Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.
Dear Sir or Madam,
Please let me say how delighted I am that you intend to devote column inches (or equivalent in screen real estate) to something so dear to my heart. It’s a broad and fascinating subject, reaching back centuries and stretching the world around. Much has been said of it, yet so much remains unsaid.
I venture to guess, based upon prior experience with reporters covering this beat, that it was not your first choice among the week’s assignments. You are new, perhaps. An intern, possibly. Or you got caught in the office supply closet with the editor’s girlfriend at the holiday party, and this is your punishment.
Chin up, friend. You could do worse. Your sources are legion. They will eagerly supply fodder sufficient to overflow the boundaries of a book, let alone your limit of 2,000 words. Play nice, and you might get to keep the mittens after the photo shoot.
Field research will take you to guild meetings, knit nights, and yarn shops, at which you will be offered tea and cookies, frequently; and stronger libation, almost as frequently.
You will not have to jump off a bridge or wear a silly costume. You will not be required to crawl down mine shafts or across battlefields.
Before you turn on your recorder there are a few fundamentals you must understand. They will help you to write a piece full of truth and beauty. A piece that will be passed merrily around the Internet like a plate of homemade macaroons. A piece that will not inspire fifty million plugged-in yarn fanciers to flood your publication with sternly worded messages of complaint.
Ready? Good. Take notes.
To knit, you use these needles.
To crochet, you use this hook.
They both use yarn, but they are not the same thing. They make distinctly different fabrics with very different qualities. They are generally considered cousins in the family of needlework, but they are not the same thing. Many people both knit and crochet, but they are not the same thing.
If you wish to insist that no, really, knitting and crochet are “pretty much the same thing,” then I expect you would feel comfortable writing in the sports pages that these
are also “pretty much the same thing” and are used to do “pretty much the same thing.”
No? I didn’t think so.
Trust me. I’m trying to help. If you write a story about crochet, and illustrate it with photographs of knitting…well, I hope you have fast feet, a rear exit, and a getaway car with the engine running.
Do you have in mind an article about the exciting rise in popularity of old-fashioned handcrafts? Do you intend to use the phrase “not just for grandmothers…” in said article?
As of this writing, six hundred forty thousand other journalists have already filed that story. By tomorrow morning, the count will be six hundred forty thousand two hundred and twelve.
“Not just for grandmothers” goes beyond cliché; it’s lazy. It’s not merely lazy; it’s comatose. If that’s all you can think of to say on this subject, you have nothing to say on this subject. Your article stinks. Try again.
No, knitting and crochet are not “just for grandmothers.” They never have been. Moreover, many grandmothers (mine included) hated both. Many grandmothers (especially the current crop) have never tried either.
And why, if an activity were particular to grandmothers, would that be an issue? Do you consider old age a contagious disease? Have you got a deep-seated problem with grandmothers? Would you like the number of a good therapist?
If you mean to celebrate the diversity of our community, please do so without insulting my grandma. It won’t be difficult. We are everywhere. We contain multitudes. We are all ages, sizes, races, faiths, nationalities. We are rich and poor. We are liberal and conservative. We are women, we are men.
Which leads me to the next point.
That men choose to pick up needles and hooks is not, of itself, newsworthy. Nobody cares. I don’t care, and I’m a man who knits and crochets. “It’s not just for women!” is only slightly less tired as an angle than “It’s not just for grandmothers!”.
Knitting and crochet are both varieties of handwork. As the word indicates, they both require hands.
Women have hands. Men have hands.
Yes, men knit. So what? Would you write an article celebrating those astounding women who somehow–in spite of their sex–manage to do inherently masculine things like drive automobiles or hold political office? If you would, I assume you are reading this in 1956; and I have some sad news for you about what’s going to happen to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
As a traveling teacher and lecturer, I meet and mingle with several thousand knitters and crocheters every year. I don’t find that the men in the crowd are more (or less) adventurous, or dexterous, or daring, or intellectual, or anything else. We all–male, female, undeclared–love to play with yarn, because it’s a wonderful thing to do.
Yet articles on this topic often seek to apologize for the men. They can’t just knit for the joy of it, they must have a reason–a manly reason. Friends whose men’s knit night came under the scrutiny of the local paper were amazed to find their fairly quiet gathering* described as a cross between a bachelor party and a football riot, slamming six-packs of Schlitz and shouting dirty jokes while knitting sexy bikinis for their girlfriends. When the group asked for an explanation, the reporter said she didn’t want to embarrass them.
We don’t need to be excused or explained. I don’t want to see another article claiming male knitters are most often surgeons who knit to keep their fingers nimble, unless you actually find and quote at least one said surgeon. Perhaps, while you’re at it, he can explain why the female knitting surgeons I know have never once mentioned this as a benefit of the craft, let alone a primary reason for pursuing it? Or don’t women require an excuse?
And if you dare trot out that idiotic myth about an ancient Irish fishermen mending their nets and thereby inadvertently inventing cabled sweaters, so help me I will hunt you down and smack you right in the chops with my hardbound first edition of A History of Hand Knitting. Which was written by a man. Not that it matters.
Over the past few years, my favorite local morning news program has compelled its reporters to attempt–live on air–to bungee jump, tap dance, juggle bowling pins, kayak over waterfalls, fence, box, skydive, bake bran muffins, and shoot a bazooka in the interest of getting a story.
In conjunction with a fiber arts event, there was also a brief studio interview with a handful of knitters. A friend was among them, and during the segment offered to teach the interviewer the knit stitch. She recoiled with a horrified, “No! No thanks! No way! Ha ha ha!” as though it had been suggested that she learn to filet a kitten.
What are you afraid of? These human interest pieces about the popularity and/or benefits of needlework never seem to involve the previously untutored journalist actually picking up the sticks and giving it a go. You’ll fling yourself out of airplane, but you won’t purl.
You’re missing the point. Utterly.
The end results of what we do can be lovely to look at and luscious to touch. But the real kaboom, dear reporter, is in the making of them. The flick of the needle, the swing of the hook–they don’t look like much. That’s why you need to try it. Until you experience the meditation and metamorphosis yourself, if only for ten minutes, you won’t get it. If you don’t get it, you won’t be able to write properly about it.
Perhaps you hesitate because we look, from where you stand, like some sort of cult. I won’t lie to you. We are.
A nice, warm cult. Cozy.
Put down the pen and pick up the ball of fine American wool enclosed with this letter. Go ahead, squeeze it. How does it feel?
Feels good, doesn’t it?
Now, what are your questions?
*For the record: ten men, seven gay, three straight, two beers each, two sweaters, three hats, two socks, two mittens, one bikini (for the best friend of one of the gay guys). The dirty joke was a remark about frogging misunderstood by the reporter, who didn’t bother to ask what frogging was.
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 a Schacht spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.