Having a Ball, Wish You Were Here

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Having a Ball, Wish You Were Here

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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’s July. My grand friends have gone to France, my less grand friends have gone to Michigan, my flat broke friends (the majority) have walked over to the lake for the afternoon. There is a general desire to get out of here, get lost, leave it all behind.

All of it except yarn.

The friends who went to France packed passports and hiking gear. The friends who went to Michigan packed swimsuits and mosquito repellent. The friends over at the lake took snacks and water bottles.

They all packed yarn.

That is, to me, perhaps the surest sign that a person has crossed the line between fancier and fanatic—when it suddenly takes longer to decide which needlework projects to pack than which shoes to pack.

The longer the trip, the more complicated the packing becomes. You find yourself asking questions like:

How close are these current projects to finished? If you’re within an hour or so of completing a piece, you can’t bring it along as your sole project if the trip is going to last more than an hour. You’ll need backup.

Can I work on this while chatting? Vacations often involve proximity to other people who will insist on engaging you in conversation whether you like it or not.

Can I work on this at the beach, on the trail, in an airplane, in a moving car, while seasick, while waiting in line for Space Mountain? Vacations often require that you spend time in settings that are less than optimal for chart reading, or counting, or toting pieces of intarsia that require 22 separate balls of color. You will need projects that travel light.

So you stand there in front of the open suitcases, trying to make decisions.

I really want to finish up the sock, but it’s a second sock and it’s almost finished, and I can never remember how to turn a heel or graft the toe without instructions, so I’ll need to make sure I bring the pattern and my Kitchener stitch cheat sheet. I’ll probably finish the sock by the time we land, so for the beach…let’s see…I’d love to finish the afghan but I’m not going to knit that in the sun by the water…I could get a jump on the Christmas presents. Four pairs of mittens and four matching hats, all in colorwork, so that’s sixteen balls of yarn…and two sets of needles…and stitch markers…and scissors…and tapestry needle…and another tapestry needle for when I lose the first tapestry needle…and stitch holders…and the patterns…which are charted, so I can’t bring those to dinner or on the tour bus…so I suppose I could knock out some plain dishcloths, just to keep my hands busy…so another set of needles…and let’s say four balls of cotton…and lace is always nice in hot weather, what about that shawl that’s been in my Ravelry queue for a year…the yarn is here somewhere…

You go on like this until you find you’ve packed half your stash and there’s no space for underwear.

And you ask yourself, Does a person really need underwear? Really? Is anybody going to check to see if I’m wearing it?

The worst case scenario, of course, is finding that you’ve run through whatever you brought with you and have no way of getting more.

It happened to a friend of mine, who set off for the getaway of a lifetime—a week on a at a friend’s home on a private island off the coast of New England. Upon arrival at the airport, he realized he’d brought the wrong piece of hand luggage. Instead of a bag full of yarn, he had a similar bag full of dirty gym clothes.

After taking a few deep, calming breaths, he decided to approach the situation as an exercise in self-discipline. He would set knitting aside for the week. He would fill the gap with meditation, swimming, sunning, hiking, bird watching, and all the other delights of his temporary island home.

By the morning of the second day in the island house, he had begun to collect the sheddings of the resident shaggy dog.

By that afternoon, he had fashioned a crude spindle with a borrowed CD as the whorl.

By the following day, he was spinning the dog fur into yarn. Which he then began to knit with a pair of sharpened pencils.

If that sounds perfectly reasonable to you…we should go on vacation together.

Having a Ball, Wish You Were Here | Franklin Habit for the Lion Brand Notebook

If you’d like to vacation with Franklin, check out his ‘Nautical Knitting’ Cruise with Melissa Leapman, now booking for December 2013.

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 KnittingYarn Market NewsInterweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkCast On: A Podcast for KnittersTwist 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 an Ashford spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.

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  • “the surest sign that a person has crossed the line between fancier and fanatic—when it suddenly takes longer to decide which needlework projects to pack than which shoes to pack.”
    HA! Oh how I can relate…..

  • Franklin, you keep us in stitches!

  • I would LOVE to vacay with you, Franklin! 🙂 Drinks with umbrellas and lots of knitting and chat-time sound perfect!

