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Author Archives: Franklin Habit

  • Yoga is the New Knitting

    franklin-yogaWriter, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.

    About a decade ago, a sharp-eyed coworker noticed that I often snapped six or seven pencils in half during staff meetings. And that I often hid under my desk after staff meetings. And that even on those rare days without staff meetings, my face was contorted permanently into a Kabuki mask of rage.

    “I think you’re stressed out,” she said.

    So I ate her.

    No. No, I didn’t. But I did begin to look about me for ways to calm down. Knitting? I knew how to knit, but hadn’t done it for years. The needlework revival was just begun, with new books appearing and new shops opening. I dove in, and felt better. The money I saved on pencils, I spent on yarn.

    I went to a knit night, where one of the seasoned regulars informed me that knitting was the new yoga. “You get a lot of the same mental health benefits,” she said, “but you don’t have to sit on the floor and sweat.”

    Flash forward to the present, where I am now on the other side of forty. You know how when you turn forty parts of you suddenly start to wear out and dry up and otherwise malfunction? If you don’t, you will.

    So there I was, knitting merrily in my chair, not on the floor, not sweating; and I stood up to go get a glass of water. Parts of me I didn’t know I had objected to this, and suddenly I was on the floor, sweating. Also, swearing.

    My doctor suggested that I find ways to loosen up and stretch out.

    “I do stretch,” I said. “I stretch before every workout.”

    “Okay,” said the doctor. “Bend over and touch your toes.”

    “Fine,” I said, bending over. “No problem.”

    After she helped me to regain consciousness, we talked about yoga.

    “You’re spending too much time seated, hunched, and looking down,” she said. “And I could give you pills for the short term, but in the long run you’ll be better off if you find other ways to regain your flexibility.”

    I started yoga on the same day as another fellow I’ll call Charlie. Charlie’s mat was next to mine, and at our first class we bonded over our shared inability to do Tree Pose without toppling like a couple of dead pines in a windstorm.

    Like all newcomers to yoga, Charlie and I found the discipline challenging in different ways. Charlie, who is by a nature a competitive, king-of-the-hill go-getter, was most frustrated by what he saw as slow progress towards achieving certain challenging postures like Crow Pose.

    After ending up on his nose yet again, Charlie complained to the teacher that it had been two months, and he’d aimed to do a perfect crow in half that time. He’d practiced, and practiced. It wasn’t fair.

    “Charlie,” the teacher said patiently, “I’d like you to try to stop thinking about yoga in terms of goals. Release the outcome. Release the expectation. Just do what you can, right now, here, today.”

    And so Charlie ate him.

    No. No, he didn’t.

    But I (while wrestling with my own demons on the mat) realized that years of knitting were, to my great surprise, helping me with my yoga.

    When we knit (or crochet, or weave, or embroider, or sew, or…) we learn a lot of lessons that are of use to the beginning yoga student.

    We learn to stay the moment. What’s important? This stitch, right now. This one. The one before is complete. The one after is out of reach. This stitch, right now. One at a time.

    We learn to let go of the outcome. Not to say we don’t celebrate when the sweater is on the baby or the shawl is off the blocking pins. But we come to enjoy (or at least endure) the steps it takes to get there. Even those who would say they are more about the end product must to some extent enjoy the process. Because, as is often pointed out to us, you can buy socks, you know.

    We learn that time is relative. The distance between one row and the next can feel like seconds or like years. On a great day, we forget about time completely. The work itself is becomes everything. We lose ourselves in it, and emerge refreshed.

    We learn that success is made of many failures. Possibly thousands of them. If you are me, tens of thousands of them. Don’t sweat it. Pull out the stitches, rip out the seam. Do it again. And again. And again. You’ll get there when you get there, so long as you keep moving.

    Lately Charlie and I are able to stand upright as a pair of wobbly trees–most of the time. When we do fall down, we get back up. Staying up is growing easier. So is falling down. Charlie has stopped complaining about Crow Pose, and I’m starting to think he might make an excellent knitter.
    One stitch at a time. One stitch at a time.

    franklin-yoga-comic

    —–

    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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  • Why Ask Why

    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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.
    1. 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

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  • Just Say Yes

    franklin_400x400Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.

    One weird side effect of writing about your knitting for a living is that the number of people who comment on your knitting can be enormous. To chronicle the day-to-day progress of a big, complicated shawl for the public is daunting and unnatural. Knitting is meant to be seen when it’s complete, not laid bare for inspection as it grows stitch by stitch.

    Having hundreds or thousands of people pore over a piece of work may sound like fun, and it can be. My first sweater reached the finish line loudly cheered on by a crowd of blog readers who had watched it grow from nothing, and encouraged me to continue on in the face of neckline issues and a second sleeve that threatened never to end. Certainly that was far more gratifying than showing it to my then-boyfriend, whose entire response was, “Hey, nice.”

    Nice? Nice?!

