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Getting the Point Across

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

If you are of a romantic turn of mind (I am) and a history buff (ditto), at some time in your armchair travels back in time you will have encountered an obsolete variety of social semaphore often called The Language of the Fan.

It was a silent language. By manipulating her folding fan, a woman could send messages that propriety forbid her to speak. Historical sources suggest that fan language emerged in the late eighteenth century, and persisted (where folding fans persisted) until just into the twentieth.

Predictably, most of fan language is concerned with flirting (or not) and loving (or not) and being kissed (or not). For example…

Fan half-opened, pressed to lips.

franklin habit

“You may kiss me.”

Fan resting on right cheek.

franklin habit

“Yes.”

Fan resting on left cheek.

“No.”

Fan in right hand in front of face.

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“Follow me.”

Happily, in our own age women are somewhat less discouraged from speaking their minds–though we have many miles to go. Yet as I sat in a knitting circle recently I thought what a shame it is that we (female and male) haven’t a similar system for tacit communication across the table at guild meetings and such.

A guild meeting or knit night or crochet klatsch is often not unlike a nineteenth century ballroom. The room is crowded and filled with animated conversation. Passions run high. Tempers flare. Yet etiquette requires an unbroken veneer of perfect civility.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could say what you really mean with a quick flick of the needle or hook?

For example…

Needle pressed to right cheek.

franklin habit

“Please come and sit next to me before she does.”

Needle pressed to left cheek.

franklin habit

“I haven’t forgiven you for what you said about my shawlette last week.”

Needles crossed.

franklin habit

“I want my good scissors back before you walk off with them.”

Slow circles with crochet hook.

franklin habit

“Time to wrap up your Show and Tell.”

Tapping neck with crochet hook.

franklin habit

“You’re hogging the snacks again.”

Needles held to lips.

franklin habit

“We’ve all heard quite enough about your cat, thank you.”

Needles stuck in eyes.

franklin habit

“I don’t particularly care for your choice of colors.”

Needles stuck in ears.

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“Worst guest speaker ever.”

Needles dropped on floor.

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“I swear, tomorrow I’m joining the quilting guild.”


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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  • http://hahahats.blogspot.com/ Lena MadHatter

    You made my day! ♥☻♥

  • Emily Faxon Gallo

    And with circular needles? I don't use straights anymore, alas.

  • Jody Manning

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I love this.

  • Beejay Licko-Keel

    I think you've started something here. I hope you plan to add to this interesting vocabulary. Don't stop now!

  • Myriam

    thank you for the laugh and the fan semaphore explanations. Many romantic movies set in the 19th century will be clearer to me, now.