It happens every year. The Thanksgiving turkey isn’t yet cold on my plate, the parade hasn’t even passed by, and here come the questions from friends-and-relations of those who knit and crochet.
“What sort of holiday gifts,” they ask, “ought I to get for this delightful, but odd, person in my life? I feel it ought to relate to her obsession, but I do not quite understand this obsession. I feel sure she must already have enough yarn. What else might she enjoy?”
The first order of business, of course, is to explain that the words “enough” and “yarn” are never properly placed together without the word “not” preceding them.
When that’s settled, I suggest they have a discreet rummage in the loved one’s knitting bag or crochet portmanteau or whatever.
Because while it is impossible to have too much yarn, it’s a tricky thing for the uninitiated to buy yarn on behalf of the devotee. Unless there is a shop registry or wish list to consult, what innocent giver knows whether or not mohair is preferred, or cotton, or wool? Lace weight, or worsted? Variegated? Solid? Muted colors, or bright? How can one possibly know? It’s like picking out someone else’s new underwear. It may fit, but it might also itch.
And how much yarn to buy? The number of non-knitters I’ve met who think you can squeeze ten adult ski hats out of a skein of anything on the shelf is simply staggering.
There are gift certificates, yes. They can be lovely, in that they offer the recipient freedom of choice. But they do lack a certain romance when presented by candlelight.
Better, I insist, that the giver see what notions on this list might be missing from the loved one’s bag. These are the little things that are needed, often go walkabout, and cost money the maker would prefer to spend on more yarn.
So, investigate and find out if she or he has got…
1. Very good scissors. For keeping in a needlework bag, the sort of scissors you want are small, sharp, well-made, and–this is not unimportant–pretty. Yes, pretty. Tools that make you smile when you look at them are a great boon. Seek out, or ask for, embroidery scissors. Yes, even if he doesn’t do embroidery. The price may surprise you, but a solid pair of scissors is often not inexpensive. You might even consider having them engraved with the loved one’s name, and (space permitting) a sentimental message like Je pense à toi souvent or The first cut is the deepest.
2. Stitch markers. There are a million varieties. Some are extremely plain, being no more than plastic rings. Some are so fancy they look like fragments of Fabergé egg. There will be a few kicking around in the bottom of the bag. That’s the kind your knitter likes. Buy more of that kind. Lots more. They don’t stick around long. It’s marvelous to have a ready supply.
3. Retractable tape measure. We never have enough of these, either–even though at fiber events they are often tossed into the crowd like beads at Mardi Gras. Look for a really handsome, sturdy one in a wooden or metal housing, from a needlework supplier or haberdasher. Or consider, if she is a whimsical sort, a well-made plastic or fabric model in the shape of an animal or superhero. The tape must be flexible. This is for measuring fabric and body parts, not plywood; so the safety orange edition in the discount bin at the home improvement store is unsuitable.
4. Needle/hook gauge. Our most important tools–hooks and needles–come in different sizes, and choosing the correct size is incredibly important. A gauge helps us to do that. We insert the needle or hook into a hole or slot, and it tells us that whatever we are holding is not the correct size. The correct size is always either in the other room, or in a shop that is closed today. Your needleworker may have a gauge, but it’s probably an ugly plastic give-away or cheap metal thing that looks more suited to a machine shop than the stylish confines of a knitting bag. Offer an upgrade in the form of the beautiful artisan-made gauges that are (to our delight) now readily available from many shops and makers.
5. Pocket Reference Guide. Lightweight, portable, and authoritative, little books like Edie Eckman’s The Crochet Answer Book and Margaret Radcliffe’s The Knitting Answer Book fit easily among the notions. They’re clearly illustrated and remarkably comprehensive; and can both help you with unfamiliar techniques, and help get you out of a jam.
6. Shot glass. When a needlework project goes wrong, we often drink to ease the pain. A shot glass tucked into the project bag allows one to administer a medicinal dose, perhaps two, with elegance and discretion. Bonus points if the glass sports a fitting motto like Let’s get loopy! or Here’s mud in your ply!
7. Heavy wooden stick. This is for smacking people who interrupt us while we are counting, or trying to understand the next step in the pattern. Two feet is the customary length. Collapsible models lack oomph and should be avoided. Fancy turnings, holly or ebony inlay, and ormolu mounts are a luxurious touch.
8. Cooperative small child. For fetching whatever is out of reach, be it a skein of yarn, a fresh bottle or red, the remote control, or the good pair of reading glasses.
9. Whistle. For summoning cooperative small child.
10. Unicorn. Just nice to have around, really.
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.