Let's Celebrate Christmas in July. View Our Gift Guide Now!

Just Say Yes

franklin_400x400Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.

One weird side effect of writing about your knitting for a living is that the number of people who comment on your knitting can be enormous. To chronicle the day-to-day progress of a big, complicated shawl for the public is daunting and unnatural. Knitting is meant to be seen when it’s complete, not laid bare for inspection as it grows stitch by stitch.

Having hundreds or thousands of people pore over a piece of work may sound like fun, and it can be. My first sweater reached the finish line loudly cheered on by a crowd of blog readers who had watched it grow from nothing, and encouraged me to continue on in the face of neckline issues and a second sleeve that threatened never to end. Certainly that was far more gratifying than showing it to my then-boyfriend, whose entire response was, “Hey, nice.”

Nice? Nice?!

It does no good to point out to such a person that he is, thank you very much, looking at tens of thousands of stitches made with several miles of string; that these stitches have been arranged (with help from Elizabeth Zimmermann) into the shape of a garment that fits your own very peculiar measurements exactly so; and that smack in the middle of all this you charted and knit a band of stranded color work–your first ever stranded color work–spelling out a favorite tag by Seneca from your first year Latin book.

No, if you point these things out, you will sound peevish. And all you will likely get from the other person is an amended, “Uh, I mean–very nice. Cute.”

Cute?!

The flip side of the cheering crowd is the crowd that fails to cheer. I don’t mean they just watch in silence. I mean they speak up to let you know what you’re doing wrong. Which is, not infrequently, everything.

Such people assume that because you have made your work public, you have also magically sprouted a titanium carapace that prevents them from stinging you. Not that they won’t try.

A certain amount of immunity does build up. The first time someone who presumably has little else to do with her days looks at a piece you’ve spent three hundred hours making and says, simply, “Blech,” it hurts like being kicked in the chest by a horse. The fiftieth time, it only hurts like being poked in the eye by a strong monkey.

But you shrug it off, because that is part of  your job. You become good at that part of your job, or you get another job.

Sometimes the poke is especially weird and vicious. I am thinking today of a photograph I posted on Instagram some time ago of a tiny piece of fine lace still on the needles. It was an antique edging pattern of leaves, worked with cotton thread on a nineteenth century pair of 0000 needles. That photo got a lot of oooohhh and aaahhhhh which it may or may not have deserved. “What are you knitting this for?” people asked.

I answered them by way of a photograph of Ethel, one of my small collection of antique china head dolls. Ethel was more than naked when she came to me–she was nothing but a head. After sewing her a body, I planned to dress her from the skin out beginning with a cotton petticoat. This lace was intended as trim.

Quite a bit of the oooohhh and aaahhhh changed to eeeuuww and uuugggghhhh. It’s one thing to say, “I would never knit that.” It’s another to say, as many did, “You shouldn’t be knitting that.”

A long-time reader told me she was “very disappointed. I never knew you were one of those doll people.” Another said it made her uncomfortable to think of “a grown man owning a doll,” and that she felt I should–if I must continue this sort of knitting–“Keep it to yourself. It’s creepy. We don’t need to see it.”

By this time this happened, I had already lived four decades as a guy who could never manage much interest in most “boy” things, as artificially defined by the narrow-minded adults who presume to make the rules. So, for once, I genuinely did not care. There was no sting. I enjoyed knitting small things for Ethel, and would (and do) continue knitting small things for Ethel. (And her sisters.) (And for my dolls’ house.)

But not everyone has my thick skin, built up layer by layer over years of fighting back because I had to. And comments like these–which are all too common in the crafting world–so often halt joy in its tracks.

It’s not just men with dolls who hear it, of course.

I’ve heard knitters criticize other knitters for an interest in a yarn or a project or a technique they consider a joke. (All she knits with are novelty yarns. All she makes are baby clothes. So low class!)

I’ve heard knitters criticize those who crochet or who want to learn to crochet. (It never looks good, you know. So lumpy. So low class!) I’ve heard crocheters criticize other crocheters who “only” work zigzag afghans or doilies or filet wall hangings. (So stuffy! So old-maidish! So low class!)

I’ve heard weavers and quilters and embroiderers criticize knitters and crocheters (We make art–they’re just crafters. So low class!) And I’ve heard all kinds of people snark about macramé. (In case you think I’m typing this while balanced on a high horse…I’ve been guilty of that one.)

I would like to suggest that we all cultivate the craft of self-restraint–that when we find ourselves on the point of making such comments, we sit back from the keyboard or bite the tongue.

Quite aside from sounding ridiculous–how can one form of fiber craft be “lower” or “higher” than another?–we need to think about the cumulative effect of millions of  people saying “You shouldn’t do that” to millions of other people.

I am just old enough to remember the days when it seemed pretty certain that knitting, weaving, sewing, and crochet were all on their way out–forever.

