Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.
There’s a scene in the classic film The Red Shoes in which Boris Lermontov (the passionate ballet impresario) asks Victoria Page (the passionate ballerina) a passionate question, passionately, about her great passion:
Boris: Why do you dance?
Victoria: Why do you live?
Boris: I don’t know, exactly…but I must.
Victoria: Well, that is my answer, too.
Every dancer I know–past, present, or wannabe–dissolves into a pool of tears at the mere mention of this snip of dialogue. That’s it, they sob. That’s it. That’s why we do it. Because we must.
It sounds a tad overheated to an outsider; but I think it must be wonderful, and terrible, and wonderful, to be so enthralled by your art.
When Lion Brand asked me to write this month’s column on the theme of “Why I Knit,” I thought about The Red Shoes and the weeping dancers. I had to ask myself whether I feel that deeply about knitting.
Certainly I’ve been knitting long enough and intensely enough that questioning it seems almost absurd. Yes, I knit. I also breathe. There are times when I would be hard pressed to tell you which is more important to my well-being. How can something most of the world shrugs off as a hobby–a silly hobby, at that–become so central to a person’s life?
I grabbed a piece of scratch paper* and started making a list of reasons I knit.
An unexpected side effect of this has been a growing sense of peace with my own body. Without garment labels to remind me that I am too short here and too wide there, I can just be…me. Less time spent frowning at the mirror has meant more time doing things I love. Like knitting.
I have no patience with flight delays, security lines, slow subway trains, long sonatas, waiting for the bus, strolling tourists, conference calls, dance recitals, sporting events, check-out lanes, road trips, children’s parties, adult parties, people who take forty minutes to order a burrito at Chipotle, or myself. Unless I’m knitting.
If I’m knitting, there’s progress being made. The crown of the hat closes up, the sweater gets longer. Time slips past, but with two busy, happy hands I don’t worry about grabbing it. My brain is preoccupied with happy questions like, “When does this cable cross again?” instead of sad questions like, “Which will end first, my life or this elementary school production of Giselle?”
More time spent knitting means less time doing things I shouldn’t. Like–sure, okay–killing people.
This three-item list helped me get at the root of why knitting has become so dear to me, as much a part of my existence as breathing.
All these reasons have to do with control: of how I look, of how my surroundings look, of how I feel, of how my mind feels. With so little certainty in the world, there is measureless comfort in the way one stitch always, always, always leads to the next, and the next, and the next; until I’ve finished the sweater, solved the problem, or outlived the conference call. Or, for that matter, written this column.
Why do I knit? I don’t know, exactly…but I must.
Why do you do it?**
*The scratch paper turned out to be the back of a label from a skein of Lion Brand LB Collection Organic Wool. So, yeah.
**Knit, crochet, weave…anything with yarn. Why do you do it?
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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I knit to keep my mind present while listening to my daughter practice reading or listening to audiobooks.
I have found that I can only do the most rudimentary knitting when listening to audio books. While working an intricate cable, I lost an entire chapter of HP and the Deathly Hallows and had to go back.
It’s the same for me. I have a project that’s plain knitting for listening. When I attempt something more complicated, I work in silence.
I ALWAYS listen to the Harry Potter audio books while I knit or crochet <3
I learned years ago that I need to create things in order to be happy. Knitting is not only a practical art for me, it also relieves stress and calms my racing mind. An unexpected side benefit when I picked it up again after 35 years was discovering the fiber arts community. I have made some very close friends (and gotten to know many others) as a result of the love we have in common for this craft. I can’t imagine my life without it now.
I’ve crafted my whole life. Sewed and smocked when my kids were little. Started knitting, but got divorced and had to work two jobs, so no crafting. My daughter started college and wanted to knit, so we took a beginners class on knitting. Now we are never without our knitting. I love to create. I love to see it grow in my hands. I love to wear something and have someone say, “I have that pattern, I need to make it.” Or “what pattern is that?” My daughter and I still go to classes, as you are never to old to learn something knew about knitting.
Initially, #2 – because the Powers That Fashion decided nobody could have anything blue and I WANTED BLUE THINGS. Since I started grad school, it has shifted to #3: my brain is a cage full of excited ferrets at the best of times, and knitting keeps the ferrets busy so I can read a whole chapter without getting sidetracked (well, not more than three times. Five, tops).
Your list could be mine! Especially the part about having no patience.
I would also add the odd combination of challenge and peace that knitting brings to me. I may fight to learn a new pattern stitch, but once the light bulb goes off in my head, and I really understand what each stitch does in its place, then I relax and enjoy the production of my just-right item.
