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Hatter, Mad

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

When winter returns to Chicago, you have two choices: fight or flee. If that sounds overly dramatic to you, you have never spent a winter in Chicago.

Winter in Chicago is Mother Nature’s way of saying that she hates you, and would like you to die. More than that, she would like to kill you herself. Hypothermia while waiting for a train? Frostbite while walking to the grocery store? Sleet poisoning? The method matters not, so long as you are reduced to a dry, frozen dust by time June slinks back into town.

For those who cannot flee, warm clothing is the first line of defense. If you’re newly arrived and unsure of what is meant by warm, there’s a rule of thumb. Let’s say you’re shopping for a winter coat and find one that might do. Try it on in front of a mirror. If it looks pretty cute, and makes you feel like you can’t wait for the snow to fall, the coat will not be warm enough for February.

By February, Chicagoans have ceased to care what they look like when they go outside. Cut, style, color, fit? Not important. If it takes pairing filthy construction boots with a safety orange arctic exploration jumpsuit; then accessorizing those with two knitted hats, an army surplus balaclava and three pairs of gloves to get you to the opera with all your limbs intact, that’s what you put on.

This is why if you pass me on the street in midwinter and don’t say hello, I will not be offended. You won’t recognize me. You’ll think, “Did that raggedy pile of battered winter clothes just wave?” and keep going.

I wish I could tell you honestly that after more than decade of survival on the western shore of Lake Michigan I have grown accustomed to this annual renunciation of vanity. But no. The sight of winter ads from British tailors celebrating the elegance of classic overcoats and sleek leather gloves push me to the edge of rage. I live in Chicago, the city whose motto ought to be We Just Can’t Have Nice Things.

Winter hats are the worst, because as a knitter I should be able to make any sort of winter hat I like. A universe of colors, weights, and fibers awaits my pleasure. I could design my own. In fact, I have done so.

The immutable fact is–and I here I lay bare my great personal tragedy–that I do not have a “hat face.”

If you’re not familiar with that term, possession of a “hat face” means you are able to put anything on your head–from a masterpiece by Lily Daché to an empty shopping bag–and carry it off. You know who has a hat face? My sister. You know who doesn’t have a hat face? Me.

I have tried every standard and most non-standard forms of knitted hat and the results are never anything but unfortunate.

See for yourself.

The Beanie.

How can you go wrong with a beanie? The beanie is so universally popular as to be almost an emblem of winter. It’s the beginner’s first hat, and yet so versatile you never outgrow making them. Here is what I look like in a beanie.

lb-illo-nov-14-hydrant

Stocking Cap.

The stocking cap is almost as easy to knit as the beanie. It goes on a little longer, that’s all. But the result–so festive! A spark of joy in a season of darkness. Santa Claus favors the stocking cap for a reason. Here is what I look like in a stocking cap.

illo-lb-nov-14-elf

The Slouch Hat.

All the warmth of the beanie, but enjoying yet another wave of popularity among the artsy set. They are said to be All Over New York, which is as much endorsement as a garment needs in Chicago to acquire an air of downtown sophistication. Here it is what I look like in a slouch hat.
lb-illo-nov-14-mushroom

The Ear Flap Hat.

Slightly goofy, yes–but such fun! Putting on an ear flap hat is a way of saying winter wind isn’t going to dampen your carefree skip down the icy sidewalk. And it’s practical–warm ears keep the doctor at bay.

Here’s what I look like in an ear flap hat: Elmer Fudd.

—–
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 an Ashford spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.

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  • Stephanie Offer

    Move to London, you know you want to, tailored coats, elegant gloves and the V&A await!

  • prettyknitty

    What a tragedy! Still, I'm a bit disappointed that I am missing your Elmer Fudd impression... Warm thoughts to you, from Cleveland...as though we have any warm thoughts here. lol!

  • Linda Schiffer

    OH, I so sympathize with your 'no hat face' issue! Me, too. :)

    :) Linda

  • Kathryn Kienholz

    If you think Chicago is bad in the winter, try Minneapolis. Or Winnipeg. Or Calgary. Chicago has the (dis)advantage that the temp often hovers around freezing so you get damp cold, which is ever so much worse than dry cold.

  • Ruby

    Where is Elmer Fudd - oh, the hat hid him completely!

  • cinderellen

    I am a very good knitter, but in every kind of hat I can create my wife looks like a badger. Massachusetts can give Chicago a run for its money in the cold sweepstakes.

  • lostarts

    I think you looked great in your boy sheep hat!

  • Kris Paige

    As you mentioned, it matters not whether you have a hat face or not--the primary consideration is are you WARM? Will your ears fall off before you get on the train? Can you pull it down and peek through the loops of knitting, so your eyelids don't crack?

  • through a golden eye

    Franklin, as a frequent student of yours and fellow Chicagoan, I can say that- once more- you've hit the mark and made us laugh!

