Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.
Dear Sir or Madam,
Please let me say how delighted I am that you intend to devote column inches (or equivalent in screen real estate) to something so dear to my heart. It’s a broad and fascinating subject, reaching back centuries and stretching the world around. Much has been said of it, yet so much remains unsaid.
I venture to guess, based upon prior experience with reporters covering this beat, that it was not your first choice among the week’s assignments. You are new, perhaps. An intern, possibly. Or you got caught in the office supply closet with the editor’s girlfriend at the holiday party, and this is your punishment.
Chin up, friend. You could do worse. Your sources are legion. They will eagerly supply fodder sufficient to overflow the boundaries of a book, let alone your limit of 2,000 words. Play nice, and you might get to keep the mittens after the photo shoot.
Field research will take you to guild meetings, knit nights, and yarn shops, at which you will be offered tea and cookies, frequently; and stronger libation, almost as frequently.
You will not have to jump off a bridge or wear a silly costume. You will not be required to crawl down mine shafts or across battlefields.
Before you turn on your recorder there are a few fundamentals you must understand. They will help you to write a piece full of truth and beauty. A piece that will be passed merrily around the Internet like a plate of homemade macaroons. A piece that will not inspire fifty million plugged-in yarn fanciers to flood your publication with sternly worded messages of complaint.
Ready? Good. Take notes.
To knit, you use these needles.
To crochet, you use this hook.
They both use yarn, but they are not the same thing. They make distinctly different fabrics with very different qualities. They are generally considered cousins in the family of needlework, but they are not the same thing. Many people both knit and crochet, but they are not the same thing.
If you wish to insist that no, really, knitting and crochet are “pretty much the same thing,” then I expect you would feel comfortable writing in the sports pages that these
are also “pretty much the same thing” and are used to do “pretty much the same thing.”
No? I didn’t think so.
Trust me. I’m trying to help. If you write a story about crochet, and illustrate it with photographs of knitting…well, I hope you have fast feet, a rear exit, and a getaway car with the engine running.
Do you have in mind an article about the exciting rise in popularity of old-fashioned handcrafts? Do you intend to use the phrase “not just for grandmothers…” in said article?
As of this writing, six hundred forty thousand other journalists have already filed that story. By tomorrow morning, the count will be six hundred forty thousand two hundred and twelve.
“Not just for grandmothers” goes beyond cliché; it’s lazy. It’s not merely lazy; it’s comatose. If that’s all you can think of to say on this subject, you have nothing to say on this subject. Your article stinks. Try again.
No, knitting and crochet are not “just for grandmothers.” They never have been. Moreover, many grandmothers (mine included) hated both. Many grandmothers (especially the current crop) have never tried either.
And why, if an activity were particular to grandmothers, would that be an issue? Do you consider old age a contagious disease? Have you got a deep-seated problem with grandmothers? Would you like the number of a good therapist?
If you mean to celebrate the diversity of our community, please do so without insulting my grandma. It won’t be difficult. We are everywhere. We contain multitudes. We are all ages, sizes, races, faiths, nationalities. We are rich and poor. We are liberal and conservative. We are women, we are men.
Which leads me to the next point.
That men choose to pick up needles and hooks is not, of itself, newsworthy. Nobody cares. I don’t care, and I’m a man who knits and crochets. “It’s not just for women!” is only slightly less tired as an angle than “It’s not just for grandmothers!”.
Knitting and crochet are both varieties of handwork. As the word indicates, they both require hands.
Women have hands. Men have hands.
Yes, men knit. So what? Would you write an article celebrating those astounding women who somehow–in spite of their sex–manage to do inherently masculine things like drive automobiles or hold political office? If you would, I assume you are reading this in 1956; and I have some sad news for you about what’s going to happen to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
As a traveling teacher and lecturer, I meet and mingle with several thousand knitters and crocheters every year. I don’t find that the men in the crowd are more (or less) adventurous, or dexterous, or daring, or intellectual, or anything else. We all–male, female, undeclared–love to play with yarn, because it’s a wonderful thing to do.
Yet articles on this topic often seek to apologize for the men. They can’t just knit for the joy of it, they must have a reason–a manly reason. Friends whose men’s knit night came under the scrutiny of the local paper were amazed to find their fairly quiet gathering* described as a cross between a bachelor party and a football riot, slamming six-packs of Schlitz and shouting dirty jokes while knitting sexy bikinis for their girlfriends. When the group asked for an explanation, the reporter said she didn’t want to embarrass them.
We don’t need to be excused or explained. I don’t want to see another article claiming male knitters are most often surgeons who knit to keep their fingers nimble, unless you actually find and quote at least one said surgeon. Perhaps, while you’re at it, he can explain why the female knitting surgeons I know have never once mentioned this as a benefit of the craft, let alone a primary reason for pursuing it? Or don’t women require an excuse?
