Splitting Yarns

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Splitting Yarns

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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.

You’re toodling blithely through a normal day when suddenly WHAM! A memento of forgotten love hits you right between the eyes.

I was wriggling around under the work table trying to retrieve an errant ball of silk when among the thriving community of dust bunnies I found a crumpled lump that turned out to be a mitten pattern bought in a shop seven years ago.

It was an impulse purchase. I remember the impulse. I was only buying stitch markers, thank you. Then the shop owner was saying, Have you seen these? Then I was buying the stitch markers and the pattern for the mittens and the needles for the mittens and the yarn for the mittens, thank you.

If you would like to know how the mittens came out, please see “crumpled lump,” above.

I can’t recall why I abandoned them, but I can see why I snapped them up. They have an unusual, slightly tricky thumb. I get a kick out of slightly tricky knitting. It makes me feel dauntless and clever, like a lion tamer who has not yet had his head bit off.

Yet I don’t think I finished the cuff, let alone the thumb. Today the yarn is (probably) in one of my stash boxes and the pattern is wadded up like old Kleenex, covered with dust. It is likely to remain so. The passage of time has not been kind to these mittens. They now remind me uncannily of the shapeless peacock blue suit that I wore to a high school debate banquet in 1987.

I went to that banquet with a boy I believed to be the absolute Last Word in romance. By the time the ice cream was brought around, he had revealed himself to be an aficionado of fart jokes and I had changed my mind.

The mittens were like that brief, naïve interlude. Momentary infatuation, forgotten in a flash. No great loss. Yet I flinch even now at the thought of another project that began the same way. A sweater vest. My first fitted garment.

The magic of the beginning–there was a spark; then a second, lingering look. Longing. Contact. Flirting. Petting. Finally, a promise. Then the work. So much work. Tears. Shouting. Elation. More tears. Threats of abandonment. But I stuck it out until it was mine, complete.

I tried it on in front of the mirror.

It looked…odd. I turned sideways. It still looked odd. I stepped back and squinted. It looked blurry, and odd. I tried two other mirrors. Odd. Odd.

But you don’t just walk away from a commitment like that. It was my vest, and I was going to love it no matter what. I can make this work, I thought. So I wore it to knit night and showed it to my friends.

They tried to be kind.

“Wow,” said one. “So…are you happy with it?”

“Yes,” I lied.

“Well,” she said, forcing a smile, “that’s all that matters. Congratulations.”

Others were less charitable. When she thought I was deeply engaged in a six-over-six cable, our group’s most unrepentant gossip hissed, “It’s all wrong on him. Is he blind?”

In my secret heart I knew she was right, but denial is powerful. It wasn’t until a complete stranger in a yarn store said, “Well, don’t worry–I’m sure your next one will come out better,” that I was able to admit it: the vest and I were through.

Don’t go looking for it on my Ravelry projects page. There are no photographs. A break-up like ours required nothing less than the obliteration of all evidence. The pattern went in the real recycle bin, the snapshots went into the digital recycle bin. The yarn (which was expensive) was reclaimed after much tugging and pulling to undo the bind off and all the woven-in ends.

At knit night, somebody asked why they hadn’t seen me wearing the vest in a while. I told her the truth–it was gone. “Good for you,” she said. “You’re better off without it.”

I stashed the yarn for years, telling myself maybe with time and thought I could turn it into something else. Something happy. Then one morning without a second thought I put it into a pile of supplies that were going to a homeless shelter.

I almost never think of that vest now, except sometimes.

Bad projects. You think they’ll change. They tell you they’ll change. But they never change. Not really.


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 an Ashford spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.

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  • My knitting group has an annual event during a summer meeting at Carol’s home by the lake wherein we ceremonially incinerate those patterns / projects / yarns that were evil. We invoke the god of knitting, recite (in)appropriate prayers and imprecations, then consign those suckers to the flames. It’s quite cathartic and we look forward to it all year.

  • When a project doesn’t turn out the way I had hoped, I simply “un-knit” (unravel) the entire project for some other project down the way. I’ve heard that in Japan, when money was tight, that the young knitters would unravel a completed sweater and reuse the yarn to knit a sweater pattern currently in style. Talk about recycling! I have unknit several sweaters and though I wasn’t pleased with the project chosen, I was adamant that I would rework the yarn into something I did like. Yarn is too expensive and sometimes hard to find, just to scrap it. It can always be reworked into a hat, neck wrap, lap throw or pet blanket. Or better yet, mix it with a novelty yarn for interest. Make it into a pillow for the bed or couch. Or as a gifted item.

  • I’m just like this – down to the dust bunnies and the occasional old, crumpled up patterns. Unfortunately, I have a hard time letting go, so my unloved projects are still in bags waiting for reworking or unraveling. My resolution for this year was to work my way through the bags one at a time, either finishing or unraveling, until the bags are gone. Now if people will take a break from having babies so I can take a break from knitting baby sweaters, I will succeed.

  • Shiphrah, what a wonderful idea. I think my group should start this tradition. Franklin, I still haven’t gotten an address for the cookies. Rember, onewarmcookie and doily dude from “A Verb for Keeping Warm” in Oakland, CA. Please send me a ravelry message and I will send you your cookies. Debra

  • LOL! I have a huge shelf of boxes full of projects like this! Seeing as how I am deeply impatient, I wonder why I even TRY to start some of the things that I do…. Ooh!!! Shiny! Want to do THAT! Annnnd, there I go. . . Of course, I pulled out a quilt that I was working on a couple of months ago in order to get my “Quilting Groove” back before beginning a project to be entered into a national contest, and now I can’t find the pattern I was working from. But at least I spent last night cleaning out my studio, so it was useful one way or the other!

  • I liked your essay, you’re very personable. Someone gave my father a fart joke book. It’s here somewhere. Thank you!

  • Stash the yarn long enough in the wrong place and something will come along and eat holes in your project. Then you HAVE to get rid of it. If there aren’t TOO many holes you can still ravel and re-use, but sometimes you have to think: This yarn would make a great fringe on something sometime.

  • I like the idea of incinerating those miserable patterns that have so many mistakes in them that the pattern’s designer could not possibly knit them. I am endlessly happy to frog projects that are never going to get finished or that will never get worn if I do finish them. But yarn? Aside from the fact that neither burning hair / wool nor plastic / acrylic smells very good, I find it very hard to imagine evil yarn. Ugly yarn, sure. Hard to knit yarn, sometimes. Wrong yarn for the project, often. But even yarn that is ugly by itself turns out to set off another color of yarn perfectly, and hard to knit yarn becomes manageable as my skills increase, and there is always going to be another project that the yarn would suit better.

    However – I do have an image of what evil yarn would be like! It would get up while you were sleeping, knit itself into ugly pajamas, wrap itself around you, and shut off your alarm, so that you wake up in ugly hand knit pajamas just as your family is arriving for your birthday party so that everyone spends the whole day bursting into giggles whenever they look at you. If your yarn ever knits itself into ugly pajamas while you sleep, though, don’t throw it in the bonfire, donate it to a battered woman’s shelter. If you have fled for your life with nothing but the clothes on your back, well ugly pajamas are probably better than no pajamas at all.

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