Article for Voluntary Arts Network - please help!

Hello everybody, I'm Hazel from the Voluntary Arts Network (www.voluntaryarts.org) and I'm writing an article which covers men's relationship with the arts.

I'm trying to step away from gender boundaries here but it is, of course, very difficult (and sometimes very interesting). I'm trying to find men who don't take part in 'typical' craft forms, and thought that knitting fits the bill quite well...

I'd like to find out:
# How you first got into knitting (who/what inspired you)
# What people's reactions are when you tell them that you knit (surprised? Encouraging?)
# How you feel about perceived gender boundaries within the arts (women doing 'women' crafts and men doing 'man' crafts) - is there any way you think we could step away from those 'stereotypical' activities and encourage more diversity?

Anything you think you could add on the subject would be greatly appreciated, this appears to be a very emotive subject... I will be writing about women crossing the 'gender boundaries' of crafts too - this isn't just limited to men!

Thanks for your time - this will be a published article (I'm a freelance journalist) so don't be shy!

Regards,

Hazel

Pinecone's picture

# How you first got into

# How you first got into knitting (who/what inspired you)
My first experience of knitting was as a child, about 10 years of age. My grandmother’s friend, Olive, was staying with us while my parents were away and she knitted constantly. She taught me the knit stitch. I guess my fascination with knitting was already apparent. In college I made myself some warm up tights (I was studying ballet at the time) and several years ago I made my partner a sweater. The tights and sweater were basically self taught, including all of the mistakes you might predict (e.g., joining skeins of yarn midstream with a sturdy knot), but the results were encouraging. In the last year I started knitting again, inspired by my partner’s sister and the enthusiasm with which she approaches turning the heel of a sock or visiting a local yarn store. This time around, she and the wealth of information on the internet – including MenWhoKnit –inspire and teach me.

# What people's reactions are when you tell them that you knit (surprised? Encouraging?)
Mixed. There are some who are thrilled and enthusiastic, some who are mildly curious, some who really aren’t interested, and others who are downright uncomfortable with this information. My partner has absolutely no interest in knitting but regularly comments on how he enjoys watching me knit. I think he reasonates with the pleasure of a manual activity like knitting and senses my focused engagement in the project at hand.

# How you feel about perceived gender boundaries within the arts (women doing 'women' crafts and men doing 'man' crafts) - is there any way you think we could step away from those 'stereotypical' activities and encourage more diversity?
It is encouraging to read that others experience gender boundaries to be a thing of the past. My experience isn’t always so positive, but the number of friends and family members who are into cross boundary crafts has definitely grown. My opinion is that gender should not be a boundary and all crafts should be freely available to everyone. I think the best way to break down walls is to share your hobbies and interests with others. Often, significant revolution happens one person at a time through direct contact with someone who is different or who challenges preconceived notions.

Best of luck with your article!

John

Wow, thankyou so much! I

Wow, thankyou so much!

I totally wasn't expecting so many replies but you guys are awesome; thankyou for telling me your stories! You have some great anecdotes - it's fab to hear from people who have something to say on the subject - is it ok if i follow up on some of your stories of women doing woodwork etc?

This should be published by the Voluntary Arts Network magazine here in the UK, if not it'll be in one of the craft magazines instead - I'll make sure to post a link to it when it comes out...

You've given me some great content and ideas for this article as well as some inspiration too - my mum has tried on numerous occasions to teach me to knit but (so far) I've never got the hang of it... I'll be trying again over the summer holidays!

If there are any more stories out there it would be great to hear them; I really appreciate your time.

