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For Kitty, With Love

September 10th, 2013

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Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.

To be a needleworker of the gift-giving sort is to live your life with one eye on the calendar. As I write this it’s late summer,­ but I’m already thinking of December. I have no choice. The holidays inevitably require a bit of gift knitting. If I hope to show up with something other than a ball of yarn and a promise, the planning must begin now.

Let me clarify that I am not a knitter of the everybody-gets-a-matching-hat-and-mittens variety. I admire those folks. They have largesse. They have stamina. They have stout, resilient hearts; because to be a needleworker of the gift-giving sort is also to live your life in a perpetual state of heartache. Or maybe I mean heartburn. Probably I mean both.

One of the hard lessons we learn when we fall in love with needlework is that not everyone has fallen in love with needlework.You finish that first really successful crochet hat, and it’s beautiful and it fits, and it’s so much nicer than anything from the store, and you think of all the people you love who are walking around in store-bought hats.

Your heart, it breaks.

So you stock up on yarn and patterns and start whipping out hats. This one gets a hat, that one gets a hat, hats all around! Wrap ’em up! Pass ’em out! And for every hat recipient who screams with joy that she will never wear anything else ever again, ever, not even to the beach or fancy weddings, you have five who glance at your visible expression of affection rendered painstakingly in yarn and say, “Oh, thanks,” put it back in the box forever, and change the subject to whether their goldfish is depressed enough to need talk therapy.

Your heart, it breaks.

This is why it’s easier to get a kidney from me than a pair of socks. Yarn is precious. So is time. Yarn plus time is a luxury gift. Not everybody is deserving of it, not even the people you might think to put at the top of the list.

I once had a friend–we’ll call her Trudy–who was quivering with excitement at knitting a spectacular cabled afghan for her dearest childhood friend’s wedding. She spent two months swatching and planning an afghan so elaborate and original that it could well stand among the great cultural achievements of our age. I’m serious: Warhol’s Marilyn, the music of John Cage, and this afghan. She balked when faced with the cost of the yarn (I won’t tell you­—I’ll just say there was yak involved); but this was an heirloom gift for a friend who’d been there for her first scraped knee. They had been allies through braces, breakups, college all-nighters, and evil bosses at terrible entry-level jobs. She was the kind of friend you know will run to your house after you die and toss all your trashy novels into the fireplace, then tell everybody at the funeral you were deeply into Proust.

Trudy finished the afghan and left it elegantly wrapped among the wedding presents, feeling smug. She waited for the reaction. The hugs and the happy tears. She got a note that said, “Thank you for the cute blanket.”

Visiting the newlyweds a few months later, she spotted it lying in a corner of the guest room being chewed by the cat. “I guess he loves the flavor!” said the bride.

“At least,” said Trudy, “the stupid cat appreciated the fiber content.”

When I contemplate giving a piece of handmade anything as a gift, I always pause and consider whether I could handle it being used as a cat toy. If the answer is no, I give something store-bought.

Unless I decided to make a cat toy. Cat toys are fun to make.

For Kitty, With Love by Franklin Habit | Lion Brand Notebook

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.

  • Carole

    Oh yeah, been there. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Elyse

    Thankfully, I have yet to encounter such a problem, as I am not confident enough to actually make something for someone else. I’ve been knitting for a while, but I have no self-confidence. I will keep this in mind throughout my knitting career.

  • Ukalady

    My perspective is different–maybe it’s because I don’t consider myself a “knitting” person. As a very beginning knitter who never intends to/dreams of going further than simple scarf samplers, I’ve made one complete baby blanket (that so-easy diagonal one with the yarnovers to put ribbon in on the edges using some pretty spendy yarn) for my first grandbaby and am in the middle of another (different pattern–this one actually involves *counting*!) for grandbaby number two–and I have the yarn in a drawer (oh, the dreams of when I’ll be called upon to make it into something!) for number three. I know there were lots of “oohs” and “aahhhs” over that first baby blanket but I also know they never really “used” it. Well, I get photos of it sometimes, but I can tell it’s not a really well-loved item.

    But I don’t care. Truly.

    I had so darn much fun doing it, I was pleased as punch that I actually finished it and I didn’t mind that I left mistakes in it (perhaps that’s why it’s not a lovey??) ’cause I didn’t know how to fix ‘em. And, mostly, in my very busy life that doesn’t involve anything like crafty stuff, those blankets are a message to *me* that I took time–and a certain amount of risk–to do something completely different.

