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Play Nice!

May 8th, 2013

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Writer/illustrator/knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column on the life of a yarn crafter.

I was at a yarn shop a few weeks ago, troubleshooting a thumb gusset in the company of those who understand the importance of good thumb gussets, when the topic of steeks came up.

A steek, in case you haven’t run across the term before, is an opening cut into a piece of hand-knit fabric. There are many ways to create one, but they all end by taking scissors to your knitting. Snip! It gives some knitters the shakes to even contemplate this. It shouldn’t, but it does.

That’s not what I want to write about today.

I mentioned to the group that I’ve launched a class in which the students cut steeks, then sew zippers into the openings. Zipper installation is another thing that gives some knitters the shakes. It shouldn’t, but it does.

That’s also not what I want to write about today.

“I’d take that class,” said one of the junior knitters at the table. There was a murmur of agreement from the other junior knitters. The most junior shook her head. “I’d like to,” she said. “But I’m not good with a sewing machine.”

“You don’t need a sewing machine,” I said. “In my class we use crochet to secure the edges.”

“Forget it,” said the least junior knitter. “I don’t crochet.”

“It’s only basic crochet,” I said. “Even if you haven’t done it before, you can pick this up in sixty seconds.”

“No,” she said, under a slightly curled lip. “I don’t touch crochet hooks. Ever.”

Several of the others–junior and senior–echoed her. No hooks. No hooks ever. Well, maybe to pick up dropped stitches. Never to crochet.

“I don’t crochet,” she said. “I’m a knitter!”

That’s what I want to write about today.

Play Nice! An essay by Franklin Habit for Lion Brand

Certain rivalries make sense. Certain things don’t mix. Yale and Harvard, Capulets and Montagues, coyotes and roadrunners.

But knitting and crochet? Why should these be kept apart?

It seems that everywhere I travel–and I spend most of my time on the road, ministering to yarn addicts–I run into knitters who openly hate hooks and hookers who reject knitting with an almost religious zeal.

It wasn’t always so, if the pattern books produced before the second World War are any indication. Many of these publications–including Lion Brand’s own Lion Yarn Book from 1916–offered patterns that mixed knitting and crochet together. I don’t mean just on the same page, I mean in the same project. The editorial assumption seems to have been that if you knew how to do one, you probably had–or would be willing to acquire–a passing familiarity with the other.

It makes sense. Crocheted fabric has certain strengths, knitted fabric has others. Why not use each where it will do the most good? Heck, why not use both for the sheer beauty of the contrast? If you put a pretty crochet lace collar on a sweet knitted cardigan, will the finished product explode?

You’d think so, based on some of the talk I hear.

I have a friend, an otherwise reasonable woman, who once spent three weeks knitting and ripping and re-knitting facings for the front of a cardigan that drooped like an untended houseplant. She could have spent ten minutes shoring up the same edges more effectively with two rows of single crochet, but she refused to do this on the grounds of Textile Purity.

And then there was the time I pitched an idea to a well-known crochet magazine for a piece about a hybrid pattern, written in the 1880s, that was ninety percent crochet with the balance in very simple knitting. The editor declined with regret, explaining that she had once before let a few rows of knit and purl into her publication–and it took months to answer the subscriber mail calling for her head on a doily.

When the present Great Divide began, and why, is something I haven’t been able to determine. I always ask the zealots why they feel as they do, with the hope that one day I can promote a reconciliation through understanding.

In summary:

Among the knitters, there seems to be a strong conviction that crochet hooks can only turn out three things: novelty toilet roll covers, lumpy afghans, and sweaters too stiff or heavy to wear.

Among the crocheters, there seems to be an impression that somehow learning to knit means giving in.

If I might address both groups at once, please: You’re talking crazy.

I’m not saying you must grow to love both equally. Life is short, yarn is long. Play with it however best pleases you. But do please consider, at least for a moment, that the folks on the other side of the imaginary minefield may have something useful and lovely to share with you. It won’t hurt to take a peek.

