Lion Brand Notebook

News, Ideas and Information for Crafting with Yarn

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Lost in Space

April 6th, 2014

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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.

I figure this as good a time as any to begin this essay, as my knitting is temporarily on hold.

The pattern says to work in stockinette until the piece measures six inches from the cast on edge. I may have hit the target, but I won’t know until I measure it, and I can’t measure it because I can’t find my tape measure.

By “my tape measure,” I mean any one of the thirty or so tape measures with which I share a compact urban living space. How compact? Not New York compact, just Chicago compact–about 1,600 square feet. That means one tape measure for every 53.3333 square feet.

I should not have to look very far for a tape measure.

In fact, my tape measure was right here. I know it was right here because when I sat down to cast on I knew I would soon need to measure six inches of stockinette. So I found (hooray!) (one of) my tape measure(s) and put it right here.

So where is it?

I remember when I was a new knitter and every trip to the yarn store meant spending money on needles and notions. You remember that time in your life? You’d go to the yarn store, see the pattern, pick out the yarn. Then the nice person at the counter would say, “You’re going to need a [stitch holder/row counter/tapestry needle/bag of stitch markers/size E crochet hook/16-inch size four circular]? Do you have a [stitch holder/row counter/tapestry needle/bag of stitch markers/size E crochet hook/16-inch size four circular]?”

You didn’t, so you bought one of those, too.

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Rag Doll

March 13th, 2014

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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.

habit-illo-03-14-lowresWinter in Chicago takes no more notice of the first of March than a mean-eyed general takes of boundary lines. It tramples right along, both fists swinging. Winter here is a bully, unstoppable, and knows it.

As the months drag on I always find myself growing smaller and smaller, retreating under blankets and into tighter corners. The flowers in the borders–if they ever existed, I may have dreamt them–survive the cold by shrinking, and so do I.

In the stillness I turn contemplative. I’ve been thinking through my early childhood, which seemed always at my fingertips until with a snap, a few weeks ago, it withdrew to a place so remote I worried I might lose sight of it completely, forever. If you have dropped a piece of complicated knitting that has fallen off the needles, you know this feeling. One moment, there is a shawl. The next, there is a tangle.

Perhaps this is how life goes, as you grow older? I must have crossed a border without noticing, like the mean-eyed general–punching away without realizing what I left behind.

So now I sit under the blankets, eyes closed, and try to gather up the threads that slipped.

This is my first memory of needlework.

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So Long? Farewell.

February 12th, 2014

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When a non-knitter asks a questions about my knitting, that question is most often, “How long will it take you to finish that?” or the common variation, “How long would it take you to make me a [type of knitted thing]?”

So I explain that a hat may require several evenings, particularly if worked in a complicated technique or a fine yarn. I tell them the average number of stitches in a pair of socks (eight million) or a plain sweater (seven hundred trillion) and that completion of the latter may take months.

The gasps of astonishment are strong enough to suck the stitch markers right out of a raglan.

You will have noticed that we live in a world that idolizes instant gratification. What we want, we want now. (Did you scroll down to read the cartoon first? You did, didn’t you?) Inevitably, the sight of a person voluntarily engaged in sustained concentration draws the sort of fascinated stares formerly reserved for lake monsters.

Not that I make any claims of superiority. During one of the first knitting classes I ever took, the redoubtable Galina Khmeleva held aloft a completed Orenburg lace shawl, roughly six feet square. The yarn was finer than a typical modern lace weight–the sort you often hear called “cobweb”–and the entire thing was absolutely riddled with yarn overs.

“How long–” one of the students (okay, me) said breathlessly.

“Six months,” said Galina.

I said nothing, but my heart whispered, “Nope.”

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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.

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Pick a Number

December 11th, 2013

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(It’s going to take a moment to get to the yarn content today. Stick with me.)

It’s football season. I need not have to tell you this if you live in the United States. It is impossible to live in the United States during football season and not know it is football season.

I don’t especially care that it is football season.

My father, a native Pennsylvanian, rooted for the Steelers in a laconic and slapdash way; but we never gathered around the television to cheer. He believed that spectator sports were a waste of a healthy body. If you could run and jump and throw, you didn’t watch other people do it, you did it yourself.

My partner Tom shares my lack of interest. It’s one thing that brought us together. Here in the Midwest it’s difficult to socialize for half the year if you don’t want to watch football. “Come on over! We’re getting together to watch the game!” the neighbors will say. If you admit you’d rather not watch the game, they thereafter regard you as a person of suspicious character, telling their children to come indoors when they see you on the sidewalk.

Tom doesn’t care about football but he does enjoy socializing.  So he often finds himself surrounded by jolly enthusiasts in colorful jerseys. Just this weekend, some of his friends, who had ties to Ohio State University, invited him to hang out at a sports bar during the game with the University of Michigan. Tom is a get-along guy, a real social chameleon.  He happily put on the bright red shirt and the necklace made of buckeyes and settled in for the duration.

