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Carpe Filum

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Carpe Filum

I had intended this month to continue the series of little knitting memoirs that began with my first scarf, then continued with my first yarn shop, and the first (and last) time I was held captive by one of my own projects.

But life had other ideas. Instead of firsts, I’m thinking about lasts.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in the past several weeks attempting to organize the possessions of a prolific fiber artist–she was a knitter, crocheter, spinner, weaver, lace-maker, rug hooker, and beader–who died after losing a painful battle with cancer.

She was a frequent student of mine, often appearing at weekend retreats in company with her beloved corgi. I was always happy to see both of them. She was at once very outgoing and very private–quick with a joke, comment, or opinion. Slow to tell you anything about herself or her life.

Before she died, she asked if I would look after her things when she was gone. I was astonished. She lived far away, in a country place none too accessible for a city dweller without a driver’s license. And I could scarcely claim to be close enough to her deserve the honor. Surely there was someone else more suited to the task?

There was not. She was without family. While she was not entirely without friends, she had also kept those few at an arm’s length. She didn’t feel she could lay the task at their feet. She insisted that I would recognize and appreciate the contents of her various workspaces, particularly the antique pieces. She pressed and pressed again. At length, I agreed.

So I found myself in a rickety farmhouse I barely knew–I’d only managed one, too-brief visit before she died–up to my neck in a lifetime’s accumulated wheels, winders, looms, needles, shuttles, books, spinning fiber, and yarn.

The wheels alone numbered in the dozens. Countless big and small looms suggested that whenever a new form of weaving had attracted her, she’d gone ahead and bought everything necessary to pursue it. Books and patterns spilled off the shelves and were stacked under and atop the furniture.

Nothing was more than very loosely organized. Most looms in here, most beading tools there. Wheels everywhere. There was an Ashford Traveler in the bathroom, for heaven’s sake.

I dug in.

In a small cabinet I found cat treats, spools of thread, and an antique lace-maker’s pillow with an unfinished strip of Victorian lace still in place. Another cubbyhole was full of tiny old pocket-knives, plastic wind-up toys, and about two pounds of carved bone crochet hooks stuffed into a plastic bag.

The entire cupboard under the stairs was piled with spinning fibers, and there were baskets and baskets of yarn. Superb yarn. She’d had nobody to please but herself, and so she did.

After two days and nights, I’d barely shifted and sorted enough to make a visible difference. I opened a bedroom closet for the first time and more yarn fell out. I started to cry.

I cried for her. She was not an old woman. She ought by rights to have been alive and well and working on a project, surrounded by collections and stash. She ought to have been looking at the weaving hung from the walls and draped over the furniture, feeling accomplished.

Instead it was me, who barely knew her, wondering where on earth all this was to go.

And I cried, if I am honest, a bit for me. Because seeing someone else’s abandoned tools and interrupted projects makes a person think. We’ll all knit our last stitch or throw the shuttle for the last time. Likely we won’t even recognize that end when it comes. Then what?

What will happen to these things we’ve treasured, that have defined our lives?

Ultimately, in order to settle her final expenses, this woman’s collection will be sold. That much is sure. I will see to it.

But what about my stuff? I hadn’t even considered the question until that moment. She had asked me to give some of the older pieces a home in my workroom, which I’ve done gratefully.

So they’re mine–for now. What happens when I’m gone?

For years I’ve had a list in my will of special books that my heirs–whoever the heck they are–need to make sure are properly sold or auctioned, not dumped into the trash or carted to the thrift shop. It’s time to do the same with the wheels…the looms…the yarn…

I love these things. Perhaps they’ll be even more beloved by someone else–a new weaver in need of a loom, a knitter who has never had the joy of working with fine wool. How to get them into the right hands? Should they be left to a guild? I don’t know.

In the meantime, of course, the other sobering lesson was that if I want to do something–weave that blanket, knit that sweater–the thing is to do it now. While I can. While I’m still here.


franklin habit

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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47 Comments

  • Something I have in fact contemplated as my daughters and granddaughter have no interest in my knitting nor any of my quite extensive stash and patterns. I’ve left two addresses one in each armoire instructing whomever might find these things where the contents ought to be shipped!!!! I loved your piece, as I often do.

  • Bless your heart for taking on that project. We should all be so lucky as to have you to disperse our final stash.

