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.
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.
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.
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.
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.