Lion Brand Notebook

News, Ideas and Information for Crafting with Yarn

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Well, Since You Asked…

December 9th, 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.

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In my career I have reached the stage at which total strangers not infrequently write to me to ask for advice. My mother, to whom I am and will ever be The Little Boy Who Somehow Got Tomato Soup on the Kitchen Ceiling, finds this hilarious.

“Not cooking advice, Ma,” I tell her. “Knitting advice.”

“I know,” says my mother. “But still.”

Usually the questions are straightforward:

Q. Should I put lifelines in my lace shawl?

A. Yes.

Sometimes the questions raise an eyebrow:

Q. Do you have any tips on re-sizing a woman’s sweater to fit a guinea pig?

A. You may omit the waist shaping.

Sometimes the questions raise two eyebrows:

Q. Have you ever blended male chest hair into handspun alpaca?

A. Not on purpose.

Questions like these are easily answered.

But then something landed in my inbox that brought me up short:

Q. I have been knitting for almost twenty years and I have always loved it. But lately I’ve lost the urge. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a project on the needles, and now suddenly nothing is exciting to me. I just don’t feel like knitting. I went to the yarn store twice last week and didn’t even touch anything. Please help. How can I get my mojo back?

Whoa.
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Hatter, Mad

November 12th, 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.

When winter returns to Chicago, you have two choices: fight or flee. If that sounds overly dramatic to you, you have never spent a winter in Chicago.

Winter in Chicago is Mother Nature’s way of saying that she hates you, and would like you to die. More than that, she would like to kill you herself. Hypothermia while waiting for a train? Frostbite while walking to the grocery store? Sleet poisoning? The method matters not, so long as you are reduced to a dry, frozen dust by time June slinks back into town.

For those who cannot flee, warm clothing is the first line of defense. If you’re newly arrived and unsure of what is meant by warm, there’s a rule of thumb. Let’s say you’re shopping for a winter coat and find one that might do. Try it on in front of a mirror. If it looks pretty cute, and makes you feel like you can’t wait for the snow to fall, the coat will not be warm enough for February.

By February, Chicagoans have ceased to care what they look like when they go outside. Cut, style, color, fit? Not important. If it takes pairing filthy construction boots with a safety orange arctic exploration jumpsuit; then accessorizing those with two knitted hats, an army surplus balaclava and three pairs of gloves to get you to the opera with all your limbs intact, that’s what you put on.

This is why if you pass me on the street in midwinter and don’t say hello, I will not be offended. You won’t recognize me. You’ll think, “Did that raggedy pile of battered winter clothes just wave?” and keep going.

I wish I could tell you honestly that after more than decade of survival on the western shore of Lake Michigan I have grown accustomed to this annual renunciation of vanity. But no. The sight of winter ads from British tailors celebrating the elegance of classic overcoats and sleek leather gloves push me to the edge of rage. I live in Chicago, the city whose motto ought to be We Just Can’t Have Nice Things.

Winter hats are the worst, because as a knitter I should be able to make any sort of winter hat I like. A universe of colors, weights, and fibers awaits my pleasure. I could design my own. In fact, I have done so.

The immutable fact is–and I here I lay bare my great personal tragedy–that I do not have a “hat face.”

If you’re not familiar with that term, possession of a “hat face” means you are able to put anything on your head–from a masterpiece by Lily Daché to an empty shopping bag–and carry it off. You know who has a hat face? My sister. You know who doesn’t have a hat face? Me.

I have tried every standard and most non-standard forms of knitted hat and the results are never anything but unfortunate.

See for yourself.
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Expert Advice on How to Be at a Fiber Festival

October 22nd, 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.

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I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t have time to stroll around the mall sipping a Giganto Grande Pumpkin Spice Extra Foam No Whip Latte. I have to go to a fiber festival. If you are reading this, very likely you also have to go to a fiber festival, or are getting ready to go to a fiber festival, or have just come back from a fiber festival. Possibly all three.

October for most grown-up folks means Halloween. That’s cool. Dancing around and getting squiffy on Pumpkin Spice Vodka Tonics while dressed as Sexy Nurse or Sexy Ghost or Sexy Claims Adjuster isn’t my idea of a zingy time, but it doesn’t matter. I have no room for Halloween parties. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I have to go to a fiber festival.