    So what that it’s not used? My heart’s not breaking; I recall so fondly the winter evenings I labored over that thing and prayed for that baby-to-be without ceasing (well, in between a bit of puzzled untangling and sighing). Whether or not they “use” it doesn’t change a thing in my mind; this non-knitting grandma isn’t going to keep making them or using the time to pray for the new little one soon to be joining our family. But, perhaps, as I said, my view may be this precisely because I’m *not* a knitter…

    • Ukalady

      [blushing] typo. I changed the line and didn’t change the word I wanted. It should be: …this non-knitting grandma isn’t going to *stop* making them…

  • Auntdidi

    I too have been heartbroken, but then i knitted my niece a hat and her bff asked for one then another! I Am now ” the greatest aunt ever!!!” Past heartbreak gone forever.

  • The Knitterly Hooker

    I learned this lesson a long time ago… The very hard way. Ingratitude is something I detest.

  • Bossmare

    In response to the heart break comments, I now only knit for charity and myself.

  • Connie in Connecticut

    I crochet for the love of it!!! My mother tortured me as a kid to learn all her “crafty” ways but I stubbornly refused to outwardly learn but subconsciously I learned anyway. After her death in 2001, I took a class at JoAnn’s and realized that I already was more advanced than I ever knew I was!!!
    Over the years, I have made many much loved blankets, throws, baby blankies, dog jackets, cat throws, cat toys than I can keep track of. My greatest pleasure is seeing these items of beauty on the backs of chairs, couches, in childrens cribs and on youth beds, on my friends pets and on my own floor with my cats tossing their favorite toys around while another snoozes on their favorite snuggly blankie!!!
    Plus, I know that even if the recipients don’t gush about my creations, my cats sure enjoyed cozying up to me as I was creating my newest beauty!! And everyone of them has passed the snoozing test by me and my cats!!!

  • demelzabunny

    I’m sorry, I think it’s HORRIBLE when people don’t appreciate something you’ve spent umpteen hours creating. They should at least give the item the respect it deserves by either giving it away to someone who appreciates it or putting it away so the cat can’t get at it!!! Honestly, I just don’t understand some people and their so-called values.

  • demelzabunny

    Last year, I offered to make a friend a hat because she lost her hair due to chemo. It was a simple knitted hat w/a crocheted rose on it. She loved it. I showed the picture to my aunt; she requested one, too, so I made one for her. Then I made one for my cousin, who wears it all the time when it’s cold. Then the cousin’s friend wanted one, so i made him one. Then a friend of his admired his, so I made him one, too.

    Moral of the story: only make stuff for people if you’ve offered to make them something and they’ve said they REALLY want it, or if they’ve seen your creation and actually ask for one like it.

  • Criscris 76

    I know something i have made is truly appreciated when it has been slyly stolen from my closet or drawer. Then the theif will usually show up one day wearing it, and saying it looked better on them anyway.

  • NeatoBandito

    So true…so very, very true! I remember making a sweater for my sister-in-law. I did the same thing as Trudy..agonized over the yarn and then spent every waking moment knitting this sweater for her. She had the proper reaction when she opened it, realizing the effort if nothing else. But the following comment crushed me…’it must be nice to make things…they’re so cheap to do.’ When was the last time you looked at how much yarn cost???????

  • Magpie

    wow… my mom had a similar experience to Trudy… silk and angora full circle shawl to bestie… the cat sleeps on it and shreds it. :( Said bestie now gets gift certificates…

  • Ruthann

    I have been knitting chemo-caps, “no hair day” hats. did 300 last year and am sure every one of them was appreciated and I enjoyed doing them. This year have again added hats and scarves to the list for kids at school who wouldn’t have one otherwise, it might get lost but at least they got the chance to have it of their very own. Still doing the chemo hats but not as many this year.

  • Texas Grandma

    Franklin, you are so right. I spend all year crocheting afghans, shawls and hats and knitting socks for grandchildren and all I get (in January) is “thank you they’re pretty) I think I will use them and save them all for charity when I die and send the money instead. It will free up my time for another hobby and charity work.

  • Kellie Gregis

    You said a while back something along the lines of : A hand made gift is like sex. To get it from me either I have to like you immensely or you have to pay a fortune for it.

