essay..bet you are as much fun in person..cant wait to follow the blog..my kinda guy ;>)

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