Franklin Habit: For Sale, Cheap

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Franklin Habit: For Sale, Cheap

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I was prowling through an antique shop in Vermont recently, on the hunt for the perfect dollhouse piano (another story); and between a shelf full of novelty salt and pepper shakers and a pile of vintage ads for milk of magnesia was a rack stuffed with old table linens and afghans.

Most agreeably disheveled, lower-end antique shops have a rack like this, or at least a basket of crocheted with a tag that says “OLD DOILIES $2 EACH.”

I never walk past these without having a good rummage. You see some ghastly stuff in there, of course. Choices of fiber and color, gauge and motif that might politely be deemed “unfortunate.” But you also find more than a little beauty, charm, and sadness.

In this shop the old linens on offer included a cloth large enough, I estimated, to cover a family kitchen table to seat six. The design and colors telegraphed that it had probably been made in the 1930s. It was cotton, pristine, with an embroidered floral border about ten inches deep, and a scalloped hem worked in purple buttonhole stitch. In five or so square inches I counted six different stitches (chain, stem, feather, leaf, satin, and french knots) surrounding passages of pulled thread work.

I checked the price.

Ten dollars.

The novelty salt and pepper shakers were priced at fifteen.

If you’re a needleworker, that jabs you right in the heart. These racks and piles always do. Because we who make things ourselves know that even the ugly doily and the hideous afghan were somebody’s darling, once. An ugly doily is still made stitch by stitch, still takes hours of concentration. A hideous afghan gave someone, somewhere, a bit of comfort in the making and a feeling of accomplishment when it popped, finished, off the hook.

The owner of the shop was not a chatty sort. Her temperament would have been better suited to extracting taxes from 18th century peasants, or running a Dickensian workhouse. But there she was, thrust unwillingly into the world of selling old stuff to tourists, so she made the best of it by following me around and offering commentary.

“That is all hand done,” she said, as I looked at the floral tablecloth.

“Yes,” I said. “I can tell.”

“The ladies would all sit and do that back before there was television, there was nothing else to do so they would do that.”

I wasn’t feeling very chatty, myself, so I didn’t point out that there are millions of us who still Do That, television or no television.

“It’s all junk now, people don’t want it no more,” she said.

“That’s a shame,” I said.

“Do you like salt and pepper shakers?” she said.

“Not especially,” I said.

“Yeah. I got a million of those,” she sighed.

I was in Vermont teaching knitting. In the classroom the next morning I mentioned the shop and the rack of needlework. My students got misty-eyed at the description of the tablecloth hanging forlorn and forgotten, going cheap.

Almost all of us had our own stash of family pieces, made by a late relation and unwanted by anyone else in the family. We had rescued them from the fate of the sale rack, even when we didn’t honestly have much use for them ourselves. It wasn’t necessarily about utility, we agreed, or even beauty. It was about respect.

“I have my great-grandmother’s doilies,” one student said. “And I know they’re not valuable or unusual. And it’s not like I want them all over my living room. But, you know…she made them. They’re really fine, too. They took her a long time. That means something to me.”

Heads nodded.

“I tell you what,” said another student, “and you may think this is nuts. But when I see those things in shops I always stop for a second and in my head I honor the person that made them. I mean, you make think it’s nuts, but I do it. I think, I see what you did here, and I’m impressed, and I hope it made you happy and you had a good life.”

As it turned out, many of us in the room have done the same thing.

You may be wondering what became of the tablecloth. I didn’t buy it–my city apartment is too small to serve as a National Textiles Refuge. But I gave one of the knitters directions to the shop, and she went over after class and bought it. She also bought a pair of salt and pepper shakers shaped like George and Martha Washington.

So it was a good day for everyone.

Franklin Habit

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

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


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  • Thank you for sharing this experience with us, Franklin. It was lovely.

  • I saw a truly elegant shower curtain made of stitched together doilies (tacked together at 9, 12, 3, and 6 o clock) with a plastic liner.

  • In my teens I ‘rescued’ a quilt handmade by my great grandmother – it was being used to protect the bed of a pick-up truck about to be loaded with firewood. Later, I ‘rescued’ some of her doilies from my aunt’s yard sale. I used the quilt on my bed until it began to fray; it is now neatly folded and bagged in my closet: several of the doilies I framed and display. She taught me to quilt and to crochet before I started kindergarten and her passion passed to me. .