And if you dare trot out that idiotic myth about an ancient Irish fishermen mending their nets and thereby inadvertently inventing cabled sweaters, so help me I will hunt you down and smack you right in the chops with my hardbound first edition of A History of Hand Knitting. Which was written by a man. Not that it matters.
Over the past few years, my favorite local morning news program has compelled its reporters to attempt–live on air–to bungee jump, tap dance, juggle bowling pins, kayak over waterfalls, fence, box, skydive, bake bran muffins, and shoot a bazooka in the interest of getting a story.
In conjunction with a fiber arts event, there was also a brief studio interview with a handful of knitters. A friend was among them, and during the segment offered to teach the interviewer the knit stitch. She recoiled with a horrified, “No! No thanks! No way! Ha ha ha!” as though it had been suggested that she learn to filet a kitten.
What are you afraid of? These human interest pieces about the popularity and/or benefits of needlework never seem to involve the previously untutored journalist actually picking up the sticks and giving it a go. You’ll fling yourself out of airplane, but you won’t purl.
You’re missing the point. Utterly.
The end results of what we do can be lovely to look at and luscious to touch. But the real kaboom, dear reporter, is in the making of them. The flick of the needle, the swing of the hook–they don’t look like much. That’s why you need to try it. Until you experience the meditation and metamorphosis yourself, if only for ten minutes, you won’t get it. If you don’t get it, you won’t be able to write properly about it.
Perhaps you hesitate because we look, from where you stand, like some sort of cult. I won’t lie to you. We are.
A nice, warm cult. Cozy.
Put down the pen and pick up the ball of fine American wool enclosed with this letter. Go ahead, squeeze it. How does it feel?
Feels good, doesn’t it?
Now, what are your questions?
*For the record: ten men, seven gay, three straight, two beers each, two sweaters, three hats, two socks, two mittens, one bikini (for the best friend of one of the gay guys). The dirty joke was a remark about frogging misunderstood by the reporter, who didn’t bother to ask what frogging was.
Writer, illustrator, and photographer Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008–now in its third printing) and proprietor of The Panopticon (the-panopticon.blogspot.com), one of the most popular knitting blogs on Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep. Franklin’s other publishing experience in the fiber world includes contributions to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Cast On: A Podcast for Knitters, Twist Collective, and a regular column on historic knitting patterns for Knitty.com.
These days, Franklin knits and spins in Chicago, Illinois, sharing a small city apartment with a Schacht spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.
You must be <a href="https://blog.lionbrand.com/wp-login.php?redirect_to=https%3A%2F%2Fblog.lionbrand.com%2Ffranklin-habits-friendly-three-point-message-to-journalists-who-seek-to-write-about-knitting-and-crochet%2F">logged in</a> to post a comment.
Hi Franklin! Your article is terrific! Thank you very much! Barbara
The former legal secretary in me is amused that a 3 point message has four points, and annoyed that on the RSS feed, they were all numbered 1 (here, they’re 1, 2, 3 and 3).
I want a giant wall poster of the “Which are the man hands?” illustration! It’s terrific, as is the entire piece.
I want one, too! I must admit though, I thought all those round things were for pretty much the same thing.
THANK YOU FOR THIS!
P. Joan Gavigan
Thank you from one of the tribe:)!!
Love this! As an aside; I am a female surgeon, knit for the love of it, but also teach surgery to 100 students per year and totally encourage knitting as dexterity improvement for both sexes!
A nurse who returned to crocheting during Chemo treatment, to maintain dexterity, combated finger tingling and numbness.
I agree wholeheartedly about the grandmothers comments. To each his own, but I go into the craft stores now and see yarns getting bulkier and bulkier and read about the popularity of such techniques as arm knitting. I used to live next door to a lovely grandmother who was still crocheting intricate tablecloths, bedspreads and doilies using thread and tiny steel crochet hooks until her death at age 86. And her work was exquisite!
Perfect, Franklin. Although whenever I’ve been asked for a press appearance if I’d be willing to teach the anchors to knit, I always say, “sure, if you have an hour for the segment.” Why do they always think you could teach someone to knit on air in under 2 minutes or so?
Thank you! If I saw one more article with the phrase “it’s not just for grandmothers anymore” I was going to run mad in the streets!
Love your no-nonsense article. I am a grandmother but also a knitter and a long distance cyclist.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I could not agree more!! I’m guaranteed to rampage about my house after reading any article starting with “…not just your grandmother’s knitting (or anything!)”. Once, I too, was moved to retort in writing! Talk about a hackneyed phrase! Ye gods! I’m also tired of articles that lead with gender, as if it necessarily overshadows everything else (unless gender happens to be pertinent) Franklin, hurrah, no one has said it better!
Brilliant; simply brilliant!
Carol F Metzger
“filet a kitten” LOLOL!!
Another really annoying thing in press is when they pull up some kind of really old ugly pictures of knitting patterns and say that this is what you get from a grandma (it is that stereotype again too) when you ask for a sweater. That is insulting. You could find horrid creations even in Chanel’s long fashion history so stop making knitters hard work look like a joke!
