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Why You Don't Have Your Mitten Yet

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

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Chances are I am never going to knit anything for you.

It’s not that I don’t like you. Of course I like you. You’re interested in yarn and you’ve come all this way to read something I’ve written; how could I not think well of such a person?

No, it’s not about you. It’s about time, and having too little of it. There is but one of me, and there are many of you. Even if I should promise to knit each of you a single mitten I couldn’t keep that promise before I drop dead.

And what kind of off-kilter gift is one mitten, anyhow?

You make things, so you know how it goes. You learn to make things and are so excited at having learned to make things that you want to make things for everyone. But you are a novice, and it shows. Your work is earnest, but uneven. The things you make are not much in demand.

“Is that…a hat?” says the person in the next cubicle when she spots you merrily stitching away during your afternoon break.

“Yes!” you cry. “Yes, it’s a hat. I’m making a hat. Would you like a hat? I’ll be happy to make you a hat. What color hat do you want?”

“Uh…” says the person in the next cubicle.

With practice your work grows not only even, but accomplished–and possibly splendid. The person in the next cubicle changes her tune.

“Would you make me a hat?” she says. “I would totally pay you. Ten bucks!”

However, you have come to know well what decent materials cost, why it’s important to use them, and how much time (there’s that word again) it takes to finish a hat. Ten bucks falls shy of the target. You explain this to the first, second, and third persons who ask for a hat. While explaining this to the fourth person, you notice his eyes have gone glassy even before you’ve reached the end of the bullet points on the slide headed “Wool: Nature’s Miracle Fiber.”

You cease to explain yourself, and simply say no.

You evolve criteria which determine who will or will not receive a hand-made gift. This may be as simple as one question (“Are you my mother?”) or may involve spreadsheets, algorithms, and a Magic Eight Ball. Either way, you make selectively and for the chosen few.

That’s where I’m at. Suffice it to say, these days it’s easier to smuggle a Fabergé egg out of the Kremlin Museum than it is to get a knitted gift out of me.

And yet.

Every fortress, every citadel, every heavily-guarded subterranean bulletproof vault has a weak spot. Mine is babies.

If you’re a baby and I am in a certain mood, you are not leaving the room until I have measured you for a sweater. Doesn’t matter if you’re no relation to me, or I’ve just met you, or your father was my secret high school crush who went on to marry the prissy organist at the First Methodist Church who will never, ever make him as happy as I could. Come here and get your sweater, baby.

One such was born about two years ago to a good-friend-of-a-good-friend and ended up (somewhat to the mother’s bewilderment) with a tiny red cardigan I knocked out in five hours. My good friend’s good friend sent me photographs of the wee recipient wearing it and grinning madly. Most gratifying.

Just last week, my good friend’s good friend sent me more photos–of a new baby, aged two months, wearing the sweater. They’d not only used it, they’d saved it, and used it again. Profoundly gratifying.

Of course you can’t have the poor thing sitting around in just hand-me-downs, so I’ve cast on for a new tiny (green) cardigan. It won’t take much time. You don’t mind waiting a little longer for that mitten, do you?

Thank you. I knew you’d understand.
—–
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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  • Janet Chutro

    My office has 3 babies due Feb 4-6, in an office of about 100! 50% of the time I can't finish a baby item before the intended recipient grows too big for it. I need to find the time (ha!) to create a baby gift cache.

  • Orange Swan

    Knitting for a knitter is like taking coals to Newcastle, so don't worry about not knitting for your knitting scene fans, Franklin.

  • Pam

    Yesssss!

  • pennypeberdy

    Absolutely agree! I always say I don't take commissions, but I am Soooooooooooo tempted by those little cuddly babies who, after all, only need little teeny, tiny knitted things don't they?

  • Kim Barlow

    If you volunteer to TEACH them how to knit and make their own hats, they probably won't bother you again because, subconsciously, they know it's a lot of work!

  • Helen Griffin

    I understand--and add one word--TWINS. It's hard enough to knit 1 baby blanket--but 2? and 2 new born hats, and 2 boob hats, and 2 little sweaters, and then 2 more, because mama the the little sweaters were 2 big and wanted something that fit perfectly, instead of being almost fits, grow into. Two new hoods for winter time (since new hats can't have ties, and they pull off hats), and now mittens and booties, and double everything.. The first quarter of this year, it will be 1 project for me, and 1 for the girls (that is 2 of something!)

