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I Told You So

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

habit-lb-illo-09-2014

It is said in my family that my grandmother heard the government was planning to send a man to the moon and her entire response was, "Why? All they're going to find up there is an ash heap. We have one of those over by the railroad tracks."

Apollo 11 touched down and it was revealed that the surface of the moon does, in fact, look remarkably like the ash heap by the railroad tracks. She was gratified. As Armstrong talked about a giant leap, she talked right over him. "I told you so, " she said. "Didn't I tell you? I told you." Science had merely confirmed what she already knew.

After several generations of being thought quaint, weird, slow, backward, old-fashioned, and obsolete, knitters have reason to feel gratified. Science has confirmed what we already knew. Knitting isn't just quaint, weird, slow, useful, and beautiful. Knitting is good for your health.

When a rash of articles like this broke out in the mainstream press recently, non-knitters of my acquaintance choked my inbox with eager messages.

This specimen is typical.

Hey Franklin, have you seen this? I thought of you when I read it. I guess you are onto something after all. Maybe I should try it if it helps your brain, ha ha ha! Send me some yarn! Ha ha!

Laugh it up, friend. I told you so. Didn't I tell you? I told you.

One of my less jocular acquaintances didn't just send the link, he asked a question:

When you're knitting, can you feel it working?

I wrote back,

I can't speak for all knitters, of course; but for me the answer is yes.

And he wrote,

Okay, what does it feel like?

Huh. I hadn't tried to pin that down before. I knew knitting made me feel better. But better how? Better why? When you write about knitting you don't often get asked to write about knitting going well. You get asked about your disasters and your mistakes and the day you took out a restraining order against the entrelac shawl that had been willfully causing you distress for six months. Disasters are funny. Disasters are interesting. Happy projects that proceed without incident from cast on to bind off are dull reading, and make the writer sound smug.

But now this friend wanted to know what it feels like when knitting is going well. Why does it feel good? It doesn't look like it should feel good . Have you looked–really looked–at a knitter lately?

Most of us are a mess, ergonomically. We tend to fall into either the Hunched category, huddled over our work like vultures toying with the last of the rabbit carcass; or the Sprawled category, languidly pawing the tangled mess that has spilled over our stomachs as we loll on the sofa.

And the motions themselves are less than compelling. We're not launching a skateboard up a ramp and over a ravine. We're not turning a radish into a chrysanthemum with rapid flourishes of a tiny knife. We're not frantically covering a canvass with broad windmill strokes of oil paint. We're pulling a little loop of yarn through another little loop of yarn with the end of a twig.

So no, it doesn't look like much. Yet it feels good. Why?

To answer the question I had to go back to moments in my life when things were so bad that I didn't so much want knitting as need it.

There was the time, for example, when it became clear that my grandmother–who had suffered a stroke and then spent a year perfectly alive but perfectly miserable–was going to die. It took a long time. She was unconscious, but alive. About once a day I would get a message from my father:

Granny continues to slip away.

I had so many thoughts. She was my first needlework teacher. A rare source of unconditional love. The last of my grandparents. Almost the last of her generation. The thoughts circled in my brain like horses on a carousel, up and down, creaking, ceaseless. It began to wreck me.

Someone who knows me well propped me up in a chair and put a project in my hands.

"Just knit," he said.

So I did. I pulled loops through loops with the end of a twig. I did this thousands of times.

I was still thinking but now my thoughts were divided. I remembered my grandmother saying, "This is how you thread a needle," and it hurt. But at the same time, I had to keep thinking, "Two purls, now knit. Two purls, now knit." With my attention split in two, the sad thoughts hurt a little less.

Granny continued to decline. I continued to knit. While she gradually disappeared, a little jacket gradually appeared.

We dwelt for two weeks in uncertainty. How long could she go on? The doctors were mystified. Ninety-three years old, and in the hospital for the third time in her entire life. She might last a month or even more. My knitting was a certainty: if I kept pulling through new loops, I would make fabric. Panic rose in my chest, but if my hands worked steadily the panic would subside.

Then a phone call: she was gone. Peacefully, with dignity.

I hadn't finished the little jacket yet. There was more knitting to do. Life stops, life goes on. You just have to keep stitching.

I could hear my grandmother's voice.

"I told you so, " she said. "Didn't I tell you? I told you."

—–
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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  • Rebecca Austin

    There is something about knitting. Even when its a complicated frustrating pattern, it is something tangible. So much of our lives is spent doing things that are very real- but not tangible, I find it so helpful to have something in my hands where I can see the progress being made. Even if it is the same 141 stitch cast on for the fourth time.

  • Ronda Machalek Ŧrent

    I think... there is something in my eye.

  • Chris Wells

    Having lost my dad earlier this summer, this definitely brought a tear to my eye.

  • Pam

    Beautifully put, Franklin. Thank you.

    Pam

  • Leigh

    Yes. The tangible-ness. I have something at the end. It's beautiful. It feels good. And something else. Not sure what.

