September 10th, 2013
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.
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.