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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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  • Mary Beth Mersch

    I, too, am an untangler. Many people have given me yarn tangles with the words, “If you untangle it — you can have it.” There is no better motivator. I will also freely untangle for friends. It is exceedingly calming for me.

    • marjorie

      Not untangling a skein regardless of the cost would not be a consideration to me !

  • Annie

    I love untangling too. My Dad & I were actually fighting over who was going to untangle some yarn on New Years Eve. We ended up doing it together :)

  • Susie Jones

    I am usually pretty good at untangling as well. I always think of my grandmother, who was the most patient person in the world when it came to ripping out, untangling, or coming up with a solution to a problem, be it sewing, knitting, or crocheting. she is my inspiration and if there are tangles in heaven (probably not!), she is untangling them! great article….

  • Savannagal

    What I’d like to know is “where can I find Shirl?”

    • Betsy

      Over here. Although it’s my mother’s name, it’s my superpower.

      • Anne Ohnemus

        Wow! I NEED you Shirl-Betsy!

  • Sarah Wear

    I feel like my crochet super power is learning any new stitch or technique and being able to pick it up right away. I have yet to find a crochet technique I can’t master!

    • Grace

      I’m sure you’re a nice person but I think I hate you. :)

  • Deebee

    MY mother says that in Eastern Europe, where her grandparents were born this was this custom; Upon becoming engaged, the mother-in-law to be gave the bride-to-be a tangled mess of yarn or string or thread. If she could patiently untangle it and roll it into a ball it was an indication that she would be a kind and patient wife for her son.

    • Katie M

      Great custom! Should be mandatory to graduate high school!

      • Cathy

        Should be mandatory to TEACH high school. :)

        • Dorothy Atkinson

          Especially when they tell a teacher to xxxx off and DON’T care about the consequences. After all mom and don’t believe their little darling would say something like that.

          • Cathy

            I hear so much of that and think it’s bs. Things have changed so much and it’s really kind of sad. Parents are getting kids to defy authority in all forms and they stand behind them no matter what the situation. My mom would always ask my side of the story because whenever I got sent to the principal’s office, they would just try to put me in trouble without ever asking WHY it happened the way it did. Granted, I would ALWAYS get in trouble when I got home, but my mom would take the time to make sure those in authority KNEW my side of the story.

    • Lori

      How about the son-in-law to be, did he have to do anything?

      • Dorothy Atkinson

        Even hammer a nail or two. Wash some windows, ha! ha! Just make sure he is handy around the house or at least willing to try. Course that doesn’t mean much. Mine knew how to do things, he had to be in the MOOD!! He eventually
        he would get around to it, when he was in the MOOD.

  • Norma Hunt

    the ability to read and work out weirdly written patterns I can visualize!

  • Prismaticr

    I am known, since age 7, as the “Queen of knots” I can UNDUE any knot, or yarn tangled nightmare, you hand me. I have been tested by the Boy Scouts during knot learning, and Every single yarner i meet. Bring it on!

  • Nan Palmer

    My dear Hubby is my champion untangler, doing it with patience and skill. He can also wind a ball using the swift & ball winder to perfection. My superpower? Still working on it. Would prefer not to be champion starter of projects to completer of UFOs.

    • Cathy

      Sadly I am in that category also.. then I end up undoing the whole project because I lose the utensils I started it with and don’t want to take the time to figure out what size hooks or needles I was using.. Still have bags of UFOs on my back porch. :(

      • nana

        At my age I have decided to unburden myself of projects I no longer except to complete. I have bought bags of craft supplies at Goodwill or Sam’s Boutique or yard sales. So … I neatly package the project and anything that might help the finder and take them to Goodwill (embroidery projects esp.) )in clear zip bags. I have peace of mind and someone else has a creative opportunity!

  • Zoe Maja McInerney

    I am lucky enough to have a friend who is a master untangler. I am, sadly, hopeless at it. However, my knitting superpower is always having scissors. Always, without fail. Even at the beach or in the supermarket.

