Unraveling The Tangled Skein Of Knitter's Lingo

Jul 2, 2014
Originally published on July 2, 2014 6:20 pm

All summer long, All Things Considered has been asking listeners to share words exclusive to their professions — words unknown to those outside their line of work. In a new installment, Laura Birek defines "frogging" and "the sweater curse" — predicaments knitters want to avoid.

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So the Shetland Islands have a dialect all their own and knitters have words all their own. We're going to hear one now - part of our summer series on Trade Lingo. We've asked you to unspool words from your professions or hobbies. Words unknown to the rest of the world and today knitter Laura Birek joins us from Scotland where she's on vacation. Laura welcome.

LAURA BIREK: Thanks so much. It's great to be here.

BLOCK: And tell us your word.

BIREK: Knitters have this word called frogging. It's a verb to frog, so frog - I had to frog it, I'm frogging it, I will frog this.

BLOCK: And the translation is?

BIREK: Frogging means, there's another term that we use called ripping out - which just means unraveling your work. And it can just be just a couple rows or the whole thing. But the reason we call it frogging, at least this is what I've been told, is because you have to rip it, rip it, rip it, rip it out.


BIREK: You sound like a frog, yes.

BLOCK: Hey Laura when you contacted us for our Trade Lingo series you did mention that there is a lot of knitting folklore out there.

BIREK: There sure is. So the one that I've heard a lot about and as an unmarried woman I am told a lot is the sweater curse. Which is the idea that you're never allowed to knit a sweater for someone who's just your boyfriend because by the time you finish it he'll break up with you. And you'll never get married.

BLOCK: Because it takes so long.

BIREK: Well that's, my theory - I don't actually believe in the sweater curse I just believe that the half-life of most relationships is shorter than how long it takes to knit a sweater. So I don't know if I'm a true believer in the sweater curse. To be fair I have yet to knit my boyfriend of seven years a sweater so maybe I do believe after all.

BLOCK: You know, we just heard in Ari Shapiro's story about a knitting tourist and is that part of your trip to Scotland? Are you doing any knitting tourism?

BIREK: Well I'm here with extended family and we passed a sign that said, hand spinning. And I screamed, everyone has to stop. And I ended up finding a great little wool shop. And I bought myself some spinning wool and some yarn and so I'm pretty excited with that.

BLOCK: And are you doing some knitting too?

BIREK: Oh yes. I am currently knitting a lace shawl. I try to bring stuff that's portable. So a lot of traveling knitters will knit socks but this time I'm doing a lace shawl.

BLOCK: And have you had to do any frogging on that shawl?

BIREK: Thankfully no because this one would be a real pain. So the one thing about frogging is not all yarn frogs equally. So this yarn's a little fuzzy.

BLOCK: Now why is it harder to frog if it's fuzzy yarn?

BIREK: Well if you imagine the mohair, say, there's all these little fibers, basically fluff, that's coming off of the yarn. If you're trying to frog the stitches they get caught on each other and it takes of real long time. I had an email from my friend Heather who said, I had to frog mohair. Kill me.

BLOCK: Well Laura, I hope you have a frog free vacation there in Scotland. Thanks so much for talking to us.

BIREK: Thank you so much this was great.

BLOCK: That's knitter and listener Laura Birek. She lives in Los Angeles. Send us your trade lingo. You can find us on Twitter or Facebook we are @NPRATC. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.