    If someone wants a hat or scarf or mitts (working on a pair now) the first one is a freebie and I’ll whip something up in Vanna’s Choice or other reasonably priced yarn. My mom currently wants a lace cardi, in cashmere no less, and I told her she’d have to pay for yarn, needles, blocking board and pins before I’d even start. Hopefully she’ll appreciate the sweater more.

  • Kathie Stack

    I love,love,love your article! Thanks for putting words to my feelings,I thought I was the only one with these ideas (are you worthy?) that I have had since my last baby shower blanket gift!

  • MimiB

    Ya know, I’ve really enjoyed reading all these comments, observations and experiences with gifting yarn and thread projects… and added my own yesterday. But I can’t let the topic go without a more positive tale.

    Two years ago, when it was a fresh phenomenon and related merchandise was not readily available, I noticed that my two young grandsons were mad for Angry Birds. So, when I saw a newly shared hat pattern featuring the bird characters, bought some inexpensive but suitable yarn and made each 6 year old a bird hat, one blue, one red. I thought they were pretty cute, but my daughter and daughter in law weren’t so sure. When the boys opened their gifts, their eyes got huge and the hats were immediately put on. For two days they wore them non stop. One even slept in him.Then, we had a chance to take them to a very famous amusement park that is home to a certain mouse. The boys insisted on wearing their hats. They were certainly easy to spot walking around the park. And people were actually stopping them to ask where they’d gotten them. A HIT !!

  • carol

    gave my 90+ year old mother hand knit socks== after her death at 94 I found them in a box marked for goodwill with several other personalized family type gifts. Mother love—- not.

  • Candice

    I had a similar issue with a beautiful crocheted shawl.I absolutely hate to crochet. I struggle with it and it causes the old tennis elbow to come back with a vengeance. 100% handspun alpaca crocheted with a tiny hook as a thank you. Guess what i have never seen it on or in pictures ( this gal takes a lot of pics!!!! I mean a lot !) oh well but it definitely taught me to be wary who i give things too.

  • Pam

    So often this happens to me, I used to knit new babies something pretty only to be told that ,they don’t do hand knits, so now I knit Mother Therese’s Vests for premmie babies and they are greatly appreciated

  • Joy

    My mother had a friend who lovingly knitted her grandchild a baby blanket. She later found it in the dog’s bed, never said a word, but picked it up and took it home.

  • William Elg

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    on friday I got themselves a Land Rover Range Rover since
    getting a check for $4322 this last month and also ten-k lass-month.
    it’s certainly my favourite job Ive ever done. I actually started four months/ago
    and immediately began to earn over $74.. per-hour. why not find out more site46.com

  • Bee

    Loved this!

  • Rachel Kasch

    When my sister was pregnant with my first nephew I knitted him a blanket in shades of green and brown because she said she was doing a jungle theme. She never said anything, but she has posted many pictures of Young Son clutching his blankie or wrapped in his blankie or otherwise using it. I know it’s appreciated by the person it was intended for.

  • Polly Ritter Garvey

    I knit a pair of socks and my daughter knit a scarf for my sister for Christmas one year. She turned and said, “I wish someone would knit me something Iiked sometime. I haven’t knitted for her since.

  • C. Vera S.

    Please everybody, don’t give up on giving. I’ve been burned before too. I once gave an afghan as a wedding present. When I didn’t hear from the recipient, I tactful asked her mother about it. I was told, “She’s much too busy to write thank-you notes”. Needless to say, when the time came around for her baby shower…
    Recently, I was finishing up a baby afghan at the hospital where I work, while my husband was having surgery. It was a new pattern I was just making for the fun of it. One of the employees from another department asked me shyly how much I would charge to make one for her first great grandchild, due in a few months. I told her I never charged anybody and that she could have it if she liked it. Turned out there was a very difficult family situation. She told me the next day she showed it to the little expectant girl’s mother, who was touched by the gift, and started to cry.
    It made up for all the unwanted gifts I ever made!

  • Maria

    I made two beautiful baby blankets for a niece and a cousin. I have no idea what’s happened to them. The one for the niece was the first blanket I had ever made and the making of it helped me through a difficult time. I decided that I don’t want to know what’s become of it. And I’ve decided that only certain people can have any of my yarn crafts as gifts. :-)