Thankyou very very much!
Hazel

Crafty Andy's picture

Visit Crafty Andy's Blog #

Visit Crafty Andy's Blog
# How you first got into knitting (who/what inspired you)
I was my own inspiration. It was 20 years ago when I got sick and was to stay home for 30 days in bed, I got a book some yanr and taught myself to knit. Ever since Knit helps me in my life to feel centered, creative, alive.
# What people's reactions are when you tell them that you knit (surprised? Encouraging?)
Wow you know how to knit, that's nice! Never have had a bad reaction, never looked for encouragement from others, some strange comments, but not bad at all.
# How you feel about perceived gender boundaries within the arts (women doing 'women' crafts and men doing 'man' crafts) - is there any way you think we could step away from those 'stereotypical' activities and encourage more diversity?
If you have the ability and the creativity, does it matter what gender you are? How masculine or feminine do you look with two sticks and a ball of yarn, maybe if we were knitting jockstraps it would make a difference , lol! The worst stereotypical comment is that all men that Knit are GAY. Masculinity or sexual orientation has nothing to do with Knitting, crocheting.

Who determines the limitations of creativity in modern times. there is no such thing as a man's craft or a woman's sport. Only by educating people,knitting in public, only constantly knitting in front of people. Next time I will knit with two shovel sticks lol!

garyhrx's picture

Controversial people are

Controversial people are special people and I am a very special person.

About 30 years ago I taught myself to crochet. I worked until midnight every night in a medical intensive care unit that had 3-4 end-stage AIDS patients most of the time. THe crocheting really helped me to relax and process. Six months ago after not crocheting for quite a while I decided to take it up again. So I dragged out my crochet patterns and after looking and looking , I decided that knitted items were of more advanced textile design and surely I could teach myself to knit as easily as I learned to crochet. I am a type-A, non-stop personality and if you combine that with a job as a pharmacist in a large pediatric ICU my body told me I needed to channel some of that energy to a craft like knitting. Thanks to the instructional resources available on the internet, great websites like Ravelry and Men Who Knit I have indeed taught myself to knit. It really helps that I am a member of a great local knitting group as well for all those "what am I doing wrong" moments.

When I tell my friends that I knit, I basically get very few reactions. I guess most of them realize that I am always busy with something or other and this is just my latest fad. My partner has been very supportive and is quite impressed with my progress. Most of my friends have their own "drama" issues so I am not surprised that they are not dazzled by my hobby. But that is OK because this is a real boost to my physical and mental health and my sense of creativity and self-worth. The reactions when I knit in public are quite different. Men usually just observe and ask few questions but I know there is a serious thought process at work there. Women on the other hand are much more likely to start a conversation and ask what I am making or why I started knitting.

As regards gender bias, I will tell you a story that happened this year in San Francisco. My best friend and I were scouring the city because I needed a yarn needle to sew in the yarn ends of a hat I knit to wear to our February trip to Yosemite. I looked to a second floor window and saw a shop with lots of beautiful needle work in the window so we went in. When we got to the shop and opened the door we were met with the confused stares of about 8 of Nob Hill's finest grande dames all in designer clothes, expensive bobbles and great dye jobs. That look of "what the hell are you doing here?" and the abrupt "We don't carry such items" that we received caused my friend and I to leave hysterically laughing. The reaction that I usually get when walking into the yarn shops in Florida where I live are similar but no where as "get out of our space" as I encountered in San Francisco. They usually ask "May I help You?" in such a way that they think I have, out of desperation, walked into a knitting shop to ask directions to the local hardware store. In at least one store when I purchased some needles the clerk asked me if I was going to use them myself.

The gender bias will never disappear but there is probably less of it in large urban areas where the textile crafts are regarded as art and not hobbies. Creating a felted bowl is artistry where as making an afghan is "grandma work". What I think will change is that the craft will once again become the property of grandmothers and spinster aunts who buy their supplies at Walmart and Ben Franklin stores and gay men who will help support LYS. I do have to thank the society gals for supporting the great LYS out there. My greatest hope is that the textile arts will continue to flourish for men, women and especially children, that all "plastic, fossil fuel derived " yarns will disappear, and that the yarn shops will stay open longer in the day so we men can visit after we get out of work.