—–

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.

  • Esther

    I knit and crochet! But I must admit to being a Knitterly snob. I feel that crochet has its place and can be very useful when in need of a fast project. I have some beautiful crochet layettes that were loving made by a dear friend for my babies. But I much prefer the look of knitted fabric for sweaters and hats. Although I did just crochet an adorable Hello Kitty hat for my daughter. Oh well- I just enjoy creating beautiful things for my friends and family!

  • sdayton

    My grandmother taught me to single/double crochet when I was about 6, but never did any projects until my oldest son was born (now 20), then, re-taught myself to crochet. Picked up knitting when it recently became “in” about 10 years ago, but had to teach myself to knit by using a book written for kids. I enjoy both, but have a terrible time with tension and gauge; prefer crochet for blankets/afghans where gauge doesn’t matter so much but knitting for scarves/hats.

  • Elizabeth

    I learned to knit, sew and embroider at five, taught myself to crochet at 13, to tat at 15 to weave at 19 and am learning how to do bobbin lace at 64. What’s wrong with learning something new? Keep your mind sharp!

  • RiaKdB

    I used to knit a lot, and did some crochet. Now I weave mostly. I also do some kumihimo, hope to pick up again on macrame, and even have some spindles and a bit of fleece and would learn to use those if only time allowed…..
    As for the person calling lefthandedness a “handicap”, back in first grade my handicraft teacher refused to teach me knitting because I was a (gasp) unrepentant lefty; so my (righthanded) mom taught me. I probably knit “righthanded” but what the heck does it matter whether you work left to right or right to left, you work with both hands and both needles anyway.

    • RiaKdB

      Meant to add, if it involves yarn, or fiber in general for that matter, and you use your hands to create with it I LOVE it, love it all!

  • Bradley Cadek

    I knit and crochet and have never considered, until now, combining both in the same project. My wheels are turning and I think a crocheted lace ruffle would be the perfect finishing touch to the baby blanket sitting in my project bag. Hint hint Lion, give us some patterns that incorporate both!

  • Carol Helms

    One grandmother taught me to knit my other grandmother taught me to tat and believe it or not, my dad taught me to crochet. I had learned the basics of all three by the time i was 8. (I am now 64), Over the years I have created many, many items with all mediums and enjoy creating things using what ever seems best for the item. I made my granddaughter a beautiful sweater that had elements of all 3. Finished with a tatted lace collar. I think favoring one over the other, for any reason other than what works best for a particular piece, is ridiculous. Relax, enjoy and explore all the exciting possibilities!

  • SBK

    Franklin, I loved your essay. Like Elizabeth Zimmermann, my mother knit, but did not crochet. Mom also did not let me use a Knitting Nancy, because it wasn’t proper knitting. Duplicate stitch and embellishments were not considered proper knitting, either. She taught me to knit somewhere between 5 to 8 years old. Later on I taught myself to crochet from a book. Now I am an avid knitter who can crochet and has no fear of embellishments. One of these days I might even try a Knitting Nancy.

    I don’t understand Textile Purity, either. You are making something for someone to enjoy.

  • Rachel

    I picked up crochet first, because I am left-handed, and could actually find left-handed instructions. Knitting instructions always said that knitting left-handed uses the exact same motions as knitting right-handed. Uh-huh. I believe only right-handed people say this. I have since learned to knit (left-handed combination continental, so I hold the yarn in my right hand, and knit *all* knit stitches through the back loop, while the purl stitch is the same). Now my biggest problem is translating English (or Western) patterns into combination and adjusting the slants.

  • Adrienne

    I am a bi-stitch-ual person. Love both types of yarn craft – maybe not equally – but I do enjoy both. So many options, so little time – it’s great!