  • Mary Lou Shookhoff

    Having spent a total of 15 years in upstate New York (and I DON'T mean West Chester county) in Syracuse and Ithaca, I can really identify with this column. I lived there in the pioneer days when there were no disposable diapers and hung all of my laundry out for Mother Nature to dry. My courtyard was a regular wind tunnel (I'm not kidding) and when I hung up the diapers, I had to work fast and, after pinning the first side immediately turn the second side & then get the second clothespin. By the time I had it in my hand, the second corner was frozen in place and I could have used the diaper itself in self defense as it would have knocked you out cold (pun intended)!!! I learned to knit out of self defense for the 7 month long winter. It was fun until I finished school and had to actually get to a job no matter what the weather was (I was a nurse). In fact, I was one of the lucky students who attended SU when the 'Blizzard of '66 hit" - 57 inches in 24 hours!!! It is the only time in Syracuse's history that it closed for weather! As I was only 63 1/2" short, the fallen snow, not including the 20" & 30' drifts came up to my mouth, perilously close to my nose! I knit some really really warm clothing for my family. My best sweater which is made of Icelandic yarn of a fantastic Scandinavian design is SO warm that I can only wear it occasionally down here in the DC metro area. When we retired, my husband wanted to go back to Ithaca. I told him to have a nice life and after a while he saw the sense in not being snowed in so we wouldn't break our hips on the ice. I LOVE this column!!

  • guidosmom

    Come to Alberta where we know how to dress for the cold. Our first snow was in September. My daughter gave me a skein of musk ox yarn from a co-op in Palmer, Alaska. I made a nice, warm scarf which I tried out the other day when it was -20C. If you could dress like a musk ox I guarantee you'd be warm all season. I love your column.

  • Ilnara Hesken

    I live in The Maritimes also known as Atlantic Canada or That-Place-Where-Your-Breath-Freezes-Before-It-Leaves-Your-Body. A fur lined coat (yes, keep the fur turned inside), mukluks, three or four pairs of mittens and gloves and a fur cap are vital for surviving the winter. And a willingness to see nothing but snow banks for 4 months. Fashion? Save that for the two months of summer once the snow finally disappears.

  • Carol Silly Hat

    No hat face! Yes, me too, yet my daughter who a lot of people say, much to her chagrin, looks just like her mother, has a hat face! She looks amazing in any hat, and I look utterly silly.

  • Quilter Sammy G

    Dude............you are a funny guy! When you get old enough, ya' just don't give a fig if you don't look stylish in a hat. Are your ears cold? Cover those suckers up and whistle while you walk. Do people avert their eyes? Who even cares??????

  • Jeanne Traaseth

    I have always wished to have a hat face which would come in handy here in Minneapolis or even further north. But I don't so I knit hats for everyone else and stick to wrapping scarves around and around!

  • Vickisings

    All I can say is, whatever any of us looks like in a hat, we'd look a lot worse with frostbitten ears or noses. Some of us - including me - just have to suck it up and cover it up! Hope you stay warm.

  • ChrisKid

    How do you do in hats with a brim?

  • Carol Willey

    I too, am not a hat person. Look like a bump on a log. I would like to be, aspire to be, but alas, am not. So I crochet or knit for others. Babies, grandchildren, strangers, if you hold still, you get a hat. Love your sense of humor. Stay warm in the upcoming months.

  • Vicky Peltier

    Fun to read this on a cold mid-November day in New York State, where our winters can be just as challenging. You put it all into the right perspective: sometimes it does not matter what we look like as long as we are warm and protected from arctic winds! LOL. So, I will share this with my weekly group of knitters and crocheters, to motivate us to continue making caps and hats, scarves and shawls as well as comfort blankets for those in need....and there ARE many in need. Mittens are my next challenge to learn but that is for after I finish current projects. The best thing about winter is cuddling up with good yarn. Thanks to Lion Brand in local stores, I am in good supply for the next month! Thank you for this great read! :) Keep Calm and Carry on......

  • Deborah Hale

    I also must admit to not having a "hat face" - honestly, though, I thought it was only my opinion because I've always considered myself my worst critic. Then I went shopping with my mother once. Mother has a "hat face", so much so that the little Jackie Kennedy pillbox hats (with OR without veil!) look spectacular on her. (My daughter, who is merely a younger version of my mother, and NO, that is NOT a good thing, ALSO looks marvelous in whatever hat she chooses to rock.) Mother is trying on this hat and that, all of them look anywhere from "cute" to "fab" on the Wow-O-Meter. I start trying on these same hats, each time turning to the woman who bore me and asking, "So? What do you think?" Each time, she frowned and shook her head. Finally, after the fifth or sixth attempt, she simply said, "Give it up, Debbie, you simply weren't made to wear hats, you simply look more horrible with each one."


    At this point, however, I no longer care what nightmarish creature I resemble while wearing a hat, if my head requires one I will wear it. I may look like a fireplug, but I'm a WARMER fireplug. And living on the Atlantic Ocean in January and February makes this vital, as it's nothing short of amazing to experience single-digit temperatures with 85% humidity and a stiff wind from an approaching nor'easter whilst avoiding pneumonia.

  • MsBxq

    Come to Oregon.Bring your boots, hats, ear muffs, gloves, sweatshirts, sweaters, electric blankie. Alas, it even rains in Hawaii. The next move I make will be south, forget the North - it;s for penguins and polar bears. Even the Canadian geese are migrating!