When I was a child I knit so that my father would go to the steel mill with warm feet in socks we made only for him. When I returned to knitting after many years I knit to alleviate the pain in my hands from heavy data entry. I kept knitting to make gifts of love for my friends and family, to treat my own feet to the pleasure of hand knit socks. Knitting calms my mind and keeps my aging hands strong and flexible. My knitting circle is a fellowship of very different women, united in creating beautiful things and encouraging each other.
Ever since I was a little girl, there’s always been *something* being made by my hands. I can’t imagine life without that creative outlet, nor would I want to.
I knit to calm myself. I, like you, knit so I don’t kill people. My daughter told me one day that I have no patience, I told her no I don’t because you and your brother used it all up. But on the other hand, I believe that I knit to also keep my mind occupied. I think about the knitting itself and the colors.
To find a sense of calm and purpose… To quiet the jangling of worry in my mind… To focus on solving a problem that is solveable… To keep focus… Basically, to maintain my sanity and the fact that I can create something beautiful and practical at the same time is part of the magic.
I join the majority with my reason for knitting: I can’t sit still. My husband controls the TV so I listen to audio books or watch the occasional football game. My hands have to do something, so they knit. I don’t always finish projects, but they’ve served their purpose by keeping my hands busy, and maybe someday I’ll pick them up again.
Knitting has given me far greater patience, as you so eloquently said
I started knitting after I broke my leg, when my orthopaedist told me to take up knitting or crochet or fancy work, “since you can’t watch TV all day.” I responded, “I don’t own a TV, so I can’t watch TV at all.” He said, “You can’t read all day, either.” Since I originally come from New England, I knit to make the world a warmer place, because two hands working can accomplish more than 1000 hands praying, because I love the Shaker adage, “Hands to work, and hearts to God,” even though I am not a believer, because it passes the time on plane rides and cross country trips in the car, and even sometimes on the subway.I knit because I must, and am at loose ends if I don’t.
Thanks to my two super knitter Estonian grandmothers, I believe I am genetically programmed to knit. Actually, my degree is in studio art but those same genes programmed me to be creative while making useful items at the same time.
because it feels good.
I knit to keep sane. It’s working :0
Knitting and weaving provide me with the ability to create, which helps to ground me and provides me with a sense of peace & productivity. My work as a hospice nurse can be both stressful and emotionally exhausting. The fiber arts help to focus my mind and allow me to be a source of beauty & creation.
I needed a hobby. Knitting was cheap to get in on, but gave me room to grow and keeps me challenged. This is a craft that can be as complex, or as simple, as I want it to be.
Yeah, number 3 fits me perfectly. I couldn’thave spent ” all those years ” as telephone customer service without my stitching in my lap. These days i’m retired and my stitching has given me community.
I’m a Maker and makers must make/create. I love yarn as my main medium… the feel, texture, color of it. I love that I can make from the most simple, barest of materials and mold them into something unique, or utilitarian or artful. I love that it connects me to thousands of years of history. When I see a piece of someone’s cloth woven many hundreds of years ago, I can feel my connection to him/her and it grounds me. Weaving, knitting, spinning make me whole.
Debbi Rigg Houtz
the colors, the textures, and to quiet my mind. I am retired and I spend ALL my time either spinning , knitting, wet felting ,dyeing fibers and now getting back into weaving.
I knit because, in a world of ephemera, knitting/crocheting/embroidering gives me something solid and beautiful to hold on to, and for the archeologists to find, long after electricity and bits and bytes have all died away.
I learned to knit before I went to school. By the time I was 15 other kids paid me to knit. I sucked at sports, I sucked at chess (the 2 Big Deals in my school) but I could knit and knit well. I was and am proud of my knitting, I love that I create useful things that are also beautiful, and I still thumb my nose at the volley ball girls who wouldn’t notice me ….till they needed that toque. Oh…and also for the same reasons you knit!
I knit to honor my inner five year old, who just likes to make things. Soft pretty things in wonderful colors and patterns, that let me wrap others in visible love.
I started knitting for the happy challenge it gave my brain. I still enjoy that, but I keep knitting for the people I’ve met in the knitting community. I plan to enjoy each of those things for many years to come.
I’m a software engineer. I can build the coolest gnarliest programs, but at the end of the day it’s just bits on a screen. Knitting is tangible. It gives me something I can point to and say “I made that”. Plus I love the feeling of yarn running through my fingers and the colors make me happy.