  • What a powerful message! Very few of us will have considered our crafting supplies and equipment when we think about directing the disposal of our worldly goods. The executor of an estate is usually chosen for the ability to manage money and follow the necessary government procedures not for their understanding of the value of yarn and a swift. Perhaps, as crafters, we should have a separate executor for the crafting things we leave behind – one who will know the difference between alpaca and cotton as well as the value of all our tools and other bits and pieces. 😉
    Besides your will, another thing people might want to look at in the here and now is whether your home insurance is sufficient to replace your stash and your tools. My agent told me many years ago to go through and put a valuation on everything that would reflect it’s replacement value. She also said to take pictures of my stash on the shelves every three months so I could back up a claim if I needed to. That advice helped a friend who lost everything in a flood – when the insurance adjuster wanted to allow $100 for crafting supplies, she was able to prove the extent of her yarn and fabric collections as well as all her sewing machines and other equipment. He was astounded at their worth and, in the end, she was able to rebuild her stash.

  • I also cried a little. It brought back very vividly to me the time a knitting buddy passed away. Her collection of yarn was hosted in a yarn shop where she’d once worked. Which was immensely kind of the owner, who had been her friend. We were asked to donate an amount we thought commensurate with what we took of the collection of yummy yarn, books (some out of print great one’s were snatched up), and accessories. After it was all gone her husband was shocked at the amount of money he gratefully received…and used to pay outstanding medical bills.

    Those of us who had knit with her all stopped to consider the things you found yourself contemplating. We discussed our options for giving our stuff a good home for a few weeks. So many of us found ourselves with children and grandchildren who had no interest in the same things we did. What does one do then?

    We also found ourselves, as you did, thinking about how time, for a human, is finite, and what it means to overlook opportunities to create. The passing of a creative person brings about sobering considerations. She was very very lucky to have you agree to be the disbursement manager.for her creative estate. Kudos for being so compassionate as to say yes. It’s a gigantic, undertaking, as well as an emotional journey.

  • Such a wonderful tribute! I have often thought about what would happen when I’m gone. So, I talked to a couple of friends and relatives, have assigned them as my Yarn Executors.

    Sorry for the lost life of your friend!

  • Oh my. I can easily imagine how overcome you were. I’m in possession of a few family pieces, and I was quite overcome, myself, at how to best care for the work of someone else’s hands…

  • Franklin, this is one of the topics that will be discussed this fall at the Northeast Handspinner’s Open House. May we have permission to include this in our handouts!

  • I cry as well. I am at a stage of my life where I am certain I cannot use it all and I cannot take it with me. So I’m trying to find someone to hire to do an estate sale for all my art stuff. I don’t want Steve to be stuck with it when I’m gone.

  • My husband knows where I want my yarn stash to go so that it will be distributed. I just hope that is not soon. Thank you for caring about your friend.

  • Having dispersed not one but two fibre estates, I have thought about this a lot. And while I have been weaving down my stash, it was only just this month I came to grips with getting rid of my large AVL. Not that it helps – much – since I ordered a Megado. Because, like you say, I’m not done yet, but I AM facing the fact that I need to ‘retire’ which means not stopping weaving, but stopping how I have been weaving.

    For those of us with extensive fibre/textile collections, knowing how our things will live on when we can’t is an essential thing to be planning. Thank you for the reminder.

  • My small knitting group lost a dear friend to cancer in February. With her sons’ blessings, we moved her stash and tools from her home and are slowly getting through it all. The years of beautiful yarns, the many projects, so many things she was working on while we sat together and talked about every possible thing.
    I’m grateful for this small group of fiber friends, grateful that her sons understood how important it was to us and to her that her collection be dealt with love and respect, grateful for the lessons I’m learning about how I hope my own things will be handled someday.
    We miss her terribly.
    Thank you for being that person for your friend.

  • Franklin, I can think of no other person that could be so well trusted with the fate of a collection of another fiber artist’s lifetime collection. Only someone such as yourself would understand and appreciate the significance of the antique pieces. Or appreciate the variety of spinning wheels and looms. You are saving all of this fromotherwise just being dumped at GoodWill.

    For years I have jokingly described myself as living with SABLE—Stash Accumulated Beyond Life Expectancy. Fabric, beads, gems, yarn, machines and tools. Now that I have entered my 60’s and neurological disorders are trying to get in my way, I do need to consider that it is time to divest NOW of SOME of this stuff, while I have a choice where it goes or how it goes. I might as well get the benefit of the divestment.

  • This is why I have a codicil to my will. Named Friends get first shot at everything. Whatever they want, they take. The rest will go to my local guild that will hold sales and put the funds toward our building or create a scholarship for a new weaver to be able to go to a conference. Everyone should have a “fiber will”.

  • Yes. I have been going through my mother’s things because she went into care last year. It makes you look much differently at your own.