  • Perfect comic to go along with, but now it’s got me thinking…

  • I, too, have spun my dogs’ hair!

  • I need to ask the hotel kitchen for some vinegar as my current WIP needs more yarn which has to be dyed first. Which will happen in the hotel bathroom.

    Collecting sheddings and brushings to spin – been doing that for years.

  • I couldn’t agree more with everything that has been said! When people ask me how can you have 6-7 projects going on (they have not been allowed to know, that, I have many more!) simultaneously!! Well one needs something for every situation including while waiting for the milk/water/whatever to boil in the kitchen, going in the car (no, not driving!), when you have guests and some serious knitting of course. And since I knit as well as crochet multiply that by two! And my thumb-rule for packing projects is number of days one or may be two….

    For example tonight I’m leaving for a day to attend a wedding in my friend’s family. I had one project packed. But right now casting on another, you know, just in case……….

    Loved your article, Franklin! It’s so me! It is always good to get confirmed, I have plenty of company!

  • I have done all this and have even stayed awake the whole night in front of my open suitcase wondering if I have taken enough projects with me to keep me busy:) Thanks for keeping me in stitches!!!

  • I’m right there–which project for the airplane, which for the hotel, and is it reasonable to knit on the beach with children swirling around and how much room does a wheel take anyway? Decisions,

  • OMG – I am not alone!

  • Thank you, Franklin! It was terrific to learn that I am not the only one who takes that much more care in packing my knitting!

  • “does a person really need underwear?” LOL
    This column–so true! I just got back from vacation (brought 4 crochet projects, never got to the lace shawl!)

  • Oh, can I relate to this one!! I was ecstatic the day I found out I could take m knitting needles and stork scissors on the airplane again!!

  • Exactly! And I thought it was just me.

  • I could relate to this blog. Now I am hooked on weaving. No room for anything but the loom!

  • Oh, how I can relate! I once had a ball of yarn pop out of the seat pocket and run loose down an airplane aisle. The passengers looked back to see what could possibly be going on. I sheepishly held up my beautiful pray shawl in progress. Even the men had to smile as the flight attendant graciously rolled up my yarn into it’s ball and returned it to me.

  • Very funny and I am not yet a knitter.Working on it but my local yarn shop just closed.
    Guess I will have to venture a little further from home for quality yarns. Love looking at all the fibers and colors!

  • My philosophy… when it comes to underwear, except for that private island, there is always somewhere to buy some cheapies. More room for yarn in the luggage.

  • This is sooooooo me!

  • Hilarious! And so true. Read the article to my husband who simply rolled his eyes. 🙂

  • Best way to pass the time I know of, especially waiting at the MD’s office or while the car is getting worked on. Vacations or travelling are not immune. I once attended a High School football game and was crocheting motifs for an afghan. I didn’t think anything of it until a lady behind me leaned over and said “When you get done with that I’d like to borrow it, it’s a little chilly out here.” 15 people around us started laughing and said “me too!”.

    • I made an afghan for my son who is now 56. I did it when he was a teen. He looks after me now and one day he brought something to show me. It was the centre of the afghan which was the Logo for the team. He kept the logo and kept it with him all of those years.
      I knew he loved it when he opened it up that Christmas. He told me he kept it for years and years. He went on to say how much he missed his afghan. Right a way I started a new one. Well he was over the moon. I never realized how much it meant to him.

  • In a state of extreme knitting deprivation, I’ve spun cat hair and knitted with break-apart chopsticks.

  • I’m not alone! So happy to be in such good company! How many people have said to me “I thought only old folks knitted/crocheted.” Noooooo, not quite. I pack my tapestry needle and stitch markers in a clean prescription bottle and ALWAYS put them back in the bottle when finished; no more lost supplies, no more worry about someone sitting on the needle or the dog finding a new “toy”!

    • I do the same thing. I write what is in the bottle and then stick it on the bottle. I use those sticky file name stickers that you use on file folders.
      Still have to watch them if you have little ones around. My grand children are all adults now so I don’t have to worry but when they were little I would make sure anything like that was well hidden. Little fingers can get the tops off of just about anything.