  • I have a ratty cushion crewel stitched from Woolworth’s kit by my great grandmother. It’s probably what I would grab first if the house caught fire, along with the sampler her mother stitched in Dresden as a 12 year old. Thanks for a lovely, thoughtful piece, Franklin.

  • A lovely piece. Thank you.

  • This touched my heart because it is so true.
    I have several handmade items from both grandmas, some aunts, and dear friends. These are the real treasures of life.
    Every thread, material, button, bead or yarn, was run lovingly through their fingers.
    When you touch something handmade you instinctively feel close to the creator. Because their thoughts while making it, are about the person who will receive it, or how it will be used, hoping it will become something special to them. These thoughts are woven into each stitch. I know, because these are my thoughts while I am crocheting.
    I also think these things when I see my sweet dog, a beautiful flower, rock or tree…. these were made by the Creator of the universe just for us out of love.

  • I have my grandmother’s handmade aprons from the 30s and 40s along with her tablecloths. They’re very fragile but I wouldn’t give them up for the world. I always rummage through the linens and afghans in second hand stores and wonder about their stories.

  • I have all the family needlework pieces, my grandmother’s Afghan, the other grandmother’s hairpin crochet, because I’m the one who will take all the textile pieces, and take care of them. My sister hoards plastic bags. I don’t understand people sometimes.

  • I took several yards of crocheted lace, done by my grandmother, and stitched the lace onto a red velvet Christmas tree skirt. Beautiful! And I think of Grandmother Bennett every Christmas.

  • I am a doily saver and user and maker. I change them out and move them around. I have a beautiful one done in filet crochet with butterflies. It’s gorgeous. When my MIL passed my husbands sisters were throwing away what they thought was a rag. It was a tatted doily. No one tats any more. I saved it. Did a little repair and had it framed and matted. It’s perfect in my living room. It was made by the same aunt.

  • I am so pleased that other people feel this way! My family thinks I’m a little crazy! When we cleared out my parents home-I went straight for the cedar chest!

  • Thank you so much for putting into words for me the reason why it is so difficult for me to clean my parents house out. They both passed away in the last two years and the house is a treasure trove…afghans, doilies, salt and pepper shakers…tons of vintage things that have character and memories but not necessarily any dollar value. It’s painful to see how “throw away” we have become and how willing everyone is to toss them for me.

  • So glad that I am not alone………… I have a sewing sampler that my mother made in school in 1916 at the age of twelve. It is framed and hangs proudly in my sewing room. I too am the receiver of unwanted family items. I have the tattered paisley shawl that my ancestor wore off the boat from Germany in 1848. I trimmed the edges and bought small gold frames with oval openings and filled each one with a piece of shawl. Gave them to cousins all over the country to have a piece of our ancestry. I have sewed doilys to round brass circles with plastic thread and hung them in windows. I could go n and on. Just try to think how you can repurpose items for posterity.

  • I have a crocheted bedspread my grandmother finished in the fall of 1958, just before she died in February, 1959. I also have some doilies she made that I treasure. I, also have a hot pad made by my other grandmother that looks like a cluster of grapes. I remember helping her cover the bottle cap lids the summer I turned 9. There are 2 hot pads I have them in a shadow box. These are some of my greatest treasures. I have never seen doilies in a junk shop but I will look from now own. They make beautiful clocks mounted in embroidery hoops with a battery clock and you can embroidery the numbers or buy stick on numbers. Thank you for a great story.

  • As a young married with little money, some crochet skill, and precious little time, I decided to gift my mother in law a handmade, white Afghan. It took months to complete a warm, cozy, proudly made masterpiece (in my estimation!). Not a particularly difficult pattern, I wanted it to be perfect, beautiful and last forever. What was going to be a September birthday gift ended up a Mother’s Day gift 8 months later! Eventually Gramma aged, we had a third child, a daughter not even born when the afghan was made, who often laid under the afghan on Grammas couch. Our daughter grew up and one day the long forgotten afghan was gifted to her by Gramma. Gramma passed in 2011. Now my daughter is keeper of the memories – mine, Gramma and hers!