  • Thank you Franklin for your thoughtful and kind words. I wish I had better words to express how much this touched me.

  • How wonderful that you helped her with her ‘everything’, her ‘babies’. I’m sure that she was comforted by your promise to sort.
    One of my knitter friends died a few years ago and several of us went to help her husband sort the stash of 27 bins of quality yarns, two cases of books, patterns, cds, etc. and the vast assortment of needles and hooks. It took us a couple of months to finish, and we were several, contemplating the years it took for her to gather her stash. We cried too, for our friend who didn’t finish her work.

  • This is something I have been thinking about recently. Because I am old & not in the best of health. I have a huge stash & I don’t want to burden my daughters with disposing of it. So I am going to start going through my stash & dispose of quite a bit of it. Actually it has become so large that it actually feels burdensome. I’ll try to sell it off using my Facebook yarn selling groups.

  • We lost a friend to cancer in the last year who had a huge yarn stash. She knit, wove and did metal jewelry work. A couple of our friends did all the work to organize and sell her yarn, books and tools. Her husband selected what he wanted to keep from her finished objects and others were distributed to her friends. We remember her love of creating when we use the tools and yarn from her estate.

    I have informally named my yarn executor but need to get that formally documented. I did go through the value of my stash and tools a couple of years ago and increased my insurance coverage as a result. I also spin and weave in addition to a stash that continues to grow more than it should,. .

  • I just turned 65 this year and have been thinking about this as well. I’ve now inherited yarn from strangers, mothers of friends of friends and a particularly huge amount from. member of our knitting group who died suddenly. Every time I’m able to knit something I wouldn’t have had the funds or stash. for, I am grateful.
    And I remember our friend, who lived life yo tge fullest, with joy. Whatever I have left will go back to the crafing universe as will I. One thing your essay is prompting me to do is to let go of some of the gazillion projects I haven’t finished and put the yarn back in stash for a new reincarnation or a new home. I am grateful for all that I have among that having the decidedly first-world problem of too many wonderful patterns and yarn and not enough time:)! Thanks for your work. I’m sorry one more bright light has left this mortal coil. Her work is done here, but yours continues.

  • Love this! I was discouraged as a young person not to take on any “art type” career or passion as it would not make me any money according to my parents/grandparents.. So, I became a nurse, but still pursued my passion of textile arts, knitting, weaving, spinning, and sewing as much as I could. And now, I am looking forward to retirement when I can indulge in my passion full time!

  • I cried too as I read your blog and give thanks as you were so generous with your time and empathy.

    Onjy crafters will understand the joy and sadness when projects are left unfinished by a loved one but the memories will live on.

    I plan to will my supplies to the local Senior Centers in our town where I know they will be appreciated.

    Thank you for being you, a blessing to your readers.

  • My husband and I have no children so I often ponder, late at night when I can’t sleep, what will happen to my dogs, what will happen to my yarn collection, my books, my mother’s knit books… I’m so glad for her that she found you to take care of those things. I’m sure it was a great relief to her, knowing that you would not shun the task or take it lightly. I have four friends who are all assigned the task of working together through what I leave behind and distributing it as they see fit. Knowing they have my back has given me some peace of mind to not worry about this one issue during the wee hours of the night. I still worry about the dogs…

  • I have been thinking of this lately. I lost one of my sisters a year and a half ago. She was a needlepointer and did beautiful work. Family and friends took most of her finished pieces to remember her by. I grabbed as much of her canvases and supplies as I could find and wound up with some gorgeous designer canvases. I offered them to my crafters group and kept the ones not selected. One was a partially completed southwest design which I finished, added both our initials and had framed. It will be a bittersweet birthday present for our other sister this August. When I make a dent in my yarn stash I plan to needlepoint more of her canvases.

  • So, my friends, make it a Habit to Seize the Threads
    While your fingers are warm and nimble!

    Thank you, Mr Habit.

  • Both my husband and my daughter know to give my stash and my books and needles to my church prayer shawl knitting group. But… My stash is no where near the size of overwhelming a house. The group often gets donations from folks whose knitters have passed away. Granted, not all of it is quality yarn, but most of it is serviceable for our outreach projects. We primarily make prayer shawls, but we also make hats, scarves and mittens for the street people who come to the church’s drop-in program. No yarn goes without a home. I am grateful for the commenter who suggested photographing the stash every 3 months. I will do that now. I can’t imagine having to replace everything and $100 from the insurance certainly would not go far. Thank you. Thank you Franklin, for your insightful musings.