I knit because it relaxes me, because I love the utility of the objects I can create and it fulfills a need to make something that isn’t clutter. I fell in love with fiber. I love the tactile. I like to make things like books and baskets, too, but knitting offers a portability that other crafts don’t. I was in love with printmaking but one needs access to a press, ink, limestone slabs, zinc plates, etc. and you can’t do that while you’re waiting for the car maintenance or the next flight or the doctor to see you. I ride the fine line of icebreaker and annoyance in the pub; people ask inane questions, but I also look approachable with my Guinness by my side. <3
Knitting helps satisfy my creative urges and helps give me more control over my surroundings. Throughout my life, I’ve engaged in creative activity — playing music, cooking, drawing and painting, theoretical mathematics (just trust me here), and building things. I like knitting in particular because it’s portable (I’m not playing my oboe or cooking on public transit or in a waiting room), I love the tactile nature of it, and I get to make useful things with it that are a bit less ephemeral than a good meal. Knitting fits handily in those times of day where we have enforced waiting — something I have a fair amount of as a mother. I enjoy the medium (yarn and needles), the rhythm of it, the analytical nature of patterns, and the finished objects I create.
I love knitting, but I see it as part of an overall creative and crafting tradition within my family. Family members painted many of the pictures on my walls, made some of my furniture, perform music that I listen to, I serve food and store items in bowls created by family, and the like. I live, I breathe, I create. 🙂
I knit because it’s productive fiddling.
It allows me to listen, quietly, when I need to without feeling the need to share my opinion.
I can listen without wanting the person speaking to hurry UP already.
I knit because it’s badass to make your own socks/sweater/hat/mittens.
I knit because it brings my introverted self out at least once a week to meet up with other knitters.
I knit because co-workers reproduce at a great rate and require baby gifts – and my baby gifts are awesome.
I knit because it’s a great post-apocalyptic life skill.
I knit because I love it.
I knit for all the reasons you listed (except that I’m 5’7″ and am a petite in short sleeves…but in long sleeves…well, I’m not a petite. Short waist, long arms.
I knit because my husband coaxed me into trying it while I was trying to teach myself crochet–which never took–because he thought a knitted scarf, made by me would be very romantic. He’s not so sure about scarves anymore, but he does love his hand made socks.
I knit because it sooths me and gives me patience, because wearing hand knits gets me through bad days, and because how else will I be able to build a wardrobe of 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s sweaters?
I started knitting over a decade ago when I was literally locked in my house by depression, anxiety, and living till the next day wasn’t something I could take for granted. I taught myself off a free site on the internet, and I knit and I knit and I knit, because “still knitting” meant I was “still breathing.” I knit myself a lifeline of bad hats and worse sweaters. And then the sun began to come out, and I started to breathe a little, and knitting was still my lifeline but the stuff coming off the needles began to get a lot better. And lo there were other knitters out there, and I went outside and I met them and made friends – a lot of whom understood what “knitting yourself a lifeline of bad hats” meant. Now a decade later things aren’t as dire, but knitting still quiets my insides and soothes the tiger of anxiety in my belly. It calms my mind and keeps my fretful hands busy. I knit because it gives me a sort of meditative delight on the daily. I love seeing what lies around the next row, I love seeing things as they take shape. And… I don’t want to throttle people. Or if I do, that’s ok, I can just pick up the sticks and knit, knit, knit…
Tine Ditmar Unnerup
Because I don’t fit normal sizes. Because I was brought up to knit when I needed a pair of handknit socks or a sweater. Because it was mighty ‘in’ in the 70’ies when I was young. Because it slows my brain down enough to let the rest of the thoughts be valuable. Because I like to do it. Because I can use the finished objects as gifts and people are happy for them. Because I need something to use all my homespun yarn for. Because I wear out the left sleeve of all my sweaters much too fast. Because I have kids who liked my home knit stuf. Because knitting (and weaving and crocheting and spinning and needle binding) is in my veins. Because other knitters are fabulous people I like to spend time with. Because there are SO many shawls just waiting for me to knit them. Because I can impress the heck out of non-knitters with my lace. Because it’s not possible to buy proper sweaters or baby clothes in a proper quality for a reasonable amount of money (if at all).
I guess I have more reasons, but these just popped up.
I totally get the sizing thing! Being plus sized, I appreciate the ability to customize fit.
I start knitting and crocheting projects out of visionary ambition and visceral love for the yarn. And then I don’t finish them, unless they’re very small, because I’m always finding something else I’d rather do.
