When a non-knitter asks a questions about my knitting, that question is most often, "How long will it take you to finish that?" or the common variation, "How long would it take you to make me a [type of knitted thing]?"
So I explain that a hat may require several evenings, particularly if worked in a complicated technique or a fine yarn. I tell them the average number of stitches in a pair of socks (eight million) or a plain sweater (seven hundred trillion) and that completion of the latter may take months.
The gasps of astonishment are strong enough to suck the stitch markers right out of a raglan.
You will have noticed that we live in a world that idolizes instant gratification. What we want, we want now. (Did you scroll down to read the cartoon first? You did, didn't you?) Inevitably, the sight of a person voluntarily engaged in sustained concentration draws the sort of fascinated stares formerly reserved for lake monsters.
Not that I make any claims of superiority. During one of the first knitting classes I ever took, the redoubtable Galina Khmeleva held aloft a completed Orenburg lace shawl, roughly six feet square. The yarn was finer than a typical modern lace weight–the sort you often hear called "cobweb"–and the entire thing was absolutely riddled with yarn overs.
"How long–" one of the students (okay, me) said breathlessly.
"Six months," said Galina.
I said nothing, but my heart whispered, "Nope."
I was still a fledgling at the time. My heftiest achievement was a scarf that reached eleven feet because I didn't know how to bind off so I just kept knitting. I have since recalibrated my personal scale to count anything less than three weeks of casual work as quick knit. Still, even now when confronted by six to twelve months of cobweb-weight yarn, I am prone to think twice.
Oddly enough, I'm less inclined to cast on for something large if it's also something simple. If I'm going to be on the road for a long haul, I need scenery. I need twists and hills and rivers and roadside attractions and flocks of sheep.
This is why complicated lace attracts more than repels me–all that fun along the way, always something new just coming into view. Shetland lace, with all those different patterns in the center, borders, and edging? Yes, please. It may have to wait until I retire, but I want to go to there.
On the other hand, a friend with a bun in the oven told me she'd really like an utterly simple little garter-stitch baby blanket, nothing but lovely lovely garter stitch in a squishy yarn forming a plain square maybe three feet by three feet.
I would rather be eaten by a lake monster.
I did offer to teach her to knit one herself, but she says she just can't face it. It would take too long.
Epic projects: What's your threshold? What will you do? What will you not do? What, perhaps I should ask, will you never do again?
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.