  • Amy Jewel Campbell

    I love making all yarn crafts & people that snub any of the yarn crafts are just limiting themselves in their creativity. :)

  • Jayster6213

    I do both and tat also. Consider me a weirdo, but I enjoy all three crafts.Anyone who doesn’t is narrow minded in my estimation. I could be wrong, but don;t think so.

  • ArleneSmith

    I have agree with author 111%!!!!! Both Knitting and crochet have their merits and I love to “applique” a huge crocheted granny square onto the front of a simple stocking stitch knit cardigan for special effect and contrast. We all love to work with yarn in one way or another and the love should be mutual.

  • Lois

    I’m a knitter, basically because it came easily to me. Crochet is a whole other thing entirely! I have tried and tried to get it, but to no avail. I’ve even resorted to a professional teacher who, after several sessions, told me to forget it.She said that teaching me was even more difficult than teaching a “leftie”. I would love to incorporate crochet in my knitting projects, but I guess it just isn’t going to happen. :(

    • KCO

      For me, crocheting came easily. But knitting – my mother tried to teach me several times, each time resulting with the needles flying across the room. It wasn’t until a few years later that I sat down with a book with lots of detailed pictures that I finally figured out the mysteries of the needles. Main point: Don’t give up. If you can figure out one, you are capable of learning the other. Forget that “professional.” Try a different teacher, or a local group, or a picture guide like I did, and be patient with yourself. Give yourself permission to fail, but don’t give up.

  • Terry Engh

    Terry Engh

    YEAH FRANKLIN! Knitting and Crocheting go together like a horse and carriage!

  • http://www.facebook.com/margaret.stribling.7 Margaret Stribling

    I learned to crochet before I started school (52 years and counting). I have never learned to knit simply because i have never taken the time to master it. I crochet everything from bulky yarn afghans to worsted weight sweaters to thread angels and snowflakes (you can’t do that with knit). I am currently crocheting a matching skirt and jacket from a crochet magazine and my next project will be a suit by Doris Chan. I love the lacy look and feel of thread crochet and lace weight yarns. I have never been able to reproduce the delicacy of crochet lace with knitting so I gave it up. I have found that with the right weight yarn and the right size needle i can produce a garment with the soft drape and hand of knitting. It takes a little experimenting with your guage but is worth the effort. I am always looking for patterns for clothing and have found some very beautiful ones on the web.

  • Netagene

    One grandmother taught me to crochet when I was 6 or 7. I taught myself to knit by a book, when I was about 28. I became legally blind when I was 59 (almost 10 years ago). I still knit some (I am maybe only an advanced beginner, maybe a bit more), but with poor eyesight, I find crocheting is easier (because it’s easier for me to rip and fix with a hook, than to have occasional stitches slide off needles. But I still try, and usually have at least one knit WIP (and a few crochet ones)!

  • Dr Margaret

    I knit and crochet and have been doing both since forever. Love them both and do each equally well. I tend to switch back and forth between the two techniques because my hands get stiff/sore when I do either for long periods of time. I also get bored doing the same thing for very long, so rotating both rests my hands and keeps up my interest.

  • Penguina

    This is the first I’ve ever heard of this. I taught myself to knit when I was 8, and learned to crochet (with a 00 hook and thread!) when I was 9 and have been doing both equally since (some 50+ yrs!) You are so right that they lend themselves to different projects, and can combine. Take broomstick lace. (Or leave it back in the 60′s, if you want.) And it’s fun to try the variations of each. Plus I like to take a break from one to do the other. Knit sweaters are softer and more supple, but I can’t imagine knitting a snowflake.

  • lov’n both

    I’d love that 1880 hybrid pattern

    • http://www.lionbrand.com/ Zontee

      Hi there, you can check out Franklin’s column featuring historic patterns on Knitty.com, and you can order the turn-of-the-century Lion Brand book (a reprint) that he mentions here: http://www.lionbrand.com/6030/PictPage/1922098381.html

      Hope that helps!