I torment yarn for the peace it brings, often for knowing from when came that bit of yarn…by looking out at the barn, or a friend’s flock. I too knit, crochet, and such because the search for what I want online makes my head hurt. So I twiddle the yarn, coercing into something good and fun and well made, to get rid of the headache. And I knit so I don’t kill people…those who know me will understand.
They didn’t have drugs for ADHD when I was a kid, and keeping my hands busy allows me to focus when I need to and endure tedium when I must, which is often. It’s called Cognitive Grounding. A side benefit is not killing people…
I can relate! I wasn’t diagnosed with ADD until adulthood, but one of the things that I looked back at with an “a-ha” was the fact that I always knit when I’m watching a movie or TV.
I feel as though I’m wasting time if I’m not doing something with my hands while watching tv. And knitting whilst listening to an audio book is certainly more productive than just reading or just listening to the book. At times I resent the time I spend online reading things like Franklin Habit’s musings or the (gawd awful) news when I could be knitting or learning to crochet. Oh, and it’s harder to eat while knitting so that too 🙂
I knit because I have to. Because I love to order my thinking with the repeated, ordered motions of my hands.
I knit to be absolutely present, and also to be absolutely absorbed. It fits every bill, doesn’t it?
Knitter is part of who I am. Creator of warmth. When someone suffers a tragedy, there are people who will show up at their door with casseroles. Other folks will come over and do their laundry or wash the dishes. I will grab my knitting needles and whip out a shawl or scarf or hat to wrap them in a portable embrace. It is my calling in life to keep people warm. Something soft and cozy with love and a prayer in every stitch. Knitting is not a choice. It is an outlet.
Knitting gives me time to concentrate – to be with me for a time. Some call it meditation, but generally meditation doesn’t include phrases like “Oh, sÂ¥#t, why did I miss that left cross”, or other phrases that cannot be put here without censoring, but it lets me be… there’s challenge, there’s accomplishment, there’s familiarity. And I don’t play basketball. Baseball, curling, so I can’t have the thrill of scoring a goal. But can those players say they’ve just finished a sweater, and now I’m casting on a pair of socks?
The tactile nature of knitting is very soothing. I’ve been called a “yarn snob.” To which I’ve replied, “Thank you.”
Because I must works just fine for me …
I knit so I can experience the world like a “normal” person. I have social anxiety. Crowds unhinge me. Strangers worry me. Heaven help me if someone wants to talk to me, I may just cry – on the inside and out. It’s not their fault and unless they are my family or have been friends with me for decades, they don’t get it. I have learned that if I have a project with me and I can work it – a hat, socks, granny square, anything – I can handle it. I sewed up a cute little project bag that fits perfectly in my purse so I am never without knitting.
When my focus is on my project I forget, sort of, to be worried about people. Someone can talk to me because they aren’t talking to me – or usually even looking at me – but they too are focused on my project. By removing the focus off of me and having it be on my project, I can handle the world… because I want to do things even though they scare me, so I’m a little like Linus, except I have to knit my blanket instead of carry it.
Catherine Freedman Myers
I have never been able to just sit and pay attention. When I was a kid, I played with legos in front of the TV. I knit so that I do not fidget, doodle, daydream, or sleep when I need to pay attention. When I can’t have my knitting it’s very very hard to keep focussed.
Of course, i also knit when I just want to knit.
This blog post is mine…written a couple months ago!
Diann Wilson Lippman
I knit to create, to have clothing that is unique and fits, to keep my hands busy during conference calls so my mind doesn’t wander off somewhere else (oh look! a shiny squirrel!). I knit because I have no patience for waiting or for wasting time, and because something beautiful, or unusual, or even truly horrible emerges and I made it with sticks and string. i knit because I am.
I knit because the repetitive motion soothes me when I’m depressed and calms me when I’m agitated.
I knit because it kept me from losing my mind during a very bad time. Many bad times have come and gone and I can’t imagine getting through them without my wheel and needles (and the occasional hook.) My craft is my sanity and I pray more than I not lose my mind that I not lose my ability to knit.
I echo the statement from MadKnits: “I knit because I must, and I am at loose ends if I don’t.” My sentiments exactly! I once spent 2 hours in the car alone, waiting for AAA to arrive – and ran out of yarn for my project 15 minutes into the wait and nearly had a nervous breakdown. Now I keep a spare project in a secret place in the car…
Because I do not know life without knittin in it. My mother was a knitter and my parental grandmother was a knitter. In my very first picture (about one day old, in a hospital with my mmom) I am wearing a handknit item. It is in my blod. As agrown up I fought really hard the urge to spin, and lost… Only after I thaught mayself to spin (with Abby’s videos), did I learned that the aabove mentioned paternal grandmother (who passed away a few years before that spinning thing) used to spin, kept angora bunnies… Now, who am I to fight my DNA? Yes, I can go on about making things,creating, clothing that fits, and getting really bored really easily, but they are only layers above that basic thing… my DNA and connections to my ancestors.
