Lion Brand Notebook

News, Ideas and Information for Crafting with Yarn

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It’s a Purl, It’s a Chain, It’s …

January 7th, 2014

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I was sitting in an airport, waiting for the flight to a teaching engagement, winding yarn. Travel with a swift being sadly impractical, I was making do with the back of an empty chair. Without warning, a screeching ninny plunged into view and grabbed at the unwound skein.

“So cute!” she screamed, jangling a fistful of wool in one painted claw. “Are you, like, doing some crochet or something?”

“That was the plan,” I said.

But it was too late. The skein had become a tangle so dense not even light could escape from it.

Working out occasional small snarls is part of knitting. There’s no avoiding it. But really big messes like this? Forget it. I’ve always taken them as a sign that I wasn’t supposed to knit with that yarn, anyway.

When I got to the guild I mentioned what had happened and displayed the ruined skein.

“It was so pretty, too,” I said. “But now it’s dead.”

“No it’s not,” said the Chief Guild Lady. “Somebody get Eileen.”

There was a general chorus of agreement: Eileen must be got.

There’s was nothing in Eileen’s physical appearance that would have made you look at her twice. She was nice-looking. Pleasant. Neatly dressed. Polite. But Eileen had a special talent.

“Give it to me,” she said. I handed her the tangle.

Ten minutes later, she handed back the yarn–not only free of snarls but wound neatly into a ball.

I was gobsmacked.

“How did you–?”

“I’m just good at it,” said Eileen, smiling shyly. And she melted back into the crowd.

I think Eileen was selling herself a little short. That had been no run-of-the-mill jumble; you could have lost a pack of hounds in it. No, Eileen wasn’t merely “good at” untangling yarn. She had a super-power.

Everybody in the guild knew it. They all laid their hopeless cases at her feet, trusting that in short order she would have set matters to rights. To be a proper superhero, all she needed was a cape, a mask, and a lair.

The more of you I meet, the more I firmly believe that every needleworker is a bit of a superhero. It’s a rare practitioner of the yarn arts who doesn’t possess a knack for something that reduces most others to tears. It may not enable him to leap a tall building in a single bound, but it may get him unscathed through a chart more riddled with hazards than a minefield. It may not stop a plot to destroy the planet, but it may stop an otherwise law-abiding knitter from stabbing random passersby with an angry needle.

Every villainous tangle in Gotham has a sworn enemy–and she or he may well be sitting in the chair next to you. More likely, she or he is sitting in your chair right now.

What, I would very much like to know, is your superpower?


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 (, 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

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.

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  • Hermesgoddess

    I actually find untangling yarn to be calming. It’s zen-like to me… I actually wish I had some yarn to detangle now… I could use some zen…

  • Andi

    Love the Knitter’s Hall of Fame

  • Deb

    I like to crochet; but I have several friends who loom knit and I can fix any mistake they make…

  • esp

    I also am sought out to untangle anything and everything! The extra fine gold chains or the transparent fishing line are probably the most fun. I chalk up the pleasure/satisfaction of saving such from the trash, not only because I have always been environmentally aware, but have a deep desire to bring order out of chaos. It is wonderful to “meet” others of the same ilk!

  • Betty Rindal

    Been knitting for 64 yrs now and have developed lots of superpowers, untangeling, reading patterns and converting to charts, intricate cable pattern decoder as well as lace knitting and error fixer. Been a teacher superpower of many friends and acquaintances thru the years. Always happy to share.

  • linda little

    I can take a stuffed frog and crochet a pair of shorts for him so no naked bodies in my house NO pattern just do it.

  • Cathy

    I have been known to untangle a mess of yarn, but not that quickly. Sometimes I get aggravated and need to put it down and walk away for a little while, but I can usually get it untangled. I need to get out more so I can meet these people with super powers that you speak of. :)

  • honeybee33

    I can’t believe your timing. Just this morning I was talking about how my friends who are newer to knitting think I’m a genius because I can kitchener together 1×1 rib with slipped-stitch edges, cable crosses and short-rows like a BOSS. Our super-powers might all be different, but we almost all have in common a quite humble, dismissive attitude about what it is we’re so good at: “oh, this? you could do this if you tried.” 😉

  • D.

    Yarn and strings of Christmas lights are my specialty. What frustrates others, soothes me!

  • linda

    love this story!

  • Grannie K

    My husband is my untangler and doesn’t realize how precious that is.

  • margieR

    I untangle, I can rescue stitches that have wandered off on their own. My mother had knitting needles in her hands most of her life. When she passed away one of her charities set up a chair with a picture of her and yarn and needles on it as part of their memorial service. My mother would make sweaters of all kinds and frog them out when she got tired of them and would knit something else with the yarn. Personally, I think I have a lifetime supply of yearn, even though I bought two skeins yesterday for a project for a friend!

  • mabell5455

    I am knot/mess untangler. Not (pun) only yarn, string, or thread but also necklaces, shoe laces in a knot so tight my hubby was going to cut them off his boots, but piles of kids trying to play “Twister” too. I am knot (pun again) a patient person when it comes to waiting on things to get done, but give me a mess to untangle and I will work on it diligently for hours if need be.
    Thanks for all the great info Lion. You’re GGGrrrreat!