    • margieR

      I carry a zip up bag of tools for knitting. I pretty much carry it everywhere, unless I have to wear formal clothes. (then I carry just part of the project and work on it when no one is looking!)

  • Nicole

    Apparently this isn’t a rare superpower, but I am not only an untangler but also an unknotter. My daughters come to me all the time with knots that won’t budge and tangles that seem hopeless. Not just yarn or string, either; I’m equally adept at untangling chain necklaces. As a mother, I’m happy to have this superpower. It ensures I will always be needed. 😉

    • Cathy

      Don’t underestimate yourself. As a mother, you will ALWAYS be needed. Take this from someone who lost her mother too young.

  • Brittany

    I’m a speed demon! I can draw and hypnotize crowds with my flashing needles in minutes. Kind of fun, actually. :)

  • Espresso345

    I can knit or sew garments that fit my sister like a glove – and she lives 3,000 miles away. For me? Not so much. But she’s my muse and everything I make for her fits her perfectly and makes her look even more fabulous.

    • Aliciamakes

      I can fix tablet weaving that has gone hideously wrong. My superpower sometimes extends to inkle looms, which surprised me because i’ve never actually tried doing any. I do compulsively de tangle so the skills are related. Record is 5 hours untangling some loom warp.

      • Dorothy Atkinson

        What is tablet weaving?

    • Cathy

      I need someone with THAT superpower. :)

    • Dorothy Atkinson

      What a lucky sister. Do you want to adopt another one?

  • Cindy D

    Looking for Angie. I changed my pattern and ran out of yarn. Duh

  • alala

    My superpower is the vertical fix: I can recross a miscrossed cable or rescue a dropped stitch in a lace shawl, as far down as needed.

    • Corissa Morales


    • ViciRose

      I am impressed. Truely impressed !!!

    • Ann Javoroski

      I’m impressed too! What a great power to have!

    • Brian s

      I can do that, too–though I really hate to have to.

    • Cathy

      Kudos to you.. I can’t even fix stockinette stitch two rows down.. I always end up twisting the new stitches. :(

    • Lynda M O

      I think I need to move closer to you, alala, you are what is missing in my life.

  • Dulce M Esquibel

    Me too I don’t mind to untangle, mama was pretty good for ripping and untangling, she loved to crochet and did very nice things with the needles. Thanks for such a nice article.

  • Kevin Wilson

    There’s an entire group of detanglers on Ravelry, who will let you mail your tangle to them, and untangle it for you. In fact they will compete for your tangle :)

    • Charlotte Colloff-Hinde

      Wow! now that’s what I call a resource!

    • Roberta P

      Hi there Kevin – Roberta here in Powtown – I am also a De-tangler. If you ever need a ball sorted out,, just get it to me and I will be happy to make things right again. :) 485-0446

      • Kevin Wilson

        Hiya Roberta! I actually like detangling mysefl, though I wouldn’t go out of my way to find a tangle!

  • Jen

    I can teach anyone of any age any knitting or crochet technique. I am SUPERTEACHER! Great at untangling yarn too.

  • Liz Marley

    I’m pretty good at reading other people’s knitting quickly and fixing their mistakes; conversely, I’m pretty terrible at working out when a project really needs to be ripped, without spending hours agonising over it… I have friends who have that superpower though…

  • Jennifer Simpson Hall

    I’m a champion untangler — my greatest challenge to date was a skein of Handmaiden Sea Silk that I couldn’t bear to cut. My best talent so far, though, is finding projectsand homes for unloved yarn. People keep giving me their granny’s acrylic stash, or clearing out closets of things thhey’ll never use, and now I have the stash that ate TOledo.

    • ajnorkknit

      I’m the chairman of our prayer shawl ministry, and the mitten lady, so all kinds of half balls, parts of skeins and some of this ‘n’ that end up on the pew next to me!!! Stripes for a sweater? Interesting pocket for something? Petals on a flower? They just seem to talk to me!!!

