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Party Trick by Franklin Habit

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

I have learned from experience that the best way to respond when a stranger at a party asks me, “So, what do you do for a living?” is to start a small fire, then run away while everyone is distracted.

I teach knitting for a living. Most folks are not prepared to hear that an ostensibly grown man spends his days teaching knitting.  It smacks of frivolity. There is always an awkward pause, lasting anywhere from five seconds to an hour, during which we stand blinking until the follow-up question.

“What?”

It all, as Hannibal said from the top of the Alps, goes downhill from here.

Occasionally one of the guests turns hyperenthusiastic and begins spreading word of my vocation through the room. “Listen to this, Maude,” he says. “Listen, this guy–you’ll never believe it–this guy teaches people to knit. To knit!”

“What?” says Maude.

“To knit!”

“What?” says Maude.

He then, without setting down his gin and tonic, mimes “knitting” by wiggling his fists in proximity. It looks less like knitting than snapping the neck of a prairie dog, but never mind. Maude has caught on.

“Isn’t that something!” says Maude. “Hester, listen to this!”

I remember that there is a window in the bathroom through which I can likely squeeze, only two floors above the sidewalk. But Maude grabs my arm and insists that I knit for the assembled company, rather as I was once ordered by a doting aunt to play my violin for a clump of relatives who had about as much interest in my musical pursuits as a pack of wild dogs. I had been a violinist for something like two weeks; but I tuned up and scratched out something akin to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in one-and-a-half tries.

On both occasions, the same audience reaction:

“Is that it?”

That is, in fact, it. An eight-year-old with a new violin seldom sounds like much, and a knitter at work on a garter stitch baby cardigan doesn’t look like much.

The wild dogs are unimpressed. Maude isn’t ready to let up, though.

“Show me how to do it,” she says. “Teach me right now.”

“You’d have to set down your martini.”

That puts the brakes on, but only for a moment.

“Fine, okay. Give me the…what do you call them?”

“Needles.”

“Give me the needles.”

I am not about to hand over a baby cardigan on the final approach to completion, so I pull out a ball-end and a pair of needles that are kicking around in the bottom of my bag. I cast on a handful of stitches.

“Look at you,” says Maude appreciatively. “Look how you go so fast. My turn, now.”

She squeezes next to me on the tiny settee, and I undertake to teach a woman who is equal parts Tanqueray and White Shoulders the knit stitch.

habit-lb-illo-09-15

“Whoops! Did I do it right?”

“Almost. Try again, this time without drawing blood.”

“I’m sorry. Is your finger going to be okay?”

“Yes.” (No.)

We try again. She knocks her martini into my lap.

We try again. And again. And again again again again again again.

The rest of the party moves on through politics, charades, gossip. But Maude–showing a persistence that astounds me–doggedly plows ahead. In, around, through, off. Stitches stretch and drop. She swears. Tiny beads of perspiration appear on her forehead.

As the clock strikes an hour I never see, she finishes one row of ten stitches.

“Hester!” shouts Maude. “I did it! Look at this! I’m knitting!”

“Yeah,” says Hester. “Good for you.”

“I need another drink,” says Maude. “You?”

“I believe it’s time for me to make my exit.”

“Too bad,” she says. “That was fun. I mean, I don’t have the patience to do it a lot. But thank you for showing me.”

“That’s a shame. But you’re very welcome.”

“It is a shame,” she says. “I mean, it was fun, but I don’t think I have the patience. It was interesting, though.”

“Understood.”

“If I had more patience, maybe.”

“Yup.”

I slip away to put on my coat, leaving the yarn and needles on the table by the settee.

Maude is talking to Hester. “It was so much fun,” she’s saying, “but I don’t have the patience.” One hand holds the dregs of a fresh martini. The other, almost absentmindedly, strokes the needle with the row of stitches on it.

“…maybe if I had the patience,” she says as I shut the door behind me.

At arm’s reach, the ball of yarn waits. Silently.

Patiently.

 

—–
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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  • Patty

    "and I undertake to teach a woman who is equal parts Tanqueray and White Shoulders the knit stitch".....perfect!

  • Pam

    I wondered if this was what you were writing...great job. I don't know why they all think they don't have the patience. Or the time. Or the whatever... Knitting is so very magical, and yarn is so very, very patient. :)

  • Sweeneybird62

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! That was great!

  • http://www.quiltcontemplation.blogspot.com martha

    yep.

  • petenpete

    HA!! Love it!!

  • Robin Ferguson

    If the woman sits there long enough, that ball of yarn will call to her and then...she'll be hooked. (and all her needling will have paid off.

  • Judy

    You have my sympathies. I both knit and quilt.