Perhaps you have not yet visited a fiber festival. Perhaps you have only recently been inducted into the enthusiastic, international group hug that is the fiber arts community. If so, you may be confused by the unfamiliar urge to walk out the front door and follow the scent of sheep dip and fried dough.

You may find yourself standing in front of a sign that says WELCOME TO RHINEBECK and wondering where you are, what you are doing there, and how you got so far from your home in Hickory Flat, Mississippi, without even realizing it.

Keep calm. You are going to be fine. In fact, you are going to have a ball, provided you observe the following.

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I Told You So

September 26th, 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.

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It is said in my family that my grandmother heard the government was planning to send a man to the moon and her entire response was, “Why? All they’re going to find up there is an ash heap. We have one of those over by the railroad tracks.”

Apollo 11 touched down and it was revealed that the surface of the moon does, in fact, look remarkably like the ash heap by the railroad tracks. She was gratified. As Armstrong talked about a giant leap, she talked right over him. “I told you so, ” she said. “Didn’t I tell you? I told you.” Science had merely confirmed what she already knew.

After several generations of being thought quaint, weird, slow, backward, old-fashioned, and obsolete, knitters have reason to feel gratified. Science has confirmed what we already knew. Knitting isn’t just quaint, weird, slow, useful, and beautiful. Knitting is good for your health.

When a rash of articles like this broke out in the mainstream press recently, non-knitters of my acquaintance choked my inbox with eager messages.

This specimen is typical.

Hey Franklin, have you seen this? I thought of you when I read it. I guess you are onto something after all. Maybe I should try it if it helps your brain, ha ha ha! Send me some yarn! Ha ha!

Laugh it up, friend. I told you so. Didn’t I tell you? I told you.

One of my less jocular acquaintances didn’t just send the link, he asked a question:

When you’re knitting, can you feel it working?

I wrote back,

I can’t speak for all knitters, of course; but for me the answer is yes.

And he wrote,

Okay, what does it feel like?

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Level Up

August 27th, 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.

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When at work, we all have our pet aggravations. Some folks grow tetchy when stuffed into a necktie or panty hose. Some folks hate office parties. Some would rather eat a bowl of broken glass than go to one more budget meeting. Me, I flinch when I’m asked to assign skill levels to needlework patterns.

I understand the rationale behind the practice of branding a project as easy, beginner, intermediate, difficult, complicated, spicy, yikes, @#!$%*, and so on. The goal, I recognize, is to pilot needleworkers (especially beginners) into safe harbors. There is such a thing as too much ambition. If you are as yet unsure of the difference between knit and purl, perhaps a project full of orders to “p5tog tbl” may not be for you. Perhaps it would make you cry, and flail, and kick people. If the pattern throws up a five-star flag to steer you away from torment, it will have done you a service.

In practice, however, I find that skill ratings tend to encourage the rank and file of the yarn world to be overly cautious, to grow bored, and–in the worst cases–to then drift entirely away from needlework.

I spend about half my life on the road, surrounded by knitters. Most of them wildly underestimate their levels of expertise.

“Is that your work?” I ask a woman whose exuberantly cabled sweater would look at home in a couture showroom. She says that yes, it is, and in the following breath tells me she doesn’t feel ready to take on a certain pattern of mine because it was labeled by the magazine as being “intermediate,” and she’s just a beginner.

It happens all the time. Nervous crowds flock to patterns labeled “easy” because they fear they won’t be able to cope with anything more. They cut their pleasure short because they fear failure. They doom themselves to hanging around at the bottom of the ladder. And that is silly.

What happens when a knitting project goes horribly, horribly wrong? What is the aftermath of a total crochet disaster? You grind your teeth. You glare at the cat. You rip out. You ball up the yarn and shove it back in the stash closet to wait for a happier day. You go to the store and just this once you buy a shower present like a normal person.

Nobody has died. Nobody has lost a limb. Nobody has taken your favorite bamboo needles and fashioned them into a wicker man and put it out on the front lawn and locked you into it and set it on fire.

So what, really, are you so worried about?