    It does no good to point out to such a person that he is, thank you very much, looking at tens of thousands of stitches made with several miles of string; that these stitches have been arranged (with help from Elizabeth Zimmermann) into the shape of a garment that fits your own very peculiar measurements exactly so; and that smack in the middle of all this you charted and knit a band of stranded color work–your first ever stranded color work–spelling out a favorite tag by Seneca from your first year Latin book.

    No, if you point these things out, you will sound peevish. And all you will likely get from the other person is an amended, “Uh, I mean–very nice. Cute.”

    Cute?!

    The flip side of the cheering crowd is the crowd that fails to cheer. I don’t mean they just watch in silence. I mean they speak up to let you know what you’re doing wrong. Which is, not infrequently, everything.

    Such people assume that because you have made your work public, you have also magically sprouted a titanium carapace that prevents them from stinging you. Not that they won’t try.

    A certain amount of immunity does build up. The first time someone who presumably has little else to do with her days looks at a piece you’ve spent three hundred hours making and says, simply, “Blech,” it hurts like being kicked in the chest by a horse. The fiftieth time, it only hurts like being poked in the eye by a strong monkey.

    But you shrug it off, because that is part of  your job. You become good at that part of your job, or you get another job.

    Sometimes the poke is especially weird and vicious. I am thinking today of a photograph I posted on Instagram some time ago of a tiny piece of fine lace still on the needles. It was an antique edging pattern of leaves, worked with cotton thread on a nineteenth century pair of 0000 needles. That photo got a lot of oooohhh and aaahhhhh which it may or may not have deserved. “What are you knitting this for?” people asked.

    I answered them by way of a photograph of Ethel, one of my small collection of antique china head dolls. Ethel was more than naked when she came to me–she was nothing but a head. After sewing her a body, I planned to dress her from the skin out beginning with a cotton petticoat. This lace was intended as trim.

    Quite a bit of the oooohhh and aaahhhh changed to eeeuuww and uuugggghhhh. It’s one thing to say, “I would never knit that.” It’s another to say, as many did, “You shouldn’t be knitting that.”

    A long-time reader told me she was “very disappointed. I never knew you were one of those doll people.” Another said it made her uncomfortable to think of “a grown man owning a doll,” and that she felt I should–if I must continue this sort of knitting–“Keep it to yourself. It’s creepy. We don’t need to see it.”

    By this time this happened, I had already lived four decades as a guy who could never manage much interest in most “boy” things, as artificially defined by the narrow-minded adults who presume to make the rules. So, for once, I genuinely did not care. There was no sting. I enjoyed knitting small things for Ethel, and would (and do) continue knitting small things for Ethel. (And her sisters.) (And for my dolls’ house.)

    But not everyone has my thick skin, built up layer by layer over years of fighting back because I had to. And comments like these–which are all too common in the crafting world–so often halt joy in its tracks.

    It’s not just men with dolls who hear it, of course.

    I’ve heard knitters criticize other knitters for an interest in a yarn or a project or a technique they consider a joke. (All she knits with are novelty yarns. All she makes are baby clothes. So low class!)

    I’ve heard knitters criticize those who crochet or who want to learn to crochet. (It never looks good, you know. So lumpy. So low class!) I’ve heard crocheters criticize other crocheters who “only” work zigzag afghans or doilies or filet wall hangings. (So stuffy! So old-maidish! So low class!)

    I’ve heard weavers and quilters and embroiderers criticize knitters and crocheters (We make art–they’re just crafters. So low class!) And I’ve heard all kinds of people snark about macramé. (In case you think I’m typing this while balanced on a high horse…I’ve been guilty of that one.)

    I would like to suggest that we all cultivate the craft of self-restraint–that when we find ourselves on the point of making such comments, we sit back from the keyboard or bite the tongue.

    Quite aside from sounding ridiculous–how can one form of fiber craft be “lower” or “higher” than another?–we need to think about the cumulative effect of millions of  people saying “You shouldn’t do that” to millions of other people.

    I am just old enough to remember the days when it seemed pretty certain that knitting, weaving, sewing, and crochet were all on their way out–forever.

    We were in a new age! An age when women could do anything! By which it was meant that women now could do “boy” things, as artificially defined (once again) by the narrow-minded adults who presume to make the rules. Women were not required–or even supposed–to do “girl” things any more. (So old-maidish! So low class!)

    Yarn companies folded, yarn shops shuttered, and department stores sold off their stocks of dry goods. Even women’s magazines stopped publishing patterns. Why? In large part because society had come to sneer at people (especially the female half of people) who spent leisure time working with their hands, and sneering can have dire consequences.

    We who care about handwork hear enough “no” in our lives from outsiders who think we should buy our socks, not knit them; who think money spent on yarn is money wasted; and who mention grandma’s crocheted afghans only as a punch line. We should never, ever discourage a fellow member of the global needlework circle from any creative pursuit that catches his or her eye.

    No, not even if it’s macramé.

    Now, if you will please excuse me, winter is right around the corner, and I am making Ethel a knitted coat to go with her newest hat.

    habit-lb-illo-06-16

    —–

    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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