  • I have a bedspread that a grandmother made, a tablecloth that an aunt made, several pieces that my mother made, and a quilt made by my mother-in-law. I have made and given several crocheted blankets and afghans to family members. I love the wool socks and ski caps knitted by my niece. My granddaughter makes use of the scarves she knitted. My daughter has knitted scarves. shawls, and a sweater. I now belong to a group that knits or crochets lap blankets and shawls for patients in long term treatment at a hospital. I am happy to know that we still work with fiber even with the wonders of TV! Sports are great for crochet–I can look up at the sound of applause and see the replay which is usually the only thing interesting.

  • I too have crocheted doilies and a quilt my husband’s mother made. Holding them in my hands is a very moving experience. I have crocheted or knit over 100 afghans for family and friends over the last 50 years and always pray for peace and blessings for the person receiving it. Treating these items disrespectfully is a sacrilege. I found one I had made for the newly married couple, on a dirt floor in my now ex daughter-in-law’s basement, and I was deeply wounded. Now I know why, among many other reasons the marriage didn’t survive. Franklin, your article was very thought provoking and struck some very sensitive nerves.

  • I, too, have a stash of these things of my Grandmother’s and Great Grandmother’s.
    You brought a tear to my eye, Franklin, and that’s not an easy thing to do.

  • Thanks for the article. I have my grandmother’s tatted doilies that I love. I also have many hand done quilts, table runners, dresser scarves and much more from my wonderful mother and other ancestors. I feel close to them each time I look at them in my house. If we also make these items it seem to mean much more, for all the work put into them. I grieve for them as I don’t know who will value them as I do when I am gone. But, while I am here I will love an honor those who made these beautiful works of art.

  • I was so touched to discover that others share my feelings about antique needlework. I have saved many lovely things done by needlework lovers before me. (My special favorite is a cleverly quilted pillow made at least 100 years ago by a great-grandmother.) No one else wants my treasures or even likes them, but I like to think they are a link to those ancestors with whom I share my passion for needlework. I think those women would like to know I treasure their work and honor their artistry.,

  • what i sometimes do, if it is an exceptional piece of handwork, is buy it and use it as a reference or sampler of stitches if you will. yes youtube, pinterest, instagram or what have you are great and so are LYSs, but when you actually hold something vintage (i’m thinking in particular of a perfectly knitted cardigan with no critter damage or smelling of smoke, etc. that i bought for $2 at GW) whenever you want to (midnight) and can actually look at perfectly executed stitches in a garment (made with a yarn that allows you to see each stitch such as my cardigan or a doily) you can’t replicate that imho. plus if you’re a newbie, you can make a game of it and try to ID just how many stitches and techniques were used and study finishing techniques. we do have a lace museum here but even they can only take so much in. my mom says for her mother, crochet and tatting circles for our us were akin to quilting bees for others.
    and a tip of the hat to those (like my grandmother & her friends) who could just look at a complicated finished doily and proceed to crochet or tat it just from seeing it.

  • Beautiful, thoughtful piece. Thank you.

  • franklin habit: for sale cheap
    Wanted my grandmothers treadle sewing machine since I was a toddler, when she died it didn’t happen. So I bought my own, at a church auction, Every time I sew on it I am in a ” time gone by.”.. Now I buy cast offs at thrifties to place in hands and arms of people who appreciate them. their reply “My gramma used to make these”….. Sometimes you have to find your own heirlooms, it can be done.
    Thanks for listening . PEACE, CARO____.

  • Sadly, I have no beautiful family heirlooms to cherish, so I tend to also stop and look and pay my respects to the maker(s) of anything I see. I’m the first in my family to be a crocheter and cross stitcher, but i hope one day my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will appreciate the time and love that went into the things I’ve made and will cherish (and use) them.

  • I often come across old linens in flea markets, antique shops, and auctions. So many date from the 1930s which I’m guessing was the heyday of hope chests. I know that my mother, like her peers, lovingly and hopefully stitched throughout her teen years the linens needed to start her housekeeping upon her marriage. My heart breaks that these items were made with so much love and anticipation and now no family member wants them. I have “rescued” many boxes and hope to rehome them. So far, no luck. But I display many pieces and I appreciate them.

  • I am a rescuer of old doilies and needle crafts items, the doilies have been re-purposed as doll house items and doll clothes, some larger pieces have been made into summer purses and lovely dresses for Barbie and other dolls. Forgotten Quilts, afghans have been purchased and donated to homeless and animal shelters, prolonging the life us a little longer.