We were in a new age! An age when women could do anything! By which it was meant that women now could do “boy” things, as artificially defined (once again) by the narrow-minded adults who presume to make the rules. Women were not required–or even supposed–to do “girl” things any more. (So old-maidish! So low class!)

Yarn companies folded, yarn shops shuttered, and department stores sold off their stocks of dry goods. Even women’s magazines stopped publishing patterns. Why? In large part because society had come to sneer at people (especially the female half of people) who spent leisure time working with their hands, and sneering can have dire consequences.

We who care about handwork hear enough “no” in our lives from outsiders who think we should buy our socks, not knit them; who think money spent on yarn is money wasted; and who mention grandma’s crocheted afghans only as a punch line. We should never, ever discourage a fellow member of the global needlework circle from any creative pursuit that catches his or her eye.

No, not even if it’s macramé.

Now, if you will please excuse me, winter is right around the corner, and I am making Ethel a knitted coat to go with her newest hat.

habit-lb-illo-06-16

—–

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

Tagged In:
  • Pamela Hughes

    I think Ethel is beautiful in her new hat, and the coat is going to look amazing with it. Personally, I could care less if you like "girl" dolls or not...that is a personal choice. I was always considered a "tom boy", but like you are you, I am just me. I wish all people could accept others for themselves and not try to pigeon-hole others into what they want them to be. Thank you for being yourself, that is enough for anyone to be.
    Pamela H from Tennessee

  • Pamela

    I really appreciate you writing this. You're so thoughtful and I think a lot of people need to read this and consider it. Keep doing what you love!

  • Carole

    Loved reading this! Gives me room to be who I want to be and the knowledge to still be ok when other don't agree.

  • Rock Vandal

    Yah, haters will hate and it stinks! Too bad our beautiful knitted sweaters can't insulate us from them. Stay strong, and warm! Xo

  • Tasmanianlilly

    Keep knitting, Franklin. We need more men doing it. It beats channel surfing all the time - no wonder women knit - nothing stays on TV long enough for us to see what it is, let alone get involved with the plot. I'm not sure my hide is as thick as yours...

  • Eva DeVore

    Basically, it's all a matter of respect. I've never understood why people feel the need to be critical of others. Does it make the critical person feel better in some way? Why can't we all just live and let live or knit and let knit?

  • SshImReading

    YYYYYYYYAAAAAASSSSSSSSS

  • mousepotato

    Please don't tell the other "ladies" about the toolkit I have in my car or the rolling file box I keep my spinning wheel parts in.

  • Anna_B

    I've been wondering wth happened to Ethel! Last I saw you were working a skirt for her and then she dissipated. Gawds, that sweater is lush, but I don't have the bone structure to carry it off! Go Ethel!

  • Barb

    Thank you Franklin! Once again you say what I've often thought, but could not express clearly

  • Ellen Mason

    My Mom was a dealer of fine antiques, but often reminded me there was no such thing as "good taste". It irked her that folks would compliment her on her tasteful (so high class!) decorating. So she hung a rubber bat on the door weight. It bounced around when the door opened and she delighted in the screams. And we rode in the car in curious configurations: short me driving, Mom shot-gun, and my brilliant six foot 275 lb Dad back center. I was raised tasteless and classless, and I am forever grateful.

  • Jan Hedden

    Bravo!

  • Rachel Mitchell

    Thank you for this, Franklin. We should all support and encourage each other, not nitpick and tear each other down.

  • sandy beach

    you have to take into account the different types of people in this great big world we live in... some are mightily impressed that you can put two sticks together with a piece of string, and produce a finished garment... good or not....
    And there are those who look at it... at the time you spent hovering over those needles and string... and say... huh, coulda got that for $19.98 at Walmart... quicker than it took you to make it...
    So I say... knit for You... not anyone else... just for You....
    I don't mean don't share it... i mean... Please yourself... and if the others on the receiving end enjoy it... great... if they are not impressed enough by the love and work you put into it... either never make them anything again... or ask them occasionally how they are enjoying that thing that you made so specially with so much love for them.....!
    Yes, i know I am being evil.... but I never make anything without a lot of adjustment, stress, worry that its just right, and without it being from good quality ingredients...
    If they can't at least appreciate that... sod 'em.... I say!

  • Martha

    Oh please keep knitting and crocheting ( and explaining the difference to those not bright enough to learn to do either...)

  • Alison Menzies

    I'm a doll collector and what amazes me is how angry people get when you like something they don't understand. Like, full on vitriolic rage, just because someone collects dolls, or likes a certain tv show, or whatever. So much emotional energy expended over nothing. I really think that these people have come to believe that only certain interests or hobbies are "allowed" or "proper" and when they see other people breaking the rules, they are jealous and resentful, because they wish they had the confidence to do what makes them happy without caring about other people judging them.

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


    seriously, I adore you!

