Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.
Every so often, usually during a rare moment when I feel pretty good about myself, a well-meaning relation sends me one of those perennial news items about a lady who has crocheted the same blanket for every baby born in her town since 1957, or another lady who singlehandedly keeps an entire children’s hospital supplied with knitted teddy bears, or that other lady who cranks out 100,000 pairs of mittens annually to warm the chilly hands of the poor.
These inspiring stories are invariably accompanied by a note saying, “Hey, you could do something like this.”
Sure, okay. Maybe I could also sail to China on a mulberry leaf, or spin straw into rigatoni.
I’m not so good at repetitive knitting.
Or maybe I am. I don’t know, because I pretty much refuse to do it. I have a deep-seated, abiding aversion to knitting the same thing twice. It is only through the cultivation of an iron will that I do not have a wardrobe of full of unwed socks and one-armed sweaters.
I am not proud of this. I see it as a character flaw to be smoothed away, much like my fear of flying. Both keep me from living life to the fullest.
To overcome the aerophobia, I’ve found it comforting to interact with people who love airplanes. My father, for example, is a pilot; and keeps an airplane in his backyard where normal people keep a toolshed. When taking off, or bouncing through unstable air, I hang on tight and try to remember his frequent rhapsodies on the wonder of flight and the laws of aerodynamics. I also listen to Frank Sinatra singing “Come Fly With Me,” and pretend I am having a ball up where the air is rarified. Sometimes it helps. Fake it ’til you make it.
So I thought it might be useful to hear from knitters and crocheters who find joy in repetitious work, even if not to the extent of knitting the same mitten 100,000 times.
I put the word out and found that People Have Opinions About This. Mind you, people who knit and crochet have opinions about everything; but I was nearly carried into the next state by the flood of comments.
There was a significant cry of, “Right on!” from those who, like me, have never made it to the second block of the afghan. Most said they see each project as something like a wilderness adventure, and they aren’t much interested in climbing the same mountain twice. Heaven knows I understand that.
But far more numerous were those who, at least under certain conditions, are very happy to take the road more traveled. They almost all sorted into four categories.
When the chips are down and the baby shower is imminent, there’s much to be said for choosing a pattern you know will work because you’ve already knit it five times for five previous baby showers. You don’t want a thrill. You don’t want a challenge. You want to know that when you use this yarn and those needles, you’ll get a charming little cardigan that will fit at six months, and there won’t be any funny business with the instructions for the neckline. (Elizabeth Zimmermann’s classic “Baby Surprise Jacket” was mentioned by name about 48 times–ironically, for the lack of surprises.)
Also in this category: gifts in quantity. If you have promised to make nineteen hats in time for the soccer team’s first practice, you have no time to mess around.
My late grandmother didn’t chime in, what with her being late and all, but she would certainly have marched with this very large contingent.
Grandma liked crocheted cotton washcloths. Rather, she liked one particular crocheted washcloth, and in her lifetime she made enough of them to blanket the combined areas of Fayette, Westmoreland, and Washington counties. She didn’t need a pattern. She didn’t even need to look at her hands. She could sit in the living room with nothing but the light from The Lawrence Welk Show and crank out three of them before the bubble machine was turned on.
Grandma had a friend, Mary Margaret, who was into novelty washcloths. Mary Margaret was always on the hunt for exciting new washcloth patterns. Leaves for autumn, pumpkins for Halloween, Punxsutawney Phil for Groundhog Day. Then she’d get lost in the middle of the pattern and feel discouraged and appeal to Grandma for help.
Grandma would help, but grumble afterwards. “All that fuss and for what? It’s a dang dishrag. They all look the same when you’re scrubbin’ the soup pot,” she’d say. “Just get it done.”
I have to admit she had a point.
Comments poured in about repetitive projects worked as solace in times of worry and grief. The plain socks knit to beguile hazy days of tedious recuperation. The garter stitch scarf that was exactly as long as the all-day surgery. The simple hats turned out while waiting for news from the ICU or the delivery room.
The point of these projects is not that you are making something, it’s that you are doing something when you feel there is nothing else to be done. Complexity gets in the way at times like these. If the pattern’s already in your head, you can’t lose it. If the pattern’s so simple it’s not even a pattern, even better.
I heard from an awful lot of people who really, really, really hate working the same pattern twice…except.
Except for the slippers somebody special looks forward to every winter.
Except for the identical cuddle toy that is needed to replace the cuddle toy that was loved to pieces.
Except for the chemo hats that help them keep a promise made during their own battle with chemo.
Is there a love deeper than that which compels you to knit a pattern that bored you the first time for the eleventh time?
I doubt there is. I doubt there is.
Writer, illustrator, and photographer Franklin Habit is the author of I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book (Soho Publishing, 2016) and It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008) and proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on Internet. His publishing experience in the fiber world includes contributions to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Ply Magazine, Cast On: A Podcast for Knitters, Twist Collective, and Knitty.com.
He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, Stitches Events, Squam Arts Workshops, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.
These days, Franklin knits and spins in Chicago, Illinois, sharing a small city apartment with a Schacht spinning wheel, two looms, and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned. Visit him at www.franklinhabit.com