  • meagaletr

    I crochet… Took me a long time to get over my distaste for knitting. Now I can knit and crochet, but I refuse to purl! ;p

    • Demelzsabunny

      Aw, purling is just knitting in reverse. I could show you…

  • Jennifer

    I knit and crochet. I learned to knit first. For some reason that has caused me to hold my hook oddly, which makes it difficult to teach others to crochet. I must say that I prefer to crochet, but am working on improving my knitting skills. One thing about crochet – if the cat runs off with my hook, I might drop one stitch. When she runs off with my needle, I’m in big trouble. No catnip for her!

  • Fiona

    I knit, hand and machine, I crochet, I tat, make hairpin lace, bobbin lace and goodness knows what else. To do one craft to the deliberate exclusion of others seems crazy to me – I would be so bored. It is such fun to ring the changes.

    • Demelzabunny

      Amen to that!

  • kat3crazy

    I learned to knit long before I learned to crochet. Currently I am doing a lot of crocheting because I’m making potholders and other items that I prefered crocheted. I’m going to start making socks and those will be knitted.
    BTW, I’ve crocheted a pair of socks so I’m not saying that it can’t be done.

  • Cosmic Cupcake

    Delightful article. And the advice about keeping an open mind and being willing to try new things and fresh approaches– well, that’s pretty much Advice for the Good Life, with and without yarn.

  • Cosmic Cupcake

    And BTW, what’s so objectionable about novelty toilet roll covers anyway? And funky-animal stuffed toys and potholders too? Any of these can be pure silly FUN. And what’s objectionable about that?

    • Demelzabunny

      I think the “objection,” as you put it, is that many knitting snobs feel that’s all crochet is good for. They are lovely projects that lend themselves well to crochet, but there are other lovely things that can be crocheted, too. It’s just that the knitting snobs are too snobby to realize it. (I both knit and crochet very well, and try not to be snobby about either.)

      Our knit/crochet group has a few people who crochet for charity: one lady creates crocheted turtles for our local hospital ER to give kids when they come in. And another lady crochets lap robes for the residents of a local nursing home. Crochet is great for these projects also because they can be completed so quickly. Last year, our group put together a squares afghan – some knit, some crochet, whatever people wanted to do – and donated it to a local young man who had his legs blown off in Afghanistan. Make love, not war, I say! Esp. where yarn is concerned.

  • Gaylethe of the Soft Crafts

    I knit and crochet, but being aware of the “enemy camps” I don’t admit either to the “other” group. :-D

  • Hooks4me

    I taught myself to crochet many, many moons ago. My daughter showed me how to knit (which she prefers), but I’m not very good at it. So…I stick to what I know. I can crochet for HOURS, including while watching TV or traveling. It calms my nerves and relaxes me. Knitting is just not my favorite thing to do, but I at least know how to do it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/julieannwarrington Julie Warrington

    I love both knit and crochet! I am currently working on a knitted child’s sweater with crocheted waist band and cuffs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/debby.m.tingle Debby Miller Tingle

    I love this… as an avid crochet maniac I have felt looked-down upon by knitters…mostly those who run small yarn shops. Almost like they felt sorry for me. I learned how to knit when I was 7 years old, and was near 20 before I learned to crochet. It’s just my preference!

  • nancylee

    Bravo, I have long been a combiner of crochet and knitting. Good article. nancylee

  • H. ‘the ripper’

    for many years I avoided knitting. In crochet, when you rip, you only have one stitch to pick up.
    I now seem to knit more than I crochet. The resulting fabrics are different, so, it depends on what you wish to accomplish. My opinion is that one (both boys and girls) must know both techniques.
    One must overcome the mental block, if one can knit, one can crochet, and vice-versa.
    And, enjoy doing it!

