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It's a Purl, It's a Chain, It's ...

I was sitting in an airport, waiting for the flight to a teaching engagement, winding yarn. Travel with a swift being sadly impractical, I was making do with the back of an empty chair. Without warning, a screeching ninny plunged into view and grabbed at the unwound skein.

"So cute!" she screamed, jangling a fistful of wool in one painted claw. "Are you, like, doing some crochet or something?"

"That was the plan," I said.

But it was too late. The skein had become a tangle so dense not even light could escape from it.

Working out occasional small snarls is part of knitting. There's no avoiding it. But really big messes like this? Forget it. I've always taken them as a sign that I wasn't supposed to knit with that yarn, anyway.

When I got to the guild I mentioned what had happened and displayed the ruined skein.

"It was so pretty, too," I said. "But now it's dead."

"No it's not," said the Chief Guild Lady. "Somebody get Eileen."

There was a general chorus of agreement: Eileen must be got.

There's was nothing in Eileen's physical appearance that would have made you look at her twice. She was nice-looking. Pleasant. Neatly dressed. Polite. But Eileen had a special talent.

"Give it to me," she said. I handed her the tangle.

Ten minutes later, she handed back the yarn–not only free of snarls but wound neatly into a ball.

I was gobsmacked.

"How did you–?"

"I'm just good at it," said Eileen, smiling shyly. And she melted back into the crowd.

I think Eileen was selling herself a little short. That had been no run-of-the-mill jumble; you could have lost a pack of hounds in it. No, Eileen wasn't merely "good at" untangling yarn. She had a super-power.

Everybody in the guild knew it. They all laid their hopeless cases at her feet, trusting that in short order she would have set matters to rights. To be a proper superhero, all she needed was a cape, a mask, and a lair.

The more of you I meet, the more I firmly believe that every needleworker is a bit of a superhero. It's a rare practitioner of the yarn arts who doesn't possess a knack for something that reduces most others to tears. It may not enable him to leap a tall building in a single bound, but it may get him unscathed through a chart more riddled with hazards than a minefield. It may not stop a plot to destroy the planet, but it may stop an otherwise law-abiding knitter from stabbing random passersby with an angry needle.

Every villainous tangle in Gotham has a sworn enemy–and she or he may well be sitting in the chair next to you. More likely, she or he is sitting in your chair right now.

What, I would very much like to know, is your superpower?


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 (, 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 KnittingYarn Market NewsInterweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkCast On: A Podcast for KnittersTwist Collective, and a regular column on historic knitting patterns for

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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