  • kikicrwban

    Franklin, wow. You have not only defined something that I thought was indefinable, you have done it beautifully.

  • nadinecreates.wordpress.com

    I carry yarn and crochet wherever I am. People ask me why? I try to explain it grounds me. I can see something solid from my efforts. Since I work with special needs children all day, I need to be able to see something growing at the end of the day.

  • Quinn Fforde

    That was very moving. I always enjoy your writing, but this is particularly wonderful. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • Lynn A. Montani

    You are amazing! Thank-you.

  • Barbara

    I'm definitely a Sprawler.

  • Starknitter

    I have knit for 50 years....saying it just keeps me focused and if I get a usable item after all the knitting, so be it. This was before the internet where I learned there are "Process vs Product' knitters". My goodness.....only 4 times, Rebecca?

  • glinda_nw

    *sniffle* Is someone chopping onions?

    In the two months after my closest friend died, I crocheted 29 scarves. I couldn't do anything fancy that'd require concentration; I couldn't make jewelry; I could crochet. (Gave most of the scarves away...)

  • Trudi Griswold

    Thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel. Doing something tangible makes me feel useful, that I am contributing something to the world at large. If it makes someone else feel good at the same time, that is a bonus.

  • Marjoleine

    For 8 weeks this May and June I sat with my dad every day while slowly cancer did it's nasty job.
    I found that I could sit with him for hours if I just knitted. He was asleep for most of the time.
    The knitting helped me to be not too sad or think too much of the inevitable end for my dad.
    His last week I knitted 6 elephants (CeeCee Creech's pattern) one a day. The last one was done when my dad passed. I gave them to his care team as a thank you for their loving care.


    Thank you for putting in words what knitting does for you.

  • Amy B Reineri

    Knitting is a form of meditation if you are experienced in knitting. It also always (once you learn it properly and perform it somewhat regularly) generates the intense satisfaction of "creating!" If you find you can successfully perform creation of items using knitting, then the completion of something MEANS something and means it in a way that modern society as become deaf to: creation! You create a durable, usable item whether it is clothing, decoration or art. In today's society, so much of what people "do" they have to "do" again tomorrow as if today never existed! So much of what people work in factories to make is "disposable" with increasingly short life-spans expected for items as basic as washing machines. But if you make a nice, ageless knit piece and place it in the appreciative hands of a younger person, it may live for 100 or more years. It may hold a place of honor for a family living on The Moon or Des Moines or wherever. Make something - even if it winds up as a knit shrug in our local thift store, it may wind up dyed darker and painted in silver to be costume Chain Mail. The item lasts as long as the material, although synthetics are often un-colorable. Just sayin - knit natural!

  • Esmerelda

    After reading your article, I was sure my grandmother must have had a long lost twin. She taught me to crochet and it was a priceless gift. If someone wants to know why I do it, it is because it keeps me centered, calms the inner gremlins that keep trying to stress me out and gives me joy and satisfaction in creating something for someone, even if that someone is me. I suspect that includes lowering of my blood pressure and slowing of my pulse and a number of other physical plusses, but the mental calm is the best part - even when I'm "frogging" it. Sounds like we were both pretty lucky with grandmas!

  • Katt

    I find that knitting and other needle arts relaxes me after a stressful day.

  • sylrayj

    My mum taught me how to knit. Tomorrow, in just a few minutes, will be her birthday; we lost her suddenly this spring.

  • Dima

    I crochet and I call that feeling "being in the zone". I had to go in for an interview and was very anxious (I always am before those things), so I took out my hook and thread and started crocheting. I felt everything just fall away.

  • Kelley Hartsell

    I'm barely a knitter, but I crochet a lot. And this is so true! I lost my grandmother on March 1. I got a phone call from my parents a couple weeks prior that grandma only had a couple days left. I rushed back home after a hurried conversation with my boss and then the airline to get my ticket changed from my original trip planned to go home. I'm a big reader too, but sitting there at grandma's bedside essentially waiting for her to die, I couldn't focus enough to read. I had brought some yarn with me and I pulled it out. I did granny square after granny square, all different sizes and colors. They are a mindless activity for me I've made so many. I actually ran out of the yarn I'd brought with me and had to go find a local yarn store to buy more so I could keep going. Sitting there with my hook and yarn, next to mom while we watched and listened for signs from Grandma, they were exactly what I needed. I could keep my hands busy and let my mind roam and my attention focus on grandma. but the feel of the yarn through my fingers made me feel so much better. It calmed me, distracted me just enough, and gave me time to just think about and reflect on memories with Grandma.

  • LKWeaver

    Just read this article by Franklin. After my Mother passed in 2010, I again picked up my crochet (I do not knit). Each time my pain started, I picked up my crochet. Each time I picked up my crochet, the pain lessened a little bit. I'm still crocheting ~ now as much to make gifts for friends as to relieve the remaining pain. I know the pain will never completely disappear ~ but it lessens each time I again pick up my crochet. Thank you for such a lovely article. Linda

  • Carol

    Thank you, Franklin. Just...thank you.