Good question and I love your answers, Franklin.
Let me think a moment. I find it soothing to do something with my hands while watching tv or riding on the bus or in the car. I love creating something that I can share with others, both the item itself and the pattern. I find all three of your reasons apply to me as well. And I’ve often said to fellow dancers that ask why I’m knitting before a performance or on the way to one, that knitting is how my fingers dance. My soul craves movement of some kind. And I get a new sweater (or hat or mitts or what have you) at the end of it. (Unlike a performance that often gets me a new blister or two. Or another broken blood vessel in my toe lol)
I don’t know if I DO know why I knit…except it usually makes me feel like my depression isn’t in absolute charge at that one moment.
Claudia Katrosh Gonzalez
I knit so that I can remain focused. When my hands are busy, my mind doesn’t wander to questions like, have my lives refilled on Candy Crush? My fingers don’t wander to Amazon for a little light shopping. My head stays in the game, and on the conference call in question, when my hands are too busy to cause mischief. Also, it’s. great excuse to knit at work!
A bit long to post here so I put it on my blog. 😀
I learned to knit when I was 8, at the side of a former landlady who was more like a grandmother to me. I called her Nanny because HER grandchildren did, and even after we moved away I was still visiting her because she had a piece of her heart reserved for ME as well. (She would call my mother and ask if I could spend the weekend with her. And during one of those visits she taught me to knit.) After that, I knitted anywhere and everywhere, and now I cannot sit without knitting (or crocheting, but knitting is my first love) to occupy my hands. When I had cataract surgery last year the only thing I COULD do was knit, and when I could clearly see again, the first thing I told my surgeon was, “I’m making you a scarf, what color would you like?” It is a physical expression of my gratitude, my fondness, and/or my love for another person when I create something especially for them, and I can’t imagine a time when I could not knit.
I crochet because I can. I am partially disabled, but I can make teddy bears. Last year, I donated 50 bears to an organization that gives them to foster kids in my own area. BJ
Thank you Franklin for writing these columns! By doing this you bring so much joy, fun, uproarious laughter, & good spirits into our lives. And we all need this. Humor is one of the greatest of Human qualities!!! I knit & crochet because I thrive on beauty, color, texture, & CREATIVITY.
Lovely, Franklin. Thank you.
Why do I knit? I knit because I can and it is mine. By that I mean no one knits quite like me and no one can take it away from me
I’m currently struggling with some cognitive issues due to medical treatment. I’ve crocheted for 40 years now and always found it to help me tame the “squirrels” running around my mind when I needed to concentrate on a lecture, meeting or important conversation. (Downside here is that this does NOT work when there is a conversation I don’t want to follow!) Now, I hope that crocheting will help me find my way back to the thinking powers lost and I am slowly tackling more challenging patterns as a means to do so. My goal is to resume the Kristin Amdahl shawl pattern I barely started just before getting sick. Currently the pattern and started shawl look like paw prints from those idiot squirrels but I will get there. Franklin, your work inspires and encourages me, thanks!
Multiple reasons. No patience, like yourself, but also it helps my anxiety, quells my fidgety fingers, and gets me through books that I’d feel guilty for sitting and reading. If I’m reading AND making up that hat for the donation box, well I’m obviously productive.
I knit and crochet because it allows me to have a creative and artistic outlet that my profession does not allow. It allows me to justify sitting on the sofa because I am not only sitting I am being productive. It allows me to handle silence, waiting, lines, and other situations that my depression and anxiety can’t handle. It allows me to give gifts to those that I love that are not only within my budget, but also tells them that I spent hours thinking of them.
I knit because I need to create. Because I can’t read in a moving vehicle without getting sick. Because I love having someone cry when they get a pair of hand-knitted socks and they know I gave part of my life to them. Because I enjoy the feel of the yarn sliding through my fingers. Because the beings who create people chose not to make me in a standard size. Because it keeps me focused and present, not daydreaming and wondering when I can leave. Because people seem so impressed that I can do this – and there is no greater joy to me than teaching them how to do it. (Sneaky, but true.) Because my husband really wants that colony of stash to at least decrease a little bit. Because my my says my socks are the best for her cold feet.
I could keep going, but well…I need to go knit now.