  • I just spent a week in Paris browsing through yarn shops and having a great time. A side trip to the Gobelin tapestry and Savonnerie carpet manufactory, where they make enormous pieces completely by hand was also inspiring and highly recommended. Along the way I met quite a few people who thought this was a perfectly logical way to spend a week in Paris, and I have a bunch of new friends on Ravelry! It was a little hard to explain to my non-knitting friends when I got back, but I don’t have very many of them anyway….

  • Yup, I do that nearly everyday. What projects to bring is a much more trying that figuring out what clothes to wear, which only requires a quick weather check, besides deciding where I’m going. I’m currently working on the UFO list, a friend kindly has numbered ‘my’ projects by asking if a particular project was project 362. She’s a monogamous knitter/crocheter, rarely working on more than one project at a time. She thinks multiple projects is close to madness, I, in turn shudder at her choice of crocheting a one piece afghan in the summer. My current travel projects are a lace shawl, a pair of socks(second sock with a bit to go), and a hat.

  • I knit Aran sweaters so toting charts and cable needles isn’t feasible when I go to the band concerts in the park. So I have a bag ready packed with scarf yarn and needles and that goes with me whenever I have to somewhere that involves waiting, or just sitting, or any other activity suited to mindless row upon row. It’s not pretty but it keeps my hands moving and my brain (somewhat) engaged.

  • Two years ago, I was in Jasper and noticed a woolshop there. My fingers itched. I couldn’t let that opportunity pass. I went in and bought wool and bamboo needles and knitted on the rest of the trip a wonderful shawl that is the best souvenir I could wrap myself in. In August, i’ll be on the Gaspé Coast and won’t forget my needles and yarn this time. I will probably start a simple sweater for fall (no complicated lace, of course).

  • Ha ha – another good one Franklin! What we need is a nice knitters’s resort with quaint cottages on a lovely lake, a main lodge with a great restaurant, a pro shop like they have at golf courses ( only a yarn shop of course), a movie theater for watching instructional videos during the day and current moves at night, a dinner theater and various other resort features like boat rentals for a trip across the lake to the sheep farm and spinning and weaving venues. Off to buy a lottery ticket….

  • I was floored when the TSA agent at the airport asked why had bags inside a bag. “they are different knitting projects!” Surely he must have come across that before me.

  • I crochet and have a project for watching tv, just because and even one I take to work for my lunch break (I work with truckers and some of the looks I got at first were priceless, they now ask what I’m working on). So nice to know there are others that keep multiple projects going!!

  • Oh, how I can relate! I always pack my yarn projects first. They take the most deliberation. Only then do I throw in the clothing. That’s way less important. And I make sure to explore any LYSs where I’m vacationing, just in case I run out of yarn, needles, you know.

  • I travel by motorhome. Lots of room to stash yarn and needles. If I don’t finish a project I always feel that it is because I was having so much fun. Simple projects are still best.

  • Yes! I spent all yesterday afternoon deciding which WIP’s I absolutely needed for a few days holiday in Kent (UK). Then I had to finish sewing up my new knitting workbag just so I could pack more wool and needles. Ah well I manage my addiction fairly well!
    p.s.it only took 20 mins to decide what clothes to take

  • i am in the same quandary with our upcoming vacation….

  • Of course I travel like this! Including the not-quite-finished projects for the people I’m visiting (my trips mostly involve visits to family). I prefer small and/or easy projects for travel, so I can chat as well as knit. Long plane trips require careful consideration. Thank goodness for circular needles – they don’t stick into your neighbour and don’t roll away under the seats!

  • Since I moved 8 hours away from most of my family, I’ve learned I can knit one sock on the way to see them and the second on the trip home, especially in the summer. Or a simple cowl or shawl or sweater sleeve. A pair of mittens in each direction. Hats, lots of hats. And if I’m NOT driving…

  • Three words for you: Chopsticks and twine.

  • Yep- just got back from the mountains with my normal luggage and, of course, an extra laundry basket with two crochet projects and all the just-in-case extras!

  • Thanks Franklin, you so get it. All those pre trip decisions. At least I know I’m not the only crazy knitter to use sharpened pencils ( my implements of choice when knitting needles were banned on air travel)

  • I have to show this article to my husband! He swears I am the only person on the planet that does this.