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Splitting Yarns

July 8th, 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.

You’re toodling blithely through a normal day when suddenly WHAM! A memento of forgotten love hits you right between the eyes.

I was wriggling around under the work table trying to retrieve an errant ball of silk when among the thriving community of dust bunnies I found a crumpled lump that turned out to be a mitten pattern bought in a shop seven years ago.

It was an impulse purchase. I remember the impulse. I was only buying stitch markers, thank you. Then the shop owner was saying, Have you seen these? Then I was buying the stitch markers and the pattern for the mittens and the needles for the mittens and the yarn for the mittens, thank you.

If you would like to know how the mittens came out, please see “crumpled lump,” above.

I can’t recall why I abandoned them, but I can see why I snapped them up. They have an unusual, slightly tricky thumb. I get a kick out of slightly tricky knitting. It makes me feel dauntless and clever, like a lion tamer who has not yet had his head bit off.

Yet I don’t think I finished the cuff, let alone the thumb. Today the yarn is (probably) in one of my stash boxes and the pattern is wadded up like old Kleenex, covered with dust. It is likely to remain so. The passage of time has not been kind to these mittens. They now remind me uncannily of the shapeless peacock blue suit that I wore to a high school debate banquet in 1987.

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Today On CABLE: Classic and Original Programming for People Who Love Yarn

June 17th, 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.

* 6–7 a.m. Twisted Pearl. Early morning yoga for knitters and crocheters with Pearl Cotton.

7–9 a.m. Morning Wound Up. Who’s making news? Who’s making socks? Cast on for the perfect day with Tencel Washington, Angora Blends and the whole Wound Up team. Plus: weather and color forecasts for your area.

9–10 a.m. Sesame Street. Brought to you by the letters K and P and the number 2.

10 a.m.–11 a.m. The Price Is Right. Contestants guess the retail prices of various yarns, then buy all of them.

11–noon. Swatch Game. Contestants don’t actually play, they just tell everyone they did.

Noon-1 p.m. The Selvedge of Night. Wrench returns from his secret mission to find that Veracity has run away with his size four needles. Dolores discovers a baby in a pile of discounted merino.

1–2 p.m. All My Mill Ends. Stricken with amnesia after falling into the spinning machine, Clarice struggles to remember which clue of the mystery shawl she was working on.

2–3 p.m. Stitch and Kvetch. Today’s discussion topics include What Are You Working On, What Yarn Is That, Where Did You Buy It, and Do You Think This Is Going to Fit Me.

3–3:30 p.m. The Brady Bunch. The kids attempt to knit a sweater for Carol’s birthday; everyone but Jan is able to get gauge.

3:30-4 p.m. Gilligan’s Island. At Mary Ann’s request, the Professor develops a primitive version of Ravelry made from coconut shells and old clothing. When Gilligan posts a question about copyright, the island descends into madness and bloodshed.

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Play Me

May 15th, 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.

It has been my pleasure and privilege over the past several years to be interviewed by a few knitting magazines in America and abroad. The experience is always a little jarring, as for the first three-quarters of my life even those who knew me well were less than interested in my life and opinions. In some ways, it’s easier. When nobody cares to ask you about your creative process, you don’t have to worry about admitting that it mostly involves watching funny dog videos on YouTube and taking naps.

But interviewers, even the clever ones, always ask at least a few common questions that quickly become familiar and are easily answered. What’s it like to be a man who knits?* Who taught you knit? What’s your ideal yarn? What’s on your needles right now? You learn quickly that you’d better ready for those.

Once in a while, though, even a softball question will throw you a curve. For me, that question was, “What music do you listen to while you work?”

My answer was that if the work requires concentration–designing a lace motif, say, as opposed to knitting merrily along a sample–I work in silence. No music, no television, no funny dog videos. Silence.

The writer wasn’t terribly pleased with that response. It upset her data. She told me that every other designer she’d spoken to had obligingly offered the name of a recording artist, or at least a musical genre. Would I please do likewise? Or would I prefer she picked something for me?

So I told her to say I was physically unable to knit a single stitch in the morning until I had listened to the whole of Erich Korngold’s opera Die Tote Stadt while sitting in a bubble bath. She cut me out of the article.

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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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