  • WhizGidget

    I think my superpower is finding the right color for the right thing – for other people. I can do that with needlework/cross stitch, and I have had a few small successes at it with knitting, so I think that’s my power.
    Untangling? That’s my oldest daughter’s superpower (and she’s not a knitter, so she helps out with those nasty things when I encounter them)

    • Dorothy Atkinson

      That to me would be the greatest Superpower . I have a terrible time with visualization.
      I just can’t do it.

  • Kara

    I’m a fixer. People make a mistake in their knitting and (barring it being 6 rows down on an intricate lace pattern), I can fix it.

    • Dorothy Atkinson

      Tell them to use Lifelines when they are doing intricate lace work. I just made two lace shawls and was so glad I used Lifelines. That is a lot of figuring out for you, unless you like doing it.

      • Cookykay

        What is, or are, Lifelines?

        • gardienne

          A lifeline is a length of yarn (usually cotton or crochet cotton) that you run through your stitches following the needle, if you make a mistake above the life line you can safely take your needle out and rip back to the line without losing stitches. Make sure you mark what row you put in your lifeline so you know where to restart!

          • Cookykay

            Thanks! I’ve never heard of that before,

          • Dorothy Atkinson

            I should have explained that when I wrote the note. Thank you Gardienne for doing that. I keep a piece of paper beside me and jot down the row that I am placing the lifeline on. If I’m doing lacework I use a lot more lifelines. I have made a point of learning to read my actual
            knitting not the pattern. It didn’t come naturally to me but was surprised at how fast I picked it up . Believe me nothing comes naturally to me, I’m a struggler but once I learn it I don’t seem to forget. Maybe that’s a talent. I think most crafters would agree that we need to stick at it and not give up. Definitely put it down even for a day. Don’t forget to ask a friend or the lady at the local wool shop or on Facebook. Two heads are often better than one.

  • Kristi

    Undoing knots and untangling yarn.

  • pamortrud

    I’m a good untangler. Got lots of practice recently when our dog decided to spread yarn all over the carpet in the family room. Four skeins! Took two days to get it wound again!

  • laura_miller40

    I have to say that I’m rather good at fixing other people’s knitting mistakes! I have picked up stitches from 10 rows down and sorted out shaping and all sorts of other stuff. I love the challenge!

  • Kate

    Maybe mine is figuring out patterns. Give me yarn and needles and I can work through most everything. I have two aunties who knit throughout my childhood. To me, they were always Master Knitters. Now they come to me when they can’t figure out a pattern instruction. So strange!

  • Jessica

    I think I have the same power as Eileen. Whenever there’s a snarl in someone’s yarn at my LYS it’s me they turn to. A twisted skein on the swift? No problem. Your cat got at it? Hand it over. And I don’t even MIND doing it. It’s nice.

  • Therese

    My husband is an untangler. No, you cannot have him.

  • Kazul

    My Mom, may she rest in peace, was my untangler….just as I find peace and solace in my crochet, she found it in untangling my yarn….no matter how nasty it was…..I, too, had a beautiful skein of yarn to be worked into an equally beautiful filet rose afghan that was tangled out of spite…….I showed it to my Mom but before I could say anything she said “you’re not going to throw that away are you?” I said I had planned on it but she took it and untangled it for me…..the balling was up to me though……which I did happily since I didn’t have to waste my yarn…..the Rose Afghan was made and, rightly so, I gave it to Mom……so no that she is gone I have learned to untangle my own mass and I’ve learned a new balling technique that I really like coz it allows me to pull the yarn from the middle like I would with a regular skein…..but I would have to say that my super power is filet crochet……and stuffed toys like monkeys, dragons, bunny rabbits and teddy bears……thanks Mom…..for your inspirations and your love :)

  • Lisa

    I like to untangle yarn, it’s a puzzle. But I am being told my “superpower” is color work. I like to make “scrappy” projects and am always unsure until my group Love how the colors work.