  • Several years ago I traveled from Texas to Oregon to stay for 3 mos. Luckily I went by car. Took 2 large plastic tubs full of yarn and a complete set of needles . now there were 3 yarn shops within 30 miles of where I was staying many more along the way, Visited them all!! Clothes you ask? Oh, they were in suitcases in the luggage rack on top of the car.

  • When packing I’ve learned to use Space Bags to pack clothes in so I’ll have more room for my yarn projects. In fact, I use SB’s for larger projects and/or won’t need until I reach our destination. It’s also not uncommon to spend my last minutes before leaving doing internet research for yarn shops … just in case. Thanks to all for letting me know I’m not alone 🙂

  • I know that so well. I’ve made this cartoon about that a couple of months ago 🙂

    • Haha, donnarossa, that’s AWESOME. Can I repost it to the Lion Brand Notebook blog so more people can see it? Let me know if you have a link to your website or something that you’d like me to share for attribution.

  • So nice to know I have so many kindred yarn crafters out there. My yarn and needles had a great trip to North Dakota last year. Four of our grandchildren spent last week with us; went to the zoo, lazer tag, Mt. Rainier, out for pizza……I suffered some withdrawal pangs, but we had a great time!

    Thanks for the great article Franklin!

  • I only pack the crochet hooks, then I can hit all of the yarn shops on my trip – guilt free!

  • I packed a light weight cotton yarn & a lacy pattern for a tropical vacation. Every day I attempted to start the sweater, would get a couple rows started and then was absolutely convinced there was an error in the pattern. My husband suggested that my cocktail consumption may be a factor.
    I returned with not a stitch on the needles ready to look the pattern up on the internet for corrections. Once again I cast on and started knitting. I soon discovered that the old adage – if you knit and drink, you will rip and tink.

  • I’m writing this Sunday nite for a flight home tomorrow, after a 7-day Alaska cruise. I took several balls of “Jelli Beanz” yarn, crocheted on the planes, during the layover, etc. Wore one hat/scarf set, sold 2 sets to others of our group of 120, and gave one set (rather than a monetary tip) to one ship employee who helped me the most (I am 69, bad knees, hearing aids, legally blind). She acted prouder of that, than had I given her money.

  • TRUTH!

  • Not only do I spend more time picking out my knitting projects (than clothes) for trips, I have a hard time walking out the door for a trip to the bank, shopping, lunch with my hubby/friends … you get the picture … without picking up 2-3 WPI’s. Never know how long I’ll be out and being caught without something to work on is not acceptable. So you can only imagine what my car looks like on a road trip!!

  • Love this story, just adorable…and a little, ahem, too close to home!

  • Loved it and so true! Vacation to the cabin/lake in two weeks and already 4 bags ready with crochet/loom projects but no clothes/bedding/kitchen stuff yet! I’m hoping to get some projects done while sitting on the front porch watching nature go by!

  • when I go to my sons’ caravan for a week I take my spinning wheel, is that fanatical!!!

  • I can definitely relate to this article.

  • Love this one. I have done some of the same things. Always pack the yarn first and whatever room is left is for everything else.

  • for the first time in many, many years, London became too hot to knit recently (remember, air-conditioning is rare here). I had to pack away the project bags and concentrate on light sewing and making up patterns. My favourite travel project is the Teddy Bear wardrobe. A while ago, I bought 10 bears on sale and now provide 15 or so outfits in a wooden wardrobe (curtained, padded hangers) to small family members and fund-raising events. As well as using up yarn and fabric from my grossly over-stocked cupboards, it’s a good excuse to travel with a furry friend. It’s also a good way to avoid contact on public transport – we are British you know!! People will do anything to avoid sitting next to someone knitting or sewing. Clearly we are Dangerous!!!

  • I can so relate to your friend who found themselves without yarn on a vacay. Once I went fishing with my husband and didn’t bring ENOUGH knitting along so I resorted to tatting with fishing braid using lead weights as beads. Sad but true.

  • […] Habit signs copies of the illustration from his blog post “Having a Ball, Wish You Were Here” on the Lion Brand […]

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