  • Lou

    People are forever asking me to knit them wool socks. I tell them, "Sure! You go to X LYS to buy sock yarn - the staff know me and will help you choose - and I will knit you socks." No one has ever come back to me with yarn. The staff at the LYS report that only one person ever came looking for yarn and when they found out the price, they left empty handed.

  • http://annieone.typepad.com/annieknits/ Ann Konzen

    Nailed it. My answer is that I only knit for people I love. Or babies.

  • Jeanne Berry

    My reason for knitting for myself is a tad different. I was gung-ho to knit for others until this Christmas. Not that I had any time the past couple of holidays to do such knitting; in fact, I had one scarf in a bag that I'd delivered half-finished to the recipient, then promptly reclaimed it so I could finish it. That was in 2008. I'd foolishly tried to make one in camouflage colors for one nephew-in-law, and one in blues for the other. The camouflage one was finished; the blue, notsomuch. It's a lovely cabled pattern with a pretty variegate yarn (Lion Brand, ironically). It does not look "homemade".

    I happened across the long-lost gift this fall and became determined to complete the UFO. I even brought it with me to my family festivities, intending to knit while there. I held up the bag and said to the scarf's intended recipient, "remember this? The scarf I was making for you? This year, I shall finish it!" Triumph gleamed in my eyes.

    He shifted with discomfort. He looked everywhere but at the scarf. When he mumbled, "I have a better idea--why don't you *not* finish it, or better yet--give it to someone else", I was so shocked I blurted out, "Really?" to which he replied, "Really. I think that'd be a good idea".

    He wasn't saying it nicely. He said it like receiving that scarf would be the equivalent of a bag full of dog leavings.

    I felt like saying (but bit my tongue), "Well, I'm sorry it didn't come with a receipt to be returned for something you'd rather have; but I'd picked out the colors with you in mind, dear NIL, and crafted every cable with loving care, imagining it keeping you warm. If that is less meaningful to you than a store-bought name brand, fine. I *will* give it to someone else. I'll frog it and use the yarn to make hats for people who
    will really appreciate my work--people who don't have a hat, let alone
    someone to make one for them.And for you, nothing. NO SCARF FOR YOU."

    And that is why I knit for myself, thankyouverymuch. I have yet to find my Kryptonite, but apparently, Franklin, you've found yours, and they are small and smell of powder.

  • debs

    Oh so true, so many people who want knitted items so little time to knit them. I have mittens, I knitted them but I chose carefully who I knitted a pair of mittens made in alpaca and silk yarn. Once only and never again, that's it done!

  • kao

    The writer is so right about those who ask, without realizing the cost of yarn and my time.
    I knit prayer shawls for a local church, when I want to. I also knit scarves for our neighborhood's secret santa drive. I have to start early to give myself sufficient time. Otherwise, I would drive myself nuts.
    I don't give into the pressure of someone wanting some hand knit and ask for it in an ungracious manner. Too busy,

  • KC

    My husband makes things for me, so I knit for him. I don't woodwork & he doesn't knit. We stay with our own talents.

  • Christine Sleight

    Last Christmas I crocheted a bowl for a friend; she wore it as a hat. This year, for her birthday, I am sending a cowl, with a definition of what it is, just in case.

  • Kim C.

    It is so important that the recipients of my knitted items be knit worthy, not an easy status to acquire.

  • Angela Sciurca

    Well said. I am 84 yrs old and knit for most of my extended family. I never have had anytime to do domething for ME. I would love it (whatever it was) if someone would make something for me. I would love it and cherish It for all the time and effort that was put into the project.

  • MaryW

    Babies are my weakness as well. My poor husband is still waiting in his sweater...don't even mention my own!

  • The yarn grandma

    I knit and crochet for family and select friends. I say no all the time to people that want me to knit, crochet, quilt, tailor for them. No itme and they want it at Walmart-Mart prices.