  • Thank you for this beautiful truth. It is particularly relevant for me as my mother recently passed away and I am now the keeper of the handmade afghans, quilts doilies, tablecloths and pictures from her, from her mother and from her mother’s mother. I have often thought about how much work and love goes into those pieces and how little they are appreciated by many people. I will become one of those who take a moment to honor the person who made the lovely cloth on the antique shop rack.

  • I recall visiting a notable homestead years ago, I believe it was Adelaide Hunter Hoodless’ home, and upon walking through, was struck by a needlepoint sampler, on the wall, uncovered and unprotected, clearly years old, done by An 8-year-old child. I stood looking at it while the other members of the tour showed more interest in the old china and what was in the kitchen cabinets, yada yada, and I was amazed that this needlepoint was not behind glass or otherwise protected. I believe the little girl who crafted it was 8 years old at the time and it was very neatly done. Just one memory.. In their shop, you can even get salt and pepper shakers with pictures of the homestead on them…

  • I rescue table linens. I prefer old ones, like from the 30s, 40s, 50s. I love the little print or embroidered table cloths, and I zoom right in on the hand-embroidered napkins. I, too, think of the hands that made them, and I hope by saving some I’m doing them a little honor.

  • Antimacassars. I inherited (if you can inherent from one not a blood relative) antimacassars, as well as doilies aplenty and several quilts, all made by my husband’s grandmother. Having fought through a doily myself, I treasure his grandmother’s work.

  • Thank you, so much, for honoring these makers/artists with this article

  • My heart flutters at thrift store linens. I have a (un)healthy sized collection. So far as I can tell, most of my ancestors were anti-craft., save one. She had a weakness for the blue ink printed pillowcases! Thank you for voice the moment of stillness to thank those who have gone before.

  • Thank you for this beautiful and humorous article! I share this with all needleworkers and respect their work greatly! My grandmother gave me a quilt that I cherish, but, unfortunately, it wasn’t appropriate with my decor, I also have a doilie which I inherited when she passed away.
    She also made me a table runner which she had crocheted for my 18th birthday; she asked me to take care of it because she had worked a long time on this project. And I did, and I still put it on my dining table once in a while thinking of her. Thank you Grandma, I love you!

    Knitter and crocheter
    Québec, Canada

  • I come from handwork specialists of all sorts, German Bakery owners, sewers, knitters, crocheters, quilters and more. My Mom and I have rescued as much as we could find. There isn’t much left. But I found my Grandmother’s UFO quilt blocks from long ago in a period specific cheddar orange and Kelly green. Unfortunate color combo (IMHO) but I hold on to them because they meant something to her. I love this story. It reminded me of those orange blocks I have here packed away that I had let slip my mind. Thanks

  • I was just telling my mother the other day that I wanted to make a bunch of handkerchiefs with some fussy lace edgings.

    We have absolutely nothing of the sort to pass on, so I said I wanted my two children age 11 and 3 to argue over who gets to keep mommy’s hand knit handkerchiefs.

    Or perhaps they won’t. I’m afraid they’re so used to me knitting them things that they’ve taken their yarny items for granted. This is how I could see someone disgarding a table cloth, “oh, she was always working on those ugly things, toss it.”

  • My Mom was not in to crafts.She loved flowers and the outdoors.Sewing for her was to hem patch or repair something.I had an Aunt and one Cousin who could sew.I got bit by the knit bug at the age of eight.A kit my Mom bought me.Fast forward to the 1980’s where some friends showed me crochet.The internet helped me learn the rest. I wish I did have Aunts or Cousins to help me.I love going into vintage shops.Looking and wishing.The only family member who LOVES my work is my Son.Love him to pieces.

  • Alas, quilting suffers a similar fate. Once heard a horror story from a woman who was aghast to find a lovingly handmade quilt thrown in the trunk of a relatives car, perhaps to be used for a picnic, but certainly not what the maker intended.

  • My mother crocheted beautiful doilies. I framed several of the most beautiful and gave to my daughters and kept a few for myself. My mother’s artwork can now be hung in an appropriate place and admired!

  • The sad fate of so many handmade items is exactly why the Center for Knit and Crochet ( was formed. While we don’t have a physical facility to store such treasures, we have created an online collections resource where people can enter photos of their family treasures and the stories of the makers and their experiences with them. You can find it at While there, take a look at our searchable database of over 5,000 items related to knit and crochet. We wish we could save all the actual items, but at least we can make sure their existence is not forgotten and that others can see and study them.

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