Recently a friend of mine who is not knitter (I know all kinds of people) asked if I would mind offering advice to a friend of hers, who is a knitter.
“She just finished her first hat,” said my friend, “but I guess she’s not happy with it, and she said the woman at the yarn store wasn’t any help.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “My advice isn’t likely to be any better than the advice from someone who owns a yarn store.”
“You do own a yarn store,” said my friend, indicating my apartment generally. “You just bought it a little bit at a time from lots of other yarn stores.”
“That,” I said crisply, “is stash yarn. It is not the same thing.”
“It looks like the same thing.”
“If this were a yarn shop,” I said, “you would be asked to leave the premises, and I would tape your picture to the register.”
“Are you going to help her, or not?”
“If I do, will you shut up about my stash?”
The next day, I got a text message. I won’t tell you the knitter’s name–let’s just call her Annoying. Annoying wanted to know if she could meet with me to talk through her hat issues.
She arrived at the coffee shop about thirty minutes late, and regarded me balefully. “I guess you’re Franklin, since you’re knitting.”
“Correct!” I said. “When I’m not knitting, I’m Alfred.”
“What?” she said.
“Never mind,” I said. “Have a seat, and let’s look at your hat.”
She produced the it from a brown paper Trader Joe’s bag and laid it on the table.
It was about four inches high.
“Oh,” I said. “I didn’t realize this was for a baby–I thought it was for you.”
“It is supposed to be for me.”
“Oh,” I said.
“It came out too small,” she said.
I took a sip of tea.
“Do you have the pattern?” I asked. She pulled it from the paper bag.
It was, indeed, a pattern for a very fashionable adult’s hat, worked flat on two needles. However, the first thing I noticed was that the pattern called for an Aran-weight yarn; and the yarn in the sweater looked closer to fingering weight. It might even have been a chubby lace weight.
“I did exactly what the pattern said,” fumed Annoying.
“Well, okay,” I said. “Except for one thing–your gauge is off.”
Now, who among us has not been the innocent victim of incorrect gauge? And Annoying was new to all of this, so I undertook an account of gauge that was a concise and diplomatic as I could make it.
“So I needed to use bigger yarn?” said Annoying.
“Yep,” I said.
“But I don’t have any,” she said.
“That’s where the yarn store comes in,” I said. “I’m surprised the woman at your yarn store didn’t advise you a bit better when you bought this.”
“I didn’t buy this at the yarn store,” said Annoying. “Her stuff is way too expensive. I got this at a garage sale for a dollar with the needles.”
“Ah. Well, yes–this is isn’t the right yarn. Much too thin. If you want the size to come out right, you should start with a yarn that’s about the right weight, and see what size needles you need to get the correct number of stitches per inch.”
“You mean the needles were wrong, too?”
“Well, I’m not throwing away more money on different needles. Needles should be needles.”
“But they’re not. I mean, they come in lots of sizes, so you need the size that will–”
“I thought knitting was supposed to save you money.”
“Um,” I said.
“Well, maybe I can get different needles,” she said, doubtfully. “Maybe I can borrow some from you?”
“Um,” I said.
“But how do I know what size to borrow?”
I explained, as gently as possible, how swatches work.
“So you knit the swatch first and it’s not anything–it’s just a swatch, and you can’t use it for anything?”
“So you waste all that time.”
“I’m starting to think it would be better to just buy a stupid hat.”
I took a long sip of tea.
“With something small like a hat,” I said, “you don’t necessarily need to swatch–you can just cast on and work on it and after a little while you should be able to see if it’s going to be way too big or small.”
She looked doubtful.
“And then if it is, I have to undo it all.”
“So I wasted my time anyway.”
“Not really–I mean, I would look at it like this. You learned something, and you enjoyed the knitting.”
“Oh,” she said, “I didn’t enjoy this.”
I drained the last of my tea.
“I just wanted the hat,” she said. “Ones like this in Lincoln Park cost, like, fifty bucks.”
I stared at the bottom of my mug.
“Meghan says you love doing this stuff, so maybe you could knit it for me.”
“She says you have a ton of yarn.”
“You wouldn’t even need to buy any.”
“My calendar is really full,” I said. “And I don’t knit things to sell, anyhow.”
“How long would this take you?”
“More time than I have, I’m afraid.”
“Meghan said you were an expert,” said Annoying.
“Heck no,” I said. “I barely know the difference between a knit and a purl.”
“So this has been a complete waste of an afternoon.”
And with that, I leave you.
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.