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
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Your granny watched Lawrence Welk! I knew it!
I am with you, if a charity needs help I will wash dishes, donate clothing, help with homework and so on. But my knitting is not for that. They really do not want my resentment of using my knitting time to soak into the knitting going to others!
Ahh, I’m just learning to knit but I’ve been crocheting for a while. I very, very rarely use a pattern. I tend to make simple things…..infinity cowls, rugs, caps, afghans, totes, dish rags…… I just start with a stitch or combination of stitches that I like and go for it! I am frustration incarnate to all of those who request “one just like that” or those who ask for the pattern. A.) I can’t make you one just like that because I only vaguely remember what I did to create that one and B.) No you can’t because there isn’t one. Lol! And I most certainly do not make anything that requires me to make 60 six inch blocks and then connect them all together! Shudder!
I too have an aversion to repetitive crochet, except that now it has been profitable for me to make the same thing over and over. Still, I stitch no faster than I did before, and I am even pickier about the size, shape and placement of my stitches in a piece.
I guess I must be grateful that what I have been stitching doesn’t need to be sewn together.
Love the illustration.
I watched Lawrence Welk with my Grandma on Saturday PM followed by Carol Burnett, or was it visa versa….and she knit or crochet a lot of afghans….strip afghans…
AZ Barb Z
An interesting classification method for knitters and crocheters. I’ll have to poll my yarn lovers and see what they think.
Ok. I have laughed and cried in the span of two minutes and enjoyed a lovely, fun and relevant cartoon. Day made. Thanks.
May I weigh in for both? I like the adventure and the newness of a project too, but there are times when I just want the feel of yarn moving through my hands and the centering effect of the knitting process. Times like: when in a lecture that I really want to listen to but I must have my hands moving; when in a doctor’s office, emergency or not; when watching for the tenth time a movie kids and/or spouse like but me, not so much; when I’m in the car on vacation looking out the window at the Smokies or the Rockies and don’t want to have to look at my hands; when I’m in the trailer on same vacation and the battery has died and the lanterns are feeble but it’s only 8 pm local time. Then it’s back to the wardrobe of 6-8 dishcloth patterns I enjoy. I do rotate within that group and pick colors that really speak to my mood, not just something random, so I guess it’s not technically the same thing over and over again. And there’s the eternal Scandinavian Stay-On Baby Sock pattern, best $1 I ever spent what, 30 years ago, a never-fail shower gift that I have memorized so all I need is sock yarn and some #3s.
Might you share the baby sock pattern? How about if I double your money at $2?
See Ravelry. It has photos and a link to https://web.archive.org/web/20080914222510/http://knitgirlinorway.blogdrive.com/archive/748.html
Got it! Thanks
The comment about the socks made me laugh… I knit pairs for my daughter, only to find out that she wears them individually because mis-matched socks are trendy at her high school. Hers are trendier than most since they are hand-knit, and amazing colours.
Dorothy Antje Streutker
I’m with you on repetitive patterns/stitches. That is at least part of the reason I have several unfinished cardigans, scarves, etc. I make the most progress on these projects when I attend meetings for work (but now I’m unemployed/semi-retired…) and church. But my favorite projects are doilies (crochet), and they take too much concentration & counting to make during the aforementioned meetings. It’s a conundrum!
But years ago, I visited my Tante Antje in the Netherlands. For hours, we sat together at the front window — uncurtained, as is the Dutch custom — and knitted and talked and waved to neighbors as they walked by. This was in Friesland, in the north of Holland, not Amsterdam! Tante taught me to do a cable, and I wore that vest until it began to unravel! My memories of that precious time, however, have not unravelled or even dimmed. I prefer crochet to knitting now, but every stitch is in honor of Tante Antje. She repeated many patterns: During WWII, she used wool from previously worn sweaters to make new sweaters. But because she had such a strong motivation, repetition was not a problem. A recent trip to visit my cousins (Tante has died) has re-inspired me to work on old projects!
I, in a moment of delirium, decided to make Christmas scarves for my choir to wear. It’s not a large choir (16-20 people), but still…so what I have done is make scarves of similar dimensions, using the same yarn and needles, but every single one is unique–I used different stitch patterns. Most people don’t even see it, but the making of them was much more enjoyable for me because I built variety into them. Also, the men’s scarves are different from the women’s, so that was another source of variety.
I think there is a little of all 4 in all of us! I make baby afghans/regular for friends…they love them because they don’t know anyone else that crochets & they are a unique gift. I do pet blankets because they are easy to do & you can watch a movie, ride in a car/airplane & not have to look at what I’m doing & they are small enough to work on, then donate to the local animal shelter. I have a Granny squares bag at work & can do 1 or 2 at lunch time. Never have just one project I’m working on.
I see why he is so popular. He WRITES WELL. This is a gift, fewer and fewer people can write these days- they are just *really bad* & Franklin is one of those people that has managed to not be dumbed down (sorry for that trite and passe phrase but I mean it). He not only is erudite but writes in a way that captures your interest too. Go see his “Panopticon” blogspot, his completed pattern of a very old lace manuscript is remarkable. He appreciates things that are good. He’s one of those people that can find the humor in such little things that would otherwise just pass you by, you know- one of those types who make life happy, funny, worth living!
Darnit. Just found another blog that will take up more of my valuable time!!
PS no I am not a friend of his, nor have I ever met this guy in my life, reading this on Lion Brand is the 1st I’ve heard of this man.
Perfect. I could give you examples — of your own examples — on each point you made. In fact, I forwarded this to a certain someone in my family so she’d know I’m not the only one who feels this way!
Funny guy! This makes me appreciate my sister even more. She dislikes repetitive knitting so much she can’t seam to make the 2nd 1/2 of ANYthing!