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.
- To make things that fit me. I am five feet, three inches tall. Five feet, four inches if I have been regular in my yoga practice. That’s well below average height for an American man, and mainstream apparel companies do not acknowledge my existence. Even sweaters labeled “small” hang to my mid-thigh, like a tunic; and they usually have about a foot of ease at the waist. This is both unflattering and uncomfortable. If I knit my own sweaters to my own measurements, I don’t spend the whole of the brutal Chicago winter looking like a cuddly potato.
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.
- To get exactly what I want. Sometimes the armchair in the corner is crying out for the perfect floral pillow in the blues and greens of the carpet, which would tie the whole room together. A nice, plump square pillow, not very large, with a big blue cabbage rose in the center and no fringe. No other pillow will do. Not a pillow in red and green. Not a tiny pillow. Not a rectangular pillow. Not a pillow with tulips on it. Not a pillow with fringe. But it seems nobody who makes pillows is making that pillow. So I knit one. Less time spent online searching for MEDIUM SQUARE PILLOW ROSE BLUE GREEN NO FRINGE has meant more time doing things I love. Like knitting.
- To keep my hands busy and my mind quiet. The tired joke “I knit so I don’t kill people” has lost its sting, but not the core of truth that made it funny. When total strangers notice my knitting, there’s a fifty percent chance they’ll say it’s pretty–but they haven’t got the patience to do it themselves. There’s a one hundred percent chance that I will reply that I knit constantly because I have no patience.
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