Bravo, Franklin! It’s about time someone spoke up about how knitters (and anyone in the creative arts, for that matter) are all-too-often stereotyped in the pursuit of a “good story.” It’s time to change the dialogue AND write insightful and fascinating stories about what really goes on in the knitters’ world!
You and this article are a hoot! I’m a grandmother that loves to crochet, likes to knit, loves to golf and bull riding is my favorite spectator sport to watch! Diversity makes people and life interesting. Thanks for a great read!
Thank you, this made me smile!
Knitting is the crossover craft that brings both sides of the brain together. It is art for the atsy type and math and geometry for the science types. Something for everyone.
Thank you many times over! I crochet. I love the point about different balls being all “sort of” for the same thing. I’ll have to use that the next time someone says, “What are you knitting?” if only so I don’t do something rash with my crochet hook. I love your writing — very fresh, informative, funny yet polite. You hit all the right notes!
I hate the “not just for grandmothers” since I started crocheting at age 4 and knitting at age 12 (when my mother learned how, then taught me). I’m now a grandmother and still do both.
Will you hate me if I confess that knitting makes one more attractive?
Love your article, well said! My father taught me how to knit and yes, he was a fisherman but I don’t think the correlation between fixing fishing nets and knitting is the same thing–to fix nets you need an ‘awl’ and is similar to making lace. Back in the 1930-40’s (my dad’s time) you had to do things out of necessity no matter where you were in the family pecking order, so learning to knit/crochet was a survival tool. <3 from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia!!
Well done. I’m going to keep a copy of this article in my knitting bag to show the next person who asks “what are you crocheting?”
Thanks for the smiles!
The service that measures website activity to sell advertising to Google customers is Google Analytics. This is how Google makes money. Google Analytics says that Ravelry, the social site and data base for Fiberphiles and those who love them, has an audience of over 2 million users, 90% women and 10% men.
Let’s do the math for the media workers since those skills seem…damaged. Or have become an acquired taste. Anyway, just to make the point, that means there are 200,000 men who knit, crochet, spin, plait, weave or plait kumihimo to restore their antique samurai armor.
I believe that if there were 200,000 people in America doing anything – the media would be all over it like an Amish quilt…made by a person. But somehow 2 million people is a daunting crowd to describe accurately, research without bias, explain without stereotype, or record without imposed drama.
I sit and knit in shock and amazement.
My father taught me to knit some 65 years ago. My grandmother, his mother, couldn’t knit, and could crochet only a chain. I love the process, the math and the logic of it, and the useful and beautiful results of the process. And over many years of working in high pressure jobs, it’s kept me off the psychiatrist’s couch.
So good I gave you a standing ovation (right here, at my desk)! Everything I have wanted to say to the people who ask me what I’m knitting (with my crochet hook) and then reply “same thing”. And the grandmothers. “Not your grandmother’s …” It makes me want to shout back “You don’t know my grandmother!” and a lot else besides. You, Sir, are a national treasure. Thank you.
Brilliant, and I am a knitting grandmother, though I have been knitting since long before I dreamed of being one, and I taught my grandson to knit, after letting him beg shamelessly for a minute.
This is fantastic! I crochet and my husband frequently refers to my work as knitting. He’s finally learned to call it crochet lest I give him a nice long lecture on the differences. Also, just to play devil’s advocate, maybe the reporter who refused to knit on air is like me, the one time I made a serious effort to knit I wound up snarling and threatening to stab any and every thing with the $&#@*!& needles. Stabbing people on air is probably a bad idea.
Franklin, thanks so much for the hysterically funny piece! Let’s debunk all the stereotypes. I knit, crochet, and have climbed a mountain! So there world! I don’t fit in a box, and neither do people, unless of course we have knitted or crocheted the box specifically to meet our body dimensions.
Merry Miller Moon
THIS!!! I’m so sick and tired when people think they are interchangeably or the same thing. The sports balls graphic was point on.
Great points! Wonderful piece!
This article could be about ignorant writers confusing any form of needle arts. Thank you Franklin – well said. I am so tired of hearing the grandmother cliche. I have been a needle artist since I was 4 years old.
this was spot on!! and btw, hilarious, too. it unnerves me when knitting is written in a sexist way. both my sons knit and my daughter, too….good hand/eye thing. ..plus the fun of it.
Thank from a cult member!! This definitely sums up my feeling on knitting and crocheting as shown on the news these days. Especially “you’ll fling yourself out of an airplane, but you won’t purl”.
Loved the article.
Somebody missed the memo ;-). http://www.eonline.com/news/732831/dare-to-wear-an-unexpected-knit-courtesy-of-gigi-hadid
I am unsure if “undeclared” really is the right word you are looking for? Maybe, “men, women and nonbinary people”? Or “men, women and all other genders”? People who don’t identify as a man or a woman usually identify in some way and are not just “undeclared” like they just decided to not tick a box on a form or something.