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Each One, Teach One

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

I was sitting in an airline lounge, waiting for a flight home from a teaching trip, when a complete stranger got up from his laptop and gin and came over to look at my knitting.

The project I was knitting was nothing to stand up about. It was my fifth go at my all-time favorite sweater pattern–Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Seamless Saddle Shoulder, as set forth in Knitting Workshop–which I keep repeating because it suits me and I can wear it with anything. The finished product is terrific, but while in progress it’s just stockinette and more stockinette and encore la stockinette.

I don’t think that’s the correct French for “even more stockinette,” in fact I’m fairly sure it isn’t, but I’m too lazy to get up and fetch the Larousse from the shelf in the next room.

Anyway. I’m knitting my plain vanilla sweater and here comes Mr. Executive–the classic American version in navy, gray, and khaki with trousers that are just a little bit too long and a tie that should have been retired three seasons ago.

“What are you making?” he said.

I hadn’t seen him standing there. I was counting. Why do strangers always ask their questions when you’re counting? I think it’s because your hands are still for a moment, so they figure you must be taking a break.

I was at about 123 and was trying to get to 240. I was not pleased to be interrupted.

“It’s a sweater,” I said. I was a bit sharp, I confess. The trip had been arduous, with a particularly punishing class schedule. I was tired. I was homesick. And–have I mentioned this?–I was trying to count. For once I was not wildly excited to talk about knitting.

Besides, I already knew where this was going to go.

Either this guy was about to launch into a wispy gin-fueled monologue about his grandmother, of whom I reminded him (Why? The baldness? The goatee? Did she, too, have very hairy forearms?). Or I was going to get the lecture on how odd it is to see a man doing that and how nobody does that any more and ain’t that just too bad.

I braced myself. Even in a grumpy funk, I do try to be an ambassador for the craft. A good ambassador doesn’t tell curious strangers to go stick an olive in it.

“So,” he said, leaning forward for a closer look, “how does that work, anyway?”

What?

I must have looked startled. I was.

“I mean, I don’t want to bother you,” he said. “But I was watching you do that and–well, how does the fabric grow out of it?”

“You really want to see how this works?”

“Yeah. Do you mind? When does your flight leave?”

“Not for ages. Have a seat.”

I showed him the knit stitch a few times. Needle in here, yarn around there, off jumps Jack.

“That’s it?” he said.

“Just about,” I said.

“And that makes a sweater?”

“Pretty much,” I said.

“Can I try it?” he said.

What?

“Can I try it?” he repeated. “Or is it rude to ask that?”

“Hang on,” I said. “I have a spare needle and yarn in my carry-on.”

“You do?” he said.

Dude, you have no idea.

I cast on a few stitches, knit a row, and handed it to him. We went through the drill. Off jumped Jack, again and again. It wasn’t so different from teaching my toddler niece, except that Mr. Business wasn’t sitting on my lap and my niece’s breath doesn’t smell like Tanqueray.

“I’m knitting,” he said. “I’m knitting, right?”

“You are knitting.”

“But how did you start it off, though? When there was nothing on the needle?”

“You want to learn to cast on?”

“I feel like I should. Shouldn’t I?”

“How long ’til your flight?”

“Two hours. How long ’til yours?”

“Three.”

We cast on. We purled. We were well on our way to basic shaping when he realized he was fifteen minutes from boarding. He looked genuinely stricken.

“I have to go,” he said.

“This has been fun,” I said. “You’re really getting the hang of it.”

“I wish I could practice on the plane,” he said, looking rather sadly at the work-in-progress.

“Take it with you.”

“No,” he said. “I couldn’t. This is your equipment.”

“I have loads. Take it. Keep practicing.”

“How do I stop when it’s finished? What if I make mistakes?”

“You need to find the yarn shop wherever you’re heading. Go in, be nice, buy something, ask politely. If they’re busy, be patient. If you can’t get to a shop, look online. Here are some places to look. And here are a few good books to learn from.”

“Do you think they have yarn shops in Tucson?”

“They do,” I said. “I know they do.”

“I have to get to the gate. I can’t believe I’m learning how to knit. Man, we never even got around to names. I’m Josh.”

“I’m Franklin. Been my pleasure.”

“This has been so amazing. Thank you. Do I owe you?”

Owe me? Hah.

The first hit is always free, Josh. The first hit is always free.


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

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