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.

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?


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.

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.

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.


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.


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?


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.


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?