  • Ann Werner

    I have been a crocheter for over 40 (!) years (self-taught). I have just learned to knit! I’ve taken (& am still taking) some wonderful classes. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE both of my crafts!! I feel that my crochet experience has really helped me a LOT with my knitting. In fact I’m in the process of making a 12 month Block-of-the Month blanket (knitting) and am going to make my squares into a sweater instead of a blanket. I plan to put the squares together & finish the edges with crochet! Both of my daughters & one son-in-law are knitters & one daughter also crochets. In our family there is no yarn rivalry!

  • Demelzabunny

    My grandmother taught all of us to do both. That’s what women ALWAYS did, and it has held me in good stead all my life. I like to do both, and yes, the results are different, and both beautiful. Combining them in one project produces a thing of beauty and a work of art indeed.

    I have personally found crochet to be much easier to master, so all those knitters out there who refuse to crochet: get off your high horses and learn! You’ll enjoy it, and be very pleased w/the results, which are faster to accomplish than w/knitting, I might add. But a question for you: how do I convince long-time crocheters to give knitting a try? Or another try? If I can do both, anyone can, yet these people (on both sides) seem to think they just can’t. I find it very disheartening. Thanks!

  • detroitdiva47

    Can’t we all just get along! I crochet and knit – took classes in both at the same time, although Mom taught me the basics of knitting may years ago. Find crocheting easier, especially ripping out errors (never really mastered that for knitting). I’m left handed and managed to pick up continental knitting, as it just seems more natural for both hands to be involved. And yes, LYS, get with the crochet program.

  • Nutty for knitting AND crochet

    I too love to knit and crochet – and sometimes together… I am using both at the moment to make some “nests” for orphan baby squirrels at our local wildlife sanctuary – and the babies love to snuggle in! I do know people who are afraid of the other style… until I get my hooks into them ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/sue.hutchings.370 Sue Hutchings

    I started with knitting, took up weaving as well, then taught myself to crochet. Am I weird? Who cares: I’m always warm.

  • Jihi

    I learned to knit and crochet from my mom when I was very young. I would like to make something that incorporates both. Some yarns are better off using the crochet method. I had to unravel a part of a pinch that was knitted with chenille, but it came loose so I had to crochet.

  • Louise Primeau, Quebec

    I have been knitting for 54 years, but, as I grow older, my love for the smallest yarn and needles wont fit with the time I have left. I know that eventually I will have to turn to crochet if I want to finish anything! In the meantime, I do use both, finding that finishing any edge with crochet makes it look nicer. It is also useful to assemble Warm Up American afghans . I have bought a small booklet explaining the basics for crochet and it is waiting for when I decide the time has come. Until then think of me as a person who really likes boths.

  • hookluvr

    I second the comment about knit patterns being translated to crochet. I love both crochet and knit, I’m still learning to knit though, btween beginner and intermediate level right now. A pattern with knit and crochet that’s more than a crocheted border or edging would be most welcome from anywhere. Ive learned a few things I didn’t know before by reading the comments, they are all great.

  • ssfred

    Thank you for writing this and all the replies of the people who also do both. Walked into a weaving store that also advertises knitting and you would think I killed someone talking about crocheting. Glad I do both also…I quickly changed to talking about knitting as to not “Offend” a whole room of knitters. Oops :)

  • Margaret Kelly

    I love knit and crochet, but despise anything about sewing. Therefore, I crochet my sleeves into my knit sweaters, use my knitting skills on crocheted projects that call for needle and thread.. Although I am comfortable with needlework, please deliver me from those scary sewing machines and those eye-bending needles with which to sew clothing. Shudder.

  • Alie

    Gee, when I first learned to knit, I always had a crochet hook handy. How else to fix all my dropped stitches! I thought everyone did too. Really both skills are relatives at heart. Great story, Franklin, and thanks everyone for all the life stories.

  • Carol Jordan Soaper

    I learned years ago that crochet makes lovelier lace and knitting makes better garments because of its give. I love both and sometimes use both in the same item! I think people who can do both techniques are at an advantage, utilizing the strengths of each technique and also having a better understanding of the structure of textiles. I encourage yarn lovers to have both techniques in their repertoire.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pat.laster Pat Laster

    I knit, crochet, embroider (crewel and thread), and I’m seriously considering some weaving…If there’s yarn, I’m there.