  • My condolences, and how brave of you to tackle this project! We are in escrow for our “forever” home. I will be taking pictures of my fabric and yarn stashed, and my art supplies. I have put myself on a strict textile diet, and would love to not have much to have my husband deal with. Details for crafty items have long been in my will.

  • This article reminds me of when my mother died– we found an entire room of fabric with patterns that she had not completed–there was a closet in another bedroom of yarns, knitting needles, and crochet hooks that had incomplete projects attached. It took hours to sort and distribute to agencies that could use it. Several years later, I had a serious head injury and was facing brain surgery. I have a daughter who is not interested in any craft, nor does she live nearby, so really would not have been able to figure out what to do with “collections”. While I waited, I remembered what Mom left me and spent some time sorting and cleaning out my stashes (yes, I also sew, cross-stitch, and knit). At this point in my life, I am trying to pick up and complete projects to quickly give away. I am determined to whittle the pile down more.

  • I’m working an heirloom pattern with DPNs which belonged to my great aunt.I have nieces who knit and crochet, but for the most part, no one will want my stash of stiff, either. IMO, use up as much materiel as possible NOW, and don’t worry about the equipment.

  • Please consider donating yarn to a county home or a retirement community. My mother’s stash was not of my choosing, so I gave THREE car loads… front seat, back seat, & trunk… to the County Home, where people who could use it, couldn’t afford to buy it. Here at the community where I now live, my needlework group is often the on the receiving end of boxes of once loved yarn. We also work with a local college, mentoring young people who want to learn to knit and crochet. They bring the pizza, and we bring the yarn and the know-how.

  • That is something to sure consider when adding or using more yarn in my stash. I’ve been helping “buy” yarn from a friend in another state that needs the money more than all the yarn she has accumulated. She has a good heart and wants to work on donations, but we both got carried away with re-stocking her baby yarns when certain brands were being discontinued. Now she is trying to clear out as much as she can afford to give or sell, and just keep what she will actually (maybe) use up.
    None of us think about the tools (hooks, needles, etc.) in our stash. Since I teach beginners I have a big supply of crochet hooks and knitting needles (most from estate sales on eBay). Someday someone will have to figure out what to do with all my yarn and tools. My biggest fear is that they will back up one of those huge dumpsters in front of my house after I’m gone and throw everything away. My friends all have their own stashes of yarn and embroidery threads so I know they don’t need mine added to their huge piles. Being far from about everything here in Wyoming we tend to stash what we can get because too quickly it stops being made and we can’t find it anywhere.
    Sometimes when we lose someone in town, for example a gal who did a lot of spinning, we don’t hear what happened to her tools and supplies, but we wonder where they went and who got them. I’m glad your friend had you to rely on for helping with her stash, tools, and projects. I know it is hard to do but you are a good person to tackle that task.

  • Lovely article, Franklin, and lovely sentiments. I taught two daughters to crochet, and one has picked up my addiction. When I die she will sort through my stash, which lives in what my husband calls the “yarn vault.” What she does not want will go to a local nonprofit craft shop run by the senior center. I’ve made many purchases there, and would be happy to give back. I hope my daughter will keep the crochet hooks and knitting needles, meaning a fourth generation of fiber artists will use them. Every time I crochet I feel connected to the women who came before me, and I hope she will feel the same way.

  • I feel the same way when I see lovely handcrafted items for sale at a thrift store for $5. Will the things I loved and sweated over end up like that one day? And my special books, collected over decades. Will they end up in a dumpster somewhere because none of my children has the time to sort through the shelves? It’s time for me to stop the mindless accumulation (yarn stash!) and savor the craft projects I have put away for later, when I have more time.

  • That was s beautiful, moving piece. Thanks for all you do to bring depth to your readers’ lives.

  • We who have known her for many, many years thank you, Franklin, for accepting this task for our friend. It was a sad journey at the end. You are the perfect person to write the final chapter. Heartfelt thanks from her Vermont companions in fiber arts.

  • The person you write about was a friend and I have messaged you via Facebook ..it probably is in one of those messages from strangers folders. I hope you will please see it. Thank you.