The trouble was that, like me, he not only does not care about the sport–he doesn’t understand it. We both know what a “touchdown” is: when the ball has made it to one end of the field and somebody does a funky little dance, his team gets points. Beyond that, we have no idea what’s going on.

I could try to learn the rules, I suppose, but a brain has only so much capacity. I’m afraid that if I commit to memory what “first and ten” means, it will push a piece of vital knowledge out of my other ear and suddenly I’ll forget how to do a Kitchener stitch.

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Ha (3x), yo, k2tog.

November 6th, 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.

Life in a city apartment means experiencing the joys of child rearing even if you haven’t produced or acquired children of your own. The thundering grade-schoolers who used to live above my workroom have moved out and been replaced by an infant of six months. Said infant has colic. A baby with colic doesn’t make for pleasant listening, but she pales in comparison to the toddler across the courtyard–who is suffering through an extended Riddle Phase. No, suffering is not the right word. She’s having the time of her life. The rest of us are suffering.

Toddler (not her real name) has two volumes, “bellow” and “roar.” So shut your windows, you say to me. It’s autumn in Chicago. The windows are shut. Toddler has the lungs, but alas not the artistry, of a young Beverly Sills.

On any given day she can outclass my white noise machine, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, expensive sound-canceling headphones, and jet aircraft on the final approach to O’Hare.

Between bellowed demands to her nanny for snacks, toys, and trips to the bathroom, she has taken to roaring selections from an apparently inexhaustible supply of riddles and jokes. How one so young can have amassed such a wealth of material surpasses understanding. Perhaps she is Henny Youngman, reincarnated with pigtails. Stranger things have happened, especially on my block.

The nanny has to listen to the riddles and jokes, but she is being paid to listen to the riddles and jokes. I also have to listen. I am not being paid.

Prolonged exposure has caused me to begin dreaming and thinking in riddles and jokes. I mention this as alert readers may discern faint echoes in this month’s ruminations about knitting, yarn, and the creative life.

Now, as I was saying about my knitting…

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Blue Sweater Blues

October 8th, 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.

I got a message from a reader who inquired after the health and well-being of the Man’s Roughneck Sweater I’m making from a pattern in Lion Brand’s 1916 Lion Manual of Worsted Work. It was the topic of a piece I wrote for this very space way back in January.

I appreciate her kind interest. It’s good to know that the nice lady is not only reading, she’s remembering.

But this is also a bit like having somebody ask about your husband, who has run away with the man who came to clean the swimming pool. Or having somebody ask about the starving child you sponsored, who grew up to rob banks. Or having somebody ask about your cat, who died.

From this you may gather that everything with the Man’s Roughneck Sweater is not tickety-boo.

It’s not the fault of the pattern (which has a couple of puzzling ambiguities in it, but no more so than most elderly patterns); nor of the yarn (LB Collection® Organic Wool), which is even more sweetly lofty after being knit up than it was in the ball.

It’s my fault, my fault, my very great fault.

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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.

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A-B-C-K-2-P-2

August 6th, 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.

I was a good student, but it would be fibbing of the most bald-faced and lamentable variety to tell you I enjoyed school. I hated school, in part because I invariably showed up on the first day wearing the wrong sort of sneakers, and was therefore declared by the girls on the playground to be covered in cooties.

I wasn’t much happier in the classroom. Each new year we were driven into a slightly more impenetrable thicket of the same dreary subjects by teachers who grew annually more gaunt and listless. Even the classes I enjoyed ultimately felt disconnected, irrelevant. I’d master the list of state capitals, or after days of tears successfully divide 283 by 14–only to think, “So what?”

“You’ll need this some day,” the teachers insisted, but that’s insufficient justification for a little kid. It’s tough to take the long view of things when you’re seven years old. It’s tough to see the horizon when you’re four feet tall.

Now I’m considerably older (though not much taller) and I’m wondering why the heck they didn’t just teach us to knit and crochet. If you can get a kid excited about a ball of yarn, you can get her excited about the entire curriculum that’s directly connected to that ball of yarn.

Check it out.

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Having a Ball, Wish You Were Here

July 11th, 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.

It’s July. My grand friends have gone to France, my less grand friends have gone to Michigan, my flat broke friends (the majority) have walked over to the lake for the afternoon. There is a general desire to get out of here, get lost, leave it all behind.

All of it except yarn.

The friends who went to France packed passports and hiking gear. The friends who went to Michigan packed swimsuits and mosquito repellent. The friends over at the lake took snacks and water bottles.

They all packed yarn.

That is, to me, perhaps the surest sign that a person has crossed the line between fancier and fanatic—when it suddenly takes longer to decide which needlework projects to pack than which shoes to pack.

The longer the trip, the more complicated the packing becomes. You find yourself asking questions like:

How close are these current projects to finished? If you’re within an hour or so of completing a piece, you can’t bring it along as your sole project if the trip is going to last more than an hour. You’ll need backup.

Can I work on this while chatting? Vacations often involve proximity to other people who will insist on engaging you in conversation whether you like it or not.

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