  • Corissa Morales

    Put down your project and lost your place in your stitch pattern or chart? I’m your girl. I’ve picked up lace projects months later with missing row counters and have no problems finding my place. Comes in handy when I have to rip back too.

  • Ellen Gwen R

    I’m a detangler, hereditary,
    from my Mom. She would untangle fishing line! Once you can do that, yarn is no problem. LOL

  • Darcy09

    I am a super project starter, buy the yarn (first otherwise it might be right amount), find the correct pattern, and start. Work work work at it and then … oh look a butterfly pattern (or whatever), focus lost. Repeat first two steps, then ….. oh look a ……, repeat first two steps again, find the first uncompleted project .. and wouldn’t you just know nothing else. What was the hook size? where is that pattern? Repeat again and again .. and well you are able to see the hampster on the wheel. I am a GREAT project starter.

    • RevJan

      Oooh, me too! So glad I’m not the only one! I will NOT, however, disclose how many of those started projects I have . . .

      • bc

        Me, too, and not only kknitting or crochet. I have an embroidery project for a bedspread that my mother gave me the kit for, the Christmas before we were married. I have it embroidered, and partially quuilted. We celebrate our 39th this coming March. There’s alwasy so many nifty things to do and new yarns to love.

        • Deb Whalen Word

          I too had a bedspread to embroider….gave it to a ‘project finisher’ 15 yrs ago. I tell myself it would only make me sad now since it was a double and we have a king! LOL My superpower is ripping out other folks work. We had a group for a few years, and the girls would bring me something that had gone so wrong it had to go to the pond….rip it rip it rip it!

    • Kate Magrath

      I am equally distractable. I promise, I absolutely love every project I begin, searching diligently for the correct yarn, or for the perfect pattern to go with what I’ve got, and then some other shiny object catches my eye. Maybe I should move all my stash to another state, and promise myself to just work on what I have started until they are all done… No, I know I’d never be able to stick to something like that.

  • Rita B.

    I too am a untangler, even with fishing line which is much worse to untangle than yarn! When my husband & I go fishing and he gets a tangle in his line, he’s ready to cut the line, but I always ask him to give it to me & I always get it untangled. I’ve had some badly tangled yarn given to me as the person couldn’t do it, I enjoy the challenge!

  • MsQVC

    I can spot the most expensive hank/skein of yarn in a store within 10 seconds of entering it! On-line it’s within half that time. At least that’s certainly how I feel.

  • Luanne Redmond


  • Luanne Redmond

    My fiber superpower is that I can fix things. Mend sweaters, sometimes shoes, soft luggage, most things made of fiber. I don’t claim to do it invisibly, and always issue a disclaimer that the item may never look like new or even the same, but the owners are usually pleased with the results. Sometimes a fix ends up as a design element, such as Ultrasuede patches over torn buttonholes on a denim vest, or a tuck taken where there is no seam allowance, which looks intentional if done on both sides of a garment. In a way it’s more fun than making something new. You can take a failure, something that’s been in a drawer for a year, and turn it into a proudly worn success.

    • So I Read This Book

      Now that is a Super Power I would like to have . . . I have things that I adore that are stuck away in boxes because it is just too hard to figure out how to fix them!

    • Brenda Miller

      Everyone seems to think this is my superpower, and perhaps I am very good at it, or they wouldn’t ask me for repairs all the time, but it’s the bane of my crafting life. “Can’t I make you something new instead? I have this new pattern for a hip scarf I’ve been dying to try and it would cover that pocket tear perfectly. No? OK. Hand me the jeans, you’ll have them back tomorrow.”

  • Ellen

    Many years ago, my knitting friends and I went on our annual “Fiber weekend” in the mountains. Just as we all settled in to have a fiber session, one of the gals held up a great wadge of yarn and said “Who wants to untangle this?” to which another instantly shouted “I do!” We all had a good laugh about that! (And she did it, too.)

