Yes, yep, there it is – that accusatory look: What’s he doing in here? Is he about to shop lift?
Can you guess where I am?
Funnily enough I’m in a wool shop, and this is usually the reaction I get.
I shall admit it – I’m a man, a man that knits. This is 2015, so I feel that the question should be: why shouldn’t I knit? It’s my way of relaxing and expressing my creative side, it also quite often requires me to use my head (for those knitters out there who may be reading this, I’m talking specifically about those evil lace patterns). Multitasking and knitting isn’t just for the faint of heart. Plus it gives me something to do with my hands that doesn’t involve turning me into some Fag Ash Lil and chaining my way through life.
A couple of years ago, I was on a long-ish train journey heading to London. I had my headphones blaring (I’m apt to do this as my Lover will attest), and I was knitting my mother one of those crazy 70s and 80s shawls that seem to have gone in and out of fashion faster than a fiddler’s elbow..
Anyway, I’m digressing – every now and then, I’d look up from my work to check on my journey’s progress, and enjoy the scenery out the window. Once when I looked up, the old lady sitting across from me beadily eyed me, mouthed something and smiled. I’m a terrible lip reader so the headphones came off. She was saying something along the lines of “that’s amazing, I could never do that. It’s so unusual to see a man knit”.
I find it strange how in this (apparently) enlightened day and age, certain activities are still considered to be either masculine or feminine. It seems many of us still base our perceptions of people on an outdated model of “male” and “female”. Knitting and crochet are seen as feminine activities (even though as little as 600 years ago, only men were taught how to knit, and in Scandi countries, knitting was principally a male pastime/necessity – there’s a reason why we have fishermen’s jumpers people) and I like the fact that when people find out I knit and crochet, it makes them question their judgements, stereotypes and assumptions just a wee bit.
It makes me sad to think that these gender stereotypes, so deeply ingrained in our society, really do stop us from pursuing activities that we might really enjoy.
I remember my Mother, Grandmother, and Godmother all knitting around the kitchen table when I was younger (invariably making said shawls) and I was fascinated. I remember learning to knit with them, but sadly the inevitable happened. Who can forget being a teenager and so badly wanting to fit in? I became too self conscious about doing something that others might not think appropriate for a man.
However, we spend most of our 20s desperately trying to not fit it and that’s where I returned to the unusual. Ok, so I’ve never been one to fit in. I was the kid at school that wore a Naval WW2 coat, and fast forward to now – I sport the most dashing handlebar moustache.
I’m going to be honest here, it was at a low point in my life that I rediscovered knitting. I needed something to occupy my mind and quell anxiety. The Mother and Mother-in-law came to the rescue and reintroduced me to knitting. Something clicked in my head, knitting felt natural, easy, and great fun to do. I could make anything I want (ok, not when I first started, but I’m gung-ho about it and still learning). I made scarves, hot water bottle covers; the list was endless.
That was a little over five years ago, my life is a bit sunnier now. Knitting and crocheting has become a massive part of who I am and if it hadn’t been for the supportive and open-minded people in my life, I may have been too afraid of judgement to try it. The Lover has always thought it was great, rather than camp or weird. I’m now the main knitter in the family and I create things so complex they make the mother-in-law blanch.
I’m proud to knit in public, although I have to say it’s usually women that give me the funny looks, or make a comment amount a man knitting. The best thing about being a male knitter is never being expected to make baby clothes, although there are many hazards; for example being treated like a shoplifter whenever you try to buy wool.
I’m always surprised by the support I get from other men out there, and it’s really encouraging to find other men who knit and as it turns out there are an awful lot of us out there. The Facebook of the knitting world – Ravelry has made it a lot easier to connect with other men that share the same hobby (we occasionally get together to have a bitch about the appalling lack of good patterns out there for the younger generation of men). I hope that as time goes on, we’ll see more men joining in the fun and perhaps joining the other Gods of the Needle – Kaffe Fassett, Brandon Mably and Ben Wilson.
So there we are. I’m a knitter and proud.