  • Suzanne

    I taught myself to crochet as an adult. Then I taught myself to knit and discovered I prefer it, as it is, for me, a more pleasant and relaxing activity. I love the simplicity of it: simple loops interlocking without the twisting of crochet stitches. I find the motions more soothing to do. I can knit and read subtitles on foreign language TV programs at the same time. I find knitting easier to do than crocheting: I don’t have to be always counting because all the stitches are right there on my needle and also, knitting is a bit easier on my wrists than crocheting. (Some people find exactly the opposite is true for them, so it’s probably a matter of individual technique.) I prefer the look of knitting, generally speaking.

    But the anti-crochet snobbery of some knitters is ludicrous. Both are good skills to have. Crochet is better for making sturdy things than knitting. Crochet is faster. Crochet makes amazing lace and great edgings. Crochet is great for seaming things together. I have never seen a knit bookmark that was as functional (and only rarely one as attractive) as the simple ones I whip out quickly with my own very modest crochet skills. I like to look at other people’s complicated renditions of words and pictures in filet crochet and am in awe of some of the photos of “hyperbolic crochet” I’ve seen online.

    Why look down on either skill? I still do both and enjoy both, although I prefer knitting. I don’t look down on needlecraft skills I don’t possess either (for example, tatting or naalbinding). Why would I? All skills are potentially useful to have; why should I care what someone else’s chosen hobby is; and, besides, I am genuinely glad to see old, less necessary skills (hand knitting, blacksmithing, whatever) being kept alive for another generation, even if I don’t choose to practice them myself.

  • Piqued

    I admire the complexity of knitting, but I don’t have the skills to interpret the charts correctly to get what I think the stitch is supposed to be. I love cables, haven’t figured them out. Plus, knitting seems to take a long time to me, and I can get quick results with crochet. I took a crochet class to beef up my crochet skills. While there, a shop employee was finishing a knitted piece for a client with crochet. If the client hadn’t been a knit snob, she could have finished her item for a fraction of the cost and spent the money she saved on luxurious yarns. Heck, I could have finished her knitted item and spent the money she paid me on luxurious yarns.

    How much trouble will I get into if I say I prefer cross stitch? Will I cause riots if I say I dislike the long and short satin stitch in crewel embroidery and avoid kits with an over abundance of this heinous stitch? Will I be forgiven for having fallen off the silk embroidery band wagon (to mix metaphors)?

  • Kristiana

    i just love to read this. I was one of those with eyes of prejudice ;-) I used to think that crochet is somehow second class (sorry!) art to knit because I met more crocheters than knitters and thus thinking that with so many crocheters why bother learning the art itself. Call it a injustice pride and silly misconception but that’s what I feel back then. And because no knitter I know was available to teach me I would be content not to touch either form of arts. Several years later I found crochet publication that is elegant and classy and that’s where my brainwave take turn. I learn to knit soon afterward. (How silly is that? To think that something is better without even trying myself. I know, laugh at me as you please, ^_^). Now that I can do both, I see them complement each other, they save me from boredom and I just feel content that I employ both to suit my need and style. Just my two cents.

  • Linda P

    I knit and crochet. I learned to crochet first and then to knit. I find that some crochet patterns look more interesting. I am making vest that has both a crocheting pattern and a knitting pattern . I am making the crocheting pattern because the crochet pattern is more interesting to look at.

  • watersda

    I knit and crochet and on any given day I have a project of both going.

  • day

    I first learned how to crochet when I was nine. I learned how to knit two years ago, thanks to a YLS. Now I enjoy both and I do go into phases when I prefer one over the other. I would love to try a pattern that involves both, but I want to improve my knitting skills before I do.

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