  • Kit

    You do not need patience to learn to knit. You need persistence, a very different quality. Patience is waiting for something to happen to you. Persistence is doing something over and over. Patience is passive. Persistence is active. No amount of patience in the world will make you a knitter. A reasonable, moderate amount of persistence will make you an adequate knitter. I learned to knit in one snowy weekend, with some cotton yarn and knitting needles from Walmart, and three books from the public library. One of the books was "Stitch and Bitch" but I have no idea what the other two books were because the titles were not as clever, even though the information was just as useful. Granted, from the time I got home on Friday to the time I finished on Sunday evening, I had probably spent about 30 hours reading and trying, reading and trying, reading another part, unraveling and casting on again, knitting again, etc. Some rows ended up with an extra stitch, or two stitches got knit together. Sometimes everything fell off the needles and I started over again. Holes mysteriously appeared. But I kept getting closer and closer to what I saw in the books, and I kept going further and further without making any mistakes, and by Sunday evening I could make a strip of worsted garter stitch about four inches wide and twelve inches long with the same number of stitches in every row. And not once did I have to sit still and wait for something to happen. No patience required at all, thank goodness, because I am not a patient person.


    I have since learned a lot more about knitting, but I have still never found a need to be patient. The yarn on the other hand is patient enough for both of us. I can start one project and finish four or five others before I come back to the first project and the yarn is still there waiting to restart where we left off most of the time. Or if it has slipped off the needles in the interim, it is ready to wind into a ball again and start on a new project. I love yarn partly because it is so many things that I am not. Besides patient, it is colorful, soft, flexible, fuzzy, adaptable, warm, and cozy.


    The main other thing a new knitter needs to be is tolerant of imperfection. You will make mistakes as a new knitter. If you can tolerate mistakes and keep knitting until you have completed twenty or fifty or two hundred rows before you unravel and rewind the yarn, you will progress a lot faster than if you stop to fix every mistake. You will teach your hands what good knitting feels like, and develop a rhythm that will soon feel right, and then all you have to do is keep up the rhythm. If you never let the rhythm develop, then knitting will always be a struggle.


    Of course, half drunk people do not usually appreciate the subtle nuances of language. Nor do they appreciate the benefits of learning to knit. That is their loss.

  • Deborah Hale

    I'll be knitting along and having a conversation with someone when suddenly that person will realize that I'm looking at her and not my knitting. Naturally they feel the need to point this out to me ("You're not looking at your knitting!" is the common exclamation), whereas I will reply "That's right, sometimes I don't have to look! It's my only real trick, though, sorry." Fortunately, I don't carry extra yarn and needles around with me, although I'm sure that if I did, someone would demand a lesson. Hopefully not someone who is already full of martinis...

  • Daniel MacBride

    Oh, Franklin, you never fail to make me chuckle in recognition! While I don't teach for a living, I have had similar experiences teaching people to knit and spin (and I too, carry spare needles and yarn, or a spare drop spindle and fibre around with me exactly for occasions when someone wants to have a go). I have left so many spindles or pairs of needles with people who claim they "don't have the patience"....the siren song of fibre is impossible to ignore ;)

  • luciemayer

    As an opera singer, and knitter, I so completely relate to this brilliant article. "Oh, sing something!" isn't better than, "oh, my cousin sings in a choir" or "A singer? Wow! I looooove Celine Dion!".
    Dear Franklin, I dare the familiarity, next time, pretend you've pulled a wrist muscle. It preserves sanity :)

  • Jo

    70 years ago my father taught me to knit. Many many times he would come to me and pull the needles out and say "start over it is to tight, or to loose". His patience and my persistence finally paid off and I have been knitting ever since. I also used it as therapy after a stroke a few years ago. Love my needles and yarn they are a great comfort.

  • Jenn Zeyen

    "That is, in fact, it."

    So true. Once had a beginning knit student complain because I only taught her two stitches: knit & purl. She felt ripped off. She wanted to learn "all the others". But, you know, I've never tried to teach anyone who had six+ martinis inside them! My hat goes off to you sir.

    PS. I'm sharing this and hoping none of my knit students read my feed today...

  • Lynn Sloan

    I can really visualize this. Hilarious!!

  • Mary Beth Sassen

    Thanks Franklin! Ever since I spent a weekend with you in May, I hear your voice when I read your articles. I've taught a few people how to knit, not sure if I've done it after they've had a few martinis, but maybe I will have one or two the next time I teach someone.

  • Jeanne Berry

    It waits.

  • ellen

    Where is your next party? I would squeal but in DELIGHT and then pull out (if it wasn't already in my hands) my own "on the road" bag. We could steal away and craft.

  • Devon

    What? Is this guy complaining about having an interesting, sought-after job because... it makes his interactions at fancy cocktail parties awkward???

  • Nicole Haschke

    I loved this! I always imagine your "I teach knitting classes" statement to be followed by one of those turntable-needle-slides-off-the-record sounds you sometimes hear in movies or TV shows while everyone allows this fact to register right before they say "What?!?"

  • Layla Young

    I hope that you left behind inexpensive needles....