  • asag17

    I guess I share my super power with Rosa, I am known to be a very fast knitter. I don’t try to beat any records, I just knit fast. When someone wants a baby sweater, hat and pair of booties, they know that they can ask on Monday and they’ll have it by Thursday. I can also do a pair of gloves in one afternoon.

  • Paula

    I am good with a tangled mass of yarn, but I hate sewing knitted or crocheted pieces together. I would rather knit another item. Our knitting teacher at the library, Doreen, who over the years became our friend, is a whiz of a knitter and a patient seam sewer. If we’re really good, sometimes she will sew up a seam or two for us!

    • Gail B.

      I, too, dislike sewing items together. So, I have learned how to adapt patterns to be knit in the round. No more side seams – YEAH! I also learned short rows and the 3 needle bind off for shoulders. Now, all my sweaters get finished.

  • Carolyn

    Elaine’s lair is undoubtedly filled with shelves which are filled with wool and patterns and….

  • So I Read This Book

    I am the queen of snarling yarn. That is my Super Power! Show me a skein, and within seconds it jumps off the table and snarls itself into a snarled mess even Rumplestiltskin couldn’t untangle – but with her Super Power, I bet Eileen could!

    I am also much like Darcy09 (see below). I start a project I am incredibly excited about, and then —- Ooooo! Shiny! Wanna Do THAT! and there I go, new pattern, new yarn, new start . . . then another, and another, and another. I am the Queen of the UFO’s!

    • Maxi

      I finish the knitting, but I don’t sew them together. My closet is hall full of sweaters and slippers that just need to be assembled and the ends woven in. There’s even one suit jacket I did as a newlywed in 1964!

  • Wandalea

    Just when I think this can’t get any funnier, it does! (And sweet.) Your super-power is to be the funniest knitter who has ever lived & bring joy to millions. Thanks!

  • Marcia Haworth

    I, too, like to untangle…I would rather untangle a mile of yarn than weave in ends of a finished project. I have learned to incorporate them into my project but that doesn’t eliminate them completely. For me, it’s as bad as sewing on buttons.

  • gem39

    I think it is a meditation. Once I am in the “zone” no tangle can thwart my nimble fingers and dexterous joints.

  • kscarlett

    Love untangling – it’s almost therapeutic for me (most people would put that in the opposite camp!).

  • fillie82

    I LOVE to weave in ends! I find the meticulous nature of the work to be very calming as well as very rewarding when the final piece looks flawless. I pride myself on being able to find the best path to weave through for an invisible, but secure finish.

    • Anne Ohnemus

      I wish I could channel you – that is a super power that I so admire and am so lacking in – I have so many projects that need the ends woven … I know that I should do it … and I know that it won’t take much time, but I just keep finding other things to do. I’d much rather be knitting.

  • GAD

    My daughter who lives 600 miles away, saves her tangles for my visits. She also saves garments with holes in them for me to mend invisibly.

  • Rita Floor

    My mother is the untangler in my circle. She has the patience of a saint.

  • Dorothy Atkinson

    I love weaving in ends. Although since I started doing the Russian Join I don’t have ends to weave in. Just go to You Tube and learn how to do it. I love untangling messy, messes of yarn. I find it relaxing while watching a good movie.
    I always finish my projects, just too cheap to waste the wool, the guilt trip I go on isn’t it worth it. I’m awful at choosing colors for my projects. I ask at least a thousand people what they think. Maybe THAT’S why when they see me coming they don’t walk they run away. I can’t knit fast but my admirers say they wish their knitting was so beautiful. I can’t see any difference but will take the compliment.
    My superpower isn’t really anything but absolutely adoring knitting whether it’s a tricky pattern or just plain knitting.

    • Anne Ohnemus

      Loving weaving in ends is a super power to be proud of!