  • I felt so excited when I had found A large stash of needles and accessories at A thrift shop when I had first started knitting. This was followed by A bit of depression that someone bought and used this tools lovingly and then were hauled to A thrift shop. Nice I have told my 3 non knitting daughter ‘s that this “hobby “ has grown to A treasure.
    I too need to find A group or person who will love this stash as much as I do❤️

  • Franklin, I was very moved by what you shared. While I’m not yet ancient (even thought I feel that way certain mornings) I am certainly of a mature age. So, your observations about the passion of a fiber artist struck home. I’ve been knitting for decades and hope to be knitting for a few more. The lesson you offered, make it now, do it now, feels timely. I was inspired in one of your classes (tessellations) to create a design that I planned to knit when I got home—that was several years ago. Coincidentally, I thought of my sketch for that design, which still lies in a folder, just last week. Now, I’ll make, I’ll knit it. Thanks for the inspiration and your very poignant story. Jim

  • Like many of us, I have experienced the great sadness that comes when you must help the family distribute their loved one’s stash. The common thread I read and hear is that these experiences encourage us, the survivors, to pay more attention to our stash. I am fortunate because my granddaughter and her mother (my elder daughter) are interested in some of what I do. I have a list of friends who know they are in charge of distributing my stash, and my husband knows who is on that list as do my children. I hope that I leave an orderly stash that doesn’t require months of sorting. I owe that to my family and fiber friends.
    Franklin, thank you for the opportunity to cry again for the people who are no longer with us.

  • When my mother-in-law moved on we had boxes and boxes of yarn to deal with. As she knitted a lot with synthetic yarn and I work mainly in wool, only a small selection came to our home (along with needles and such). At the time a home schooled young lady was working on a civic project, of her own idea, to provide afghans to children going into foster homes. The young lady had arranged for ladies in a nursing home to do the knitting and crocheting – we sent her all that we had. The comments written above are beautiful tributes to how sensitive people are to the needs of others, even after they have passed on. Louise

  • I am probably nearing the point of “Oh dear, I hope someone doesnt just throw it all out.” Alas, I live alone in an apt and am reconciled to that probability.”

    So I think of how much joy and satisfaction Ive had and how very lucky to have had more than enough to create to my heart’s content. And as all things shall pass away anyway, I am happy.

  • I was taking a class with Nicky Epstein and we all began discussing the price of out-of-print knitting books. I have a copy of Poetry in Stitches. At that time there was no reprint, and copies were selling on eBay for more than $300. I mentioned that I had a note in it instructing my heirs to not dump it just anywhere, but rather to check prices and sell it. Nicky said, “Don’t wait. You sell it.” You know, she’s right.

  • Thank you Franklin for this beautifully written tribute to a friend and poignant description of of the meaning of craft, beauty and loss. My words do not do justice to your writing or adequately reflect how much this piece touches my heart. Thank you for sharing this wonderful prose.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the reality of life. Days before of reading your article, I was in my craft-room looking at all the books, yarn, fabric, needles etc… plus unfinished projects and I talked to my husband about working during my summer vacation cleaning and putting things in order in the event my time comes. Last year I helped my brother going through my sister in law’s personal stuff and collection of cooking books. She had written notes at the sides of the recipes, I asked my niece to keep some of the books but she refused because, she doesn’t like to cook. So, I pick a couple of books and brought them home but I cried boxing the rest of her collection because, I know what it means hand picking books with the things that you love to do.
    Anyway, at the end is more important to give and share our craft with love ones because, that treasure stays forever in their hears. This is the lesson my sister in law left for me/us.
    Hugs

  • I remember hearing a fishing friend fretting that when he died, he was afraid his wife would sell his gear for what he TOLD her he paid for it. It really makes sense to have a fiber friend to help the family disperse our collections of tools and fibers.

  • I have already taken some steps in taking care of business for my family. My eyesight isn’t what it was so the beadwork equipment went to the local indigenous women’s support group. All acrylic yarn, yarn people donated to me or baby yarn has gone to school for art supplies. I am in the midst of sorting through the rest by placing the yarn in ziplock bags with a copy of the pattern the yarn is meant for, then placing the bag is my newly, revamped closet with pull-out shelving baskets. Anything that doesn’t fit into a project goes to school too. Extra patterns or pattern books I take a photo of, post it on FB and offer it to friends first. Leftovers go to my public library who sells them to raise funds. I don’t know how many years I will have, I do know I have plenty to keep me going. Thank you for your kindness and generosity to your friend and for sharing it with us.

  • Two years ago I suddenly lost a good friend and my best knitting buddy. She had an extensive stash and all that goes with a lifetime of knitting. She and I didn’t live near each other and saw each other a few times a year for knitting adventures. I was heartbroken at the loss. But I helped her local knitting friends organize and sell her collection and it brought me much pleasure, peace and closure. I treasure the yarn I inherited from her stash, but I treasure more the memories of our trips together. She was a fearless knitter and she taught me a lot about knitting and life.

  • WOW.
    Thank you so much for sharing.
    Sending you much love.

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