May 8th, 2013
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.
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.
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 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.