    However I always make a baby blanket for any co-worker having a baby or grand baby. So this one time a co-worker hounded me until I gave in and agreed to make a baby blanket for her friend who was having a little boy. I picked a complicated pattern to crochet with three different colors of blue in a very nice yarn. When I finished it I took it to work for the coworker. I told her that since I don't generally do this she could just reimburse me for the cost of the yarn. After all we did have to work together. She was aghast at the cost and said, "I just went to a whole bunch of garage sales this weekend and picked up several afghans for $1 a piece." It was all I coykd do to keep a lid on it. She paid me for the yarn. I never heard whether the blanket was appreciated or not.

    I resolved right then and there that no one would ever wear me down again. To date I have made nothing for anyone that makes requests. I just say you can't afford me.

  • Santa Fe Suz

    I have a dear friend who gifted me with mohair he brought me back from New Zealand with one caveat - that I make something for myself! That was the best present ever - permission to make myself something beautiful. It's my favorite sweater.

  • Mary Lou SHookhoff

    If only my grandchildren would do that, then together we could finish what I want to make for them. My daughter had the audacity to have 3 babies in 3 1/2 years PLUS my primary care doctor had a baby. THEN I had surgery on my back and literally received my life of 15 years ago back. How can you fully thank 2 doctors who take a woman who walks at a right angle and perform a huge and delicate 8h spinal surgery which has allowed me to walk upright again?? And since my health had been so poor that my primary care doctor would not clear me for the surgery (she was afraid I would die on the table) I need to thank my Infectious Disease doc, too, since he cleared me for the surgery! Soooo!!! I have some lovely baby alpaca yarn in 3 different colors and am making each of these wonderful men a hand knit scarf. What else do you give to someone who has performed such a miracle for you??? You knit them something!!!

  • Diane

    I feel really fortunate. I knit for several family members including my teenage grandson and they love and use the things I make. I usually consult them for color/style before I leap into it so I have some sense of what they like. I'm a retired homebody so I don't have a large circle of folks asking me for things. If I did, knitting for babies would certainly be my choice!

  • PJTrader

    Heartwarming, and all too true.

  • Jean

    I'd be glad to knit your hat, mitten, or whatever you want. The homes of my friends and family are stuffed with my handmade items. They don't want any more.

  • disqus_JiVQ38KZvZ

    Thank you, Franklin. I have learned that most people who request items do not realize the time involved. I have learned to say I will be happy to give them knitting lessons. So far no one has taken me up on it and they go away. Recently I did succomb. A work colleague said that her mother was unable to finish a coat for her brother's dog due to arthritis. As if playing the mom, dog, and arthritis cards simultaneiously was not enough, she added that her brother and his wife did not have children so Zoe was their fur baby. They sent pictures of Zoe in her new brown and purple coat. I was gratified that it fit.

  • earthmama

    I currently have 12 projects on my "want to make" list. And that's only my crochet list- I also "have to" sew, rug hook, paint, and do many other crafts(to keep my sanity!)
    Yes, time is a treasure!

  • Oside girl

    I love my "virtual mitten" and the laughs that you gave me. I could relate completely with everything you said, Franklin! You can join my knit group anytime!

  • Marlakey

    I learned early not to make handmade gifts for people that don't do the same type of crafting.I call it Vivian's law, named after a friend who bought an antique coffee table with a marred leather top under glass. She wanted a giant doily crocheted to put under the glass to cover the leather. I obliged and when it was finished, showed her how to block it to the proper size and it looked great. A year later she inexplicably decided to wash the doily although it was pristine under the glass, neglected to block it and it "grew." She took the scissors to the excess to trim it to size. Another year passed and it disappeared completely. i"m sure she washed it again and it unraveled. All the gifts I have handmade for other crafters are still intact or were used until they were worn out from years of love.

  • Susan Ramsay

    I actually sent a crocheted blanket that was shorter on one side; let's just say it was Wonky. because i did not have time to rip and star again by the time I found the error.
    You read my mind with this one!

  • Susan Ramsay

    I must crow a little about my grandson (11 yrs old now) I made a simple scarf from fleece and embroidered it by machine with his favorite animal, a Hippo! He was so delighted, he kept saying "my first scarf, my very own scarf, my first scarf." I also knitted him a dinosaur sweater with spines that stood out. Someone teased him about it and he told me he'd always wear it because I made it for him. (He was only about 7 at that time) I nearly cried.

