Writer, illustrator, and photographer Franklin Habit’s first piece of knitting—a vaguely rectangular six-foot scarf—was produced during his student days at Harvard University in the 1990s. In 2005, inspired by the emergence of the online knitting community, he created The Panopticon. What began as a project diary is now one of the most popular knitting blogs. Habit is also the author of It Itches: a stash of knitting cartoons as well as multiple knitting essays.
Could you tell us about your friend Eliza and how she inspired you to start knitting?
Certainly. I was a senior at Harvard and had spent every Cambridge winter longing for a suitable scarf—something at least seven feet long and made of wool, that I could wrap not only around my neck but around my face. Eliza was the first knitter I’d ever met, and I asked her to make one for me. She gave me the answer I’ve since given dozens of times to similar requests: “No, I won’t make you one, but I’ll teach you to make one for yourself.” She changed my life. I am forever grateful. Also, warmer.
Could you tell us about the first project you remember completing?
It was that very long scarf. It ended up being ten feet, because I was enjoying the knitting but couldn’t figure out how to bind it off. I actually spun that into a cartoon for my book, It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons. It was dreadful for the first four feet. Accidental yarn overs, accidental rows of stockinette, dropped stitches incorrectly picked up. But I wore it for years.
You also write and illustrate cartoons about knitting. What inspired you to create a cartoon dedicated to the craft?
I have been a cartoonist since I was old enough to hold a crayon. When I began blogging, I started sticking doodles from my sketchbook onto my blog. They were so popular (starting with the “Man vs. Sweater” entry) that Interweave Press very kindly asked me to produce a whole book of them. That’s what became It Itches.
How did you come up with the Dolores and Harry?
Oh, they just showed up on the doorstep. Dolores was sent to me by mistake when I ordered Romney roving from a fiber farm. Instead of roving, they sent me a whole sheep. And she’s still here. And I still don’t have my roving.
Harry was part of delegation of sock yarns that demanded a retraction to a blog post I wrote about the dearth (at that time) of sock colorways that didn’t look like unicorn barf. I think sometimes that he might like to leave, but Dolores won’t let him. She even followed him to London for the royal wedding.
You’re involved with an interesting project, The 1000 Knitters Project. Could you tell us more about that? What inspired it and how can readers get involved?
1000 Knitters was intended to be a purely personal project. I was challenged by my photography mentor to set myself a photographic task that would push my fear buttons and take at least a decade to realize. Of course, once I announced the project I was pretty overwhelmed by the support I got from the knitting community.
The photography for the series is complete—and I never intended that the photographs would do more than sit in my archives. But now that so many have helped to make it happen, I feel determined to realize a public display of some kind. I would like that to be (at least in part) a book, so securing a publisher is the next step.
Do you have a favorite project of all time?
Tough call, but I think it may be the christening shawl I knit for my niece. It was my first large-scale fine lace project, and I’m happy that I designed it myself. It was a deeply emotional piece of work for me–I’m her godfather, and I wanted the shawl to be more than just pretty. That’s why I put in so much symbolism, in addition to the four wishes I knit into the border.
There are a lot of amazing knitters and knitwear designers out there. Is there anyone who knocks your socks off that we should know about?
There’s not nearly enough screaming and yelling over Laura Grutzeck. She’s always original, she knows how to construct a garment, and she knows how to write a pattern. People need to scream and yell over Laura Grutzeck, and then knit her stuff.
There seem to be more men knitters and crocheters now than ever before. Do you still find that men get the odd treatment in yarn stores?
Less and less so. It depends upon where you are. In places like New York City, where there are plenty of men and there’s no longer much novelty to them, you’re less likely to be sniped at than in a place where you’re the first guy through the door. I got a very cold shoulder once at a rural shop I popped into to pick up stitch markers. The owner was extremely rude—and she had my book on display in the window, and two of my cartoons taped to the register.
You draw, write, knit, crochet, and are a freelance photographer. What does crafting bring to your life?
Well…crafting is my life, now. Knitting (and knitting-related work) became my full-time occupation two years ago, and it takes me amazing places where I meet wonderful people. In 2011 I taught all over the United States, and in Iceland and England. Not to mention that without even leaving home, I connect with knitters all over the place because of my antique patterns column for Knitty.com. I get to spend my time producing work that I hope will make other people as happy as it makes me. It’s a good way to live.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn to knit?
Do it. Learn from a book or online videos if that’s your thing. Find a class, if that’s your thing. But don’t avoid it because you think it’s hard (it’s not) or because you worry you won’t have the patience. I knit constantly because I have no patience. It keeps me from going bananas while waiting in line. And it’s cheaper than therapy.