StuartWS's picture

# How you first got into

# How you first got into knitting-- I'm in recovery and there are a few people (all women) who knit during an AA meeting I go to frequently. I loved watching them and became fascinated. I had tried to teach myself a few years before unsccuessfully, so I pulled out the needles and yarn and a book and gave it another try. This time, I "got it" and found a new hobby which I love! Now I knit in meetings along with my friends.

# What people's reactions are when you tell them that you knit (surprised? Encouraging?) All across the board. My gay friends tease me for being *really* gay, my family was amused and then encouraging (after a gift or two!) and other folks are surprised, curious and liek to see what i"m working on most of the time.

# How you feel about perceived gender boundaries within the arts (women doing 'women' crafts and men doing 'man' crafts) - is there any way you think we could step away from those 'stereotypical' activities and encourage more diversity?
I know others have said they can't believe that "we're still having this discussion" but the boudaries still exist, despite being breached. I have gotten odd looks in yarn stores and have been treated very condecendingly by sales people, as if I didn't know what I was shopping for, or must have been sent on an errand by a "real" knitter (read: female). In all of those cases the people were women. Once I demonstrated my comfort with all of it, they became engaging and friendly, but there was (and is often) that moment of "stranger in our midst" treatment. That said, I've also felt totally welcome at other stores and had the wonderful experience of being asked (by women and men) "do you work here?" more than once!

Others have mentioned that teens and 20-somethings seemed the most put off, but I chalk that up to knitting not being "cool" to most of that age.

ronhuber's picture

I think surprise and dismay

I think surprise and dismay are usually on the part of women when supposed gender boundaries are crossed. I know a woman who can make a dresser and a man who can make a cherry pie. Women think that the carpenter is wonderful and the baker odd. Men don't think anything of it. I can do both and let me tell you that baking a cherry pie is a helluva lot easier than making a dresser. I think women are afraid men will realise just how simple some of their things are like knitting and embroidery. I taught English to a group of secretaries down here in Mexico a few years ago and one of them mentioned that her boss was gay because he wore an earring. I pointed out that she was wearing pants and wasn't it wonderful that she could come out as a lesbian in such a closed society. She was shocked and said they were two different things. I think that women would be quite upset to see a man dressed in a skirt and blouse. I'm glad that I was raised in a family where gender didn't prohibit us from doing anything. And much fairer. When it was my turn to do an easy chore like dusting my sisters were out cleaning out the stables. And all of us knit socks including Grandpapa and Grandmama and my father and mother while we listened to Amos and Andy. Didn't we all wear socks??

I can't believe that in this

I can't believe that in this day and age we are still thinking 'gender boundaries'. This old lady grew up with a 6+ft father who did the most beautiful embroidery on his daughters' party dresses, and had enough sense to teach his daughters to do simple repair jobs around the house. My mother made sure her son could cook and my sister in law has blessed her ever since. Most of the crafts we take up are born out of necessity. How many of us got really serious about knitting, as I did, because my parents wouldn't hand over the cash for the latest 'can't live without' winter sweater. Travel on the London Underground sometime and see what's going on with male commuters.

MMario's picture

# How you first got into

# How you first got into knitting (who/what inspired you)

My grandmother taught me before I entered school.

# What people's reactions are when you tell them that you knit (surprised? Encouraging?)

For most people it's a non-issue;

# How you feel about perceived gender boundaries within the arts (women doing 'women' crafts and men doing 'man' crafts) - is there any way you think we could step away from those 'stereotypical' activities and encourage more diversity?

I don't recognize that there are any gender bounderieries in the arts and crafts - and until people stop insisting that there are.....

crmartin's picture

# How you first got into

# How you first got into knitting (who/what inspired you)
I learned how to knit and crochet from a live in house keeper/setter when I was about 7-8 yrs old and have been fascinated by it ever since.

# What people's reactions are when you tell them that you knit (surprised? Encouraging?)

Most people say nothing, some ask about what I am making. No one has ever acted surprised or encouraged me except my parents who have always encouraged me. My dad would take barbie