  • Stephanie Lundquist

    I love your perspective, and this is a fantastic piece. It helps me because my own inner voice sometimes wants to tell me I'm wasting time knitting or other crafting. I've seen the negativity on other blogs, too. You go! Keep writing too because I'm addicted. And Ethel is beautiful. Super fun project.

  • Linda

    I love that you are open about who you are. I am, also, and, though I'm not lesbian or whatever, I AM old and outspoken. I don't always speak what I think but if I see someone hurting another, then I tend to be quietly outspoken. I so appreciate any craft. I have a friend who makes sc backgrounds for cross stitch pictures (winnie-the-pooh, tinkerbell, Florida gator, mickey mouse, etc etc) and she does an excellent job. I would no more sit forever on a sc background and I envy her her patience and creativity. I have done ALL crafts just to try each one and I must tell you that I loved them all, I love everyone who "deigns" to pick up any craft. I am so glad that you have this piece of the world to share your humor with and I am grateful to be able to share it. Thanks.

  • Diana

    I take pride in all of the handcrafts in which I indulge and love. I knit "the wrong way" and do many other things that draw comments from others....but, like you, I do it anyway..My way. Congratulations on persevering. Sometimes it's not easy. Thank you for the reminder that admiration is a better expression than derision.
    3

  • Cath

    Thank you for expressing this so well and generously. Bravo!

  • ereader2012

    Love Ethel and always happy to see what thoughtful gift you are making for her. It is an appreciation of the art and craftsmanship of how she was made and what she represents to those who loved her in the past, those who will love her in the present and in the future.

    Love the comments below.

    My first reaction to those negative naysayers was "boo, hiss". But instead I will just observe that the true mark of "high" class is the good manners to make others feel comfortable, cared for and appreciated.

  • Ursa Underbuttons neé VvBoom


    It makes my heart hurt to read how much pain theis has caused you. Franklin Habit, I believe people pick at you and say mean things to hurt you because they are envious of your talent, of the fact that you are living an authentic life, and because they want to feel better about themselves.

    Ignore the tw*ts as best you can and keep on keep on keepin' on. You are loved and many live fuller lives because of things you have designed, written, illustrated, etc.

  • G. Chao

    Thank you, Franklin!! I feel sorry for those who feel they have to tear others down - it means they are so insecure that's the only way they can feel good about themselves. I try to live by my interpretation of the Golden Rule: Don't be a d*ck.

  • Lynda In Oregon

    Apparently, some people are unaware that there are no Knitting Police and are still trying to qualify to enter the (non-existent) Academy.

    Also -- thanks for reminding us to be as non-snarky as possible when evaluating others' crafting choices. Yes, I've been guilty of that. Sometimes there's just such an internal buildup that it must be released lest some vital organ explode from snark overload. (However, during election season, there are plenty of venues upon which to unload.)

  • Hazel

    Oh wow! This is that unspoken "elephant in the corner" topic. We all should take pride in what we do. The person who creates pot holders - knit, crochet, quilted - who cares. Just as important as the person knits lace on teeny tiny needles - for dolls, or baby things or beautiful "underpinnings". And remember - historically, men used to wear the lace, and in some places and times - it was reserved for royality!!! Where is the line between "art' and "craft" Two people create the same item using the same pattern - and it will be different. Stitches that are tighter or looser - differerent yarn (or fabric - etc, etc) colors, types of needles, hooks - and so on. We all create as we are inspired. And encouraged.
    So I vote on the side of go out and be inspired. And encourage others to create and inspire. Franklin, I so enjoy the things you have said. You make me laugh and you make me think. You create and inspire! Thank you

  • Jo

    This is beautiful, thank you.

  • Terri

    Ethel's looking fly!

    Thank you for this post. A gentle reminder that we all have our preferences and they are personal.

  • Carol

    Franklin,
    Rock on! Knit whatever you like. I cherish a fiber group I belong to because everyone is loved "where they are at". Garter stitch scarf? Using recycled yarn? Knitting with Acrylic? Spinning your own yarn? Designing your own patterns? All are welcome; all efforts are applauded. Carol from CT

  • https://disqus.com/home/channel/provaxvsantivaxadebate/ Nom Dumb Disqus

    I don't know about "Yuck."

    There is a concept in fandom called "squick" which more-or-less translates to: "Ewww. Sooooooooooooo not my thing. I'm going all the way over there while you get on with it."

  • ChrisKid

    There are way too many people making themselves unhappy by trying to do what other people think they should. Do what you love, find your own way, and who cares if it's outside the pigeonhole. We'd all be better off if we shared what we love instead of what we don't want you to love.

  • Polly

    The hat is nifty, and I always love an Ethel Update but that shawl/scarf! swoon! Wish I could pull off one like that myself.

  • Meghan

    This really struck a cord with me as a stay-at-home mom who left a good career to raise my daughter. Some people seem to think that you can't do that and be a feminist. Keep knitting for your dolls! It's charming, not weird. I'll be over here working on another sweater for my girl.