  • Upstate NY Sue

    From one "no hat face" to another...I can feel your pain :(

  • MrsG

    Lots of snow here in Central OR, but thankfully it's now clear, sunny, winds calm but COLD still.
    Most people don't realize the variations here in OR: the coast is known for warm, but rainy weather- long productive growing season, but snow shuts things down. Central & eastern OR is arid, desert with many mountains. Skiers & resorts are happy. Me? Another no hat lady... I'll just stay snuggled up with my heated throw & keep on knitting while I enjoy the beauty.

  • Anne-Renee

    good to know I'm not the only non hat-face around!! I can - just - pull off a cloche hat... So, that's what I'll knit!

  • Tony Nichols

    Unless you are a model knitted hats are strictly for pulling down to eye level on cold Chicago winter days and not caring a patootie what anyone thinks - except for dealing with hat hair once you get to work - sigh - it's okay if you have beautiful long gorgeous hair - but naturally curly hair just kinks out all over the place and then it's a bad hair day - you would think I was used to that by now living in the Chicagoland area - it still makes me cry and want to hide in a closet with my desk and computer:)

  • Brenda Finnegan

    So totally agree. Lived near Chicago for 15 years in NW Indiana (Valparaiso). Now living in Houston TX, and guess what? We are going to break a low temp record that has stood for over 50 years! Why did I sell/give away all my winter hats, coats, scarves when I moved? AAAAGGHH

  • Gari

    We lived in Chicago for many years and are now in South Alabama. Our anniversary is in January and we celebrated in the Loop so everything you said rang so true. I remember waiting for a bus with the sleet hitting me sidewise so it cut my cheeks, wind that blue up my skirt cuz I wanted to look nice at dinner and finally the ratty heavy coat I wore because warm was preferable to looking good. I laughed when I read your piece and decided AL is not so bad after all. Thanks.

  • M

    I am almost embarassed to be saying that it is a little chilly here in California tonight,,,,it is going to be 51 degrees. I understand that I will get NO pity from Franklin or the other commenters.

  • Purrlie

    You forgot the rock bottom worst of all winter hat effects (at least for women) --- hat hair!!!!!.Once that puppy is removed from the noggin you can take it to the bank, it's a bad hair day.


    A former Chicagoan now living in Seattle (voted the worst dressed city in the US), I can attest to the fact that the weather here (unrelenting, close to freezing rain for seven months of the year) means we can't ever wear anything nice either because it will just melt or shrink or become a heavy, wet sponge (ugh).


    In the face of anything less than subtropical weather, vanity must be the first of the seven deadly sins tossed on the trash pile.

  • former Minnesota knitter

    I recommend moving to Minnesota! In Minnesota, when the first "cold spell" of 30F arrives in November or December, you cannot stay warm. After reviewing the ten coats and jackets that you own in order to be able to dress to match a variety of winter temperatures, you select your warmest coat (meant for -10F and below), your Land's End Chalet Down Coat, and huddle in it trying to understand what has happened, because, after all, last year you acclimated to the cold weather just fine when winter arrived, and what the h*ll are you going to do now when the high is -20F in January and you are waiting outside for the downtown bus? Then something happens -- you are never sure when -- and mid-January arrives and you aren't wearing your warmest coat. You are wearing the cheap $5 puffer because you don't want to get too hot. And you don't bother to zip it up because it is only 10F, after all. :)

  • MarieAnge

    Yup, those look like me too. I do not have a hat face much to my disgust. Canadian winters are not friendly to those who do not have a hat face. I feel your pain <3

  • Kit

    Suggestion for hat hair, if your office is also a little chilly: How about knitting a cute little cap that covers the parts of your head that most get messed up by your warm outdoor hat? When you get to the office, take off your warm snuggly outdoor hat that keeps you warm at 10 below, and show off your lacy lace-weight little cap that perhaps matches your lacy sweater? Usually it is the hair on the top and back of your head that gets most matted by your hat, and your lacy or otherwise chic little cap covers that nicely.

    Of course having a hat face is again helpful in pulling this off, but you are not nearly as limited in designs as you would be if you were creating a hat that also needs to keep you warm. Hat could be shaped like an octopus hanging on by its tentacles if that shape accented your good cheekbones, although hopefully not octopus colored. And you have to have enough fashion sense overall that people do not laugh. But seriously, cute or chic caps could be a wonderful fashion trend for us to start, hiding hat hair and giving us an excuse to dress more warmly in cold offices, stores, and other work locations. Especially if they came in shapes that were more universally head flattering than round or round with ear flaps. Maybe the designers of warm outdoor hats might even take a hint. After all, historically hats have come in many more shapes and styles, which might mean that everyone could have a hat face.

  • Ilil Arbel

    Try this... http://www.weather.com/travel/news/breathtaking-photos-coldest-city-world-20140128

  • shay simmons

    Living in the northern Midwest is all the excuse one needs for owning a fur coat. That in a fur coat I would look like Paddington Bear's maiden aunt restrains me (to the manifest relief of the spousal unit and the joint checking account).