True confession time: For years, I’ve operated with a gender bias regarding knitting. My mom was a fabulous knitter. My wife is a knitter—and taught our daughter to knit and crochet. I’ve lived my life believing that I’m fundamentally open-minded and inclusive in all regards, but I’m now forced to admit that I’ve operated within a narrow set of bias parameters (which I wasn’t sufficiently self-aware to articulate) presuming that some creative activities are . . . um . . . gender-specific.
Then I started knitting.
A few months ago, I attended an event for knitters and fiber artists. As the general manager for the F+W Craft Group, my intentions were purely professional. I wanted to observe a few classes, walk the show floor, chat with some advertisers, and get a better “feel” for what’s cooking across this community. As I wandered past a table filled with “getting started” knitters (and some cheerful instructors), I thought, “I work with some of the best fiber artists in the world; I should get a direct feel for what this is really all about.” I waited for an open chair and sat down, and one of those fine instructors promptly put needles in my hand, a skein of yarn before me, and asked, “Wanna cast on?”
Ninety minutes later, I looked at my watch. Where had the time gone? What was on my needles looked undeniably awful, but I’d had a great time chatting with others at the table. I had been fully engaged in the process of making rows of little loops that I could see might (someday) turn into something recognizable and wearable.
I took my starter swatch back to the hotel and worked longer on it. I knitted on the plane as I returned home. I was asked repeatedly, “What are you making me?” One woman said, “I’ve never seen a guy knitting before. Is that a thing?”
Without thinking, I replied: “It’s gonna be!”
My swatch somehow grew from 12 rows to 19 rows and then to 30 rows before it became consistent. There were ins and outs and holes and knots, and it looked a lot like the state of Florida. But by the time I had knitted northward (about to Tampa Bay), I decided that I was ready for a “real” project: the Firenze Scarf from Wool Studio Vol. V.
I don’t seem to be able to stop. Why? My answers will probably seem self-evident to those of you who’ve been knitting for a long time—but they’re revelatory for me:
The process is remarkably meditative and mindful.
I’ve tried various approaches to meditation over the years and, inevitably, as soon as I starting trying to clear my mind, I’m thinking about clearing my mind, which means I’m thinking and not clearing. Knitting seems to immediately get me into a centered and balanced place. It helps me “comb my mind,” a quote from Norman Mailer describing activities he employed to get into a mental space for writing.
It’s about the only thing in my life that doesn’t have a deadline.
Working in media, where every magazine, web post, digital product, event, budget, and staffing plan has daily and hourly deadlines, the chance to have something that removes me from that cycle—even for a few minutes—seems like a very real, mind-clearing vacation. I find that I’m taking five minutes to knit a row before I head into a meeting—particularly if that meeting looks like it’s going to be stressful.
Knitting helps you make friends.
Over the last weeks, I’ve lost count of the number of fun and engaging conversations I’ve had on planes and in restaurants when someone spies my yarn and needles.
Back to my opening question: Should men knit? A few weeks after I started my “real” project, I attended another knitting/fiber trade event. As I sat in a meeting with an advertiser, I waxed poetic about my newfound love of knitting, showed off my in-progress scarf, and then asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could find some real triggers to help bring men into this market and turn a whole new population into knitters?” The advertiser sighed and, after a long moment, said, “Don’t you think men have enough of their own hobbies? What would happen to this market if they invaded? Would it become competitive and testosterone-driven? I think this is something I’d rather keep for women.”
Wow. I had to admit it’s a fair question. But isn’t it equally fair to wonder whether the opposite might happen? If more men were knitters, would it bring some mindful balance and grace into lives that need it?
It certainly has to mine—and I’m not going to stop.