  • EBH

    I made one mitten for a friend and showed it to her at Christmas. I told her I was just about to start the second. That was 4 years ago.. Recently she said, "Oh, but you made me those mittens!" I didn't have the heart to remind her that, no, I never finished. But apparently she didn't know she had never received them.. So..
    Last New Years I made a resolution to make more things for myself because I had given so much of my work away I had barely anything to wear and show off. I'm still working on that goal with a new Tunisian crochet scarf.

  • Mary

    My neighbor knits the most beautiful things (I'm a lifelong knitter myself, and she puts my work to shame, IMHO). She makes lots of baby and kid things, American Girl doll outfits, and some items for older kids and adults. She uses good-quality yarn, not the $1 a skein stuff, and sets up business at local craft fairs. Buyers are interested until they see the prices. When she explains that the price is for her time and quality materials, they usually wander off muttering something about being able to get a hat or gloves or sweater at Walmart for $5. I run into the same issues with my floral designs and beadwork.

  • Pammie Kay

    very cute story. I love your writing style. 5 of my daughter's "best friends" were pregnant this year. So I started blankets. 3 babies were born a month early! Yeah, not everyone got a blanket! But hats, that is an evening event...all the mommies were happy!

  • Kat McGrew

    Several years ago, one of my SILs called "just to let me know" that she had already spoken with the rest of my in laws and they had all decided that we shouldn't all exchange gifts since none of them could "make things cheap" like I did. I was highly insulted and my husband was absolutely livid. He told them that we would certainly not expect gifts from them but told them that since I had been working on their gifts since January and everything (except the baking) was already done and wrapped, we would be giving them their gifts anyway. That particular year I was not knitting or crocheting, but had made sets of 12 matching quilted placemats with coordinating napkins which I had hand hemmed so that they wouldn't look cheap. None were the same...they were all color coordinated to go with their decor and they were just for the women. Each of the kids got appropriate gift cards, for which I scrimped and saved and bought one or two at the time over the year as I had the time and funds. For the men, I always made huge tins filled with all sorts of homemade cookies and candies. That particular year the materials for each set of placemats and napkins cost more than $60, not to mention everything else I spent on gift cards and baking and candy making materials. I received a flannel granny gown that year from that particular SIL, who failed remove the $6 sale price tag. Now I ask you...who was the cheap one?

  • Jeanne Berry

    Before my mother died 13 years ago she crocheted 10 beautiful baby blankets. She had me wrap each one for the future generation of her great-grandchildren she knew she would never see in this life. We sewed labels on them which said "Made with you in mind...love Grandmom Acito". Her crochet blankets have been gifted to three great-grandchildren so far and are a treasure. Besides making the baby blankets, she kept busy making blankets for most of the family too. When she passed she was covered with one of her beautiful white blankets. She is very missed by all of us but as my brother said, "we have her blankets to give us her hugs."

  • Leslie Dutcher

    I knit for Make A Wish. I'll make an item and offer it up in exchange for a donation direct to Make A Wish. Those that request items know that's the way it works and having the "purchase" hanging over my head means the item is priority and WILL get finished. I'm "Made for Wishes" on Facebook and, so far, my process is working out great!

  • Kay in North Carolina

    Oh my I do love you!! I've been explaining (actually not really "explaining", just giving snubs and mysterious looks) to my co-workers for a couple of years how this works and they just don't get it..... Who gets handknits: the teachers who saw past his quirks and shielded my son from (most of) the trauma of public school, and the teacher who picked my girl up off the ground when she got tackled in football. The girl down the hall who gives great hugs, and the guy in administration who always backs me up in those meetings when a parent goes on attack. The friend's kid who tells me the socks I made him while he was in the hospital are the best socks he's ever had (he now has two pair). The fellow Civil War history junkie who needed fingerless mittens in Confederate grey. Who doesn't get handknits: the guy down the hall who only talks to me when he wants knitting repair work done, wants me to reknit the cuffs and patch the holes in a much loved sweater, but then declines when I said enough good wool would cost about $10 but I'd do the rest for free. He's done. Forever. And ever.

  • Sindy

    A friend gave me yarn when her Mother couldn't knit anymore. My friend's daughter was pregnant, I looked in the bag and discovered a partially made afghan. If figured out what she was doing and finished it as a baby blanket. I gave it to her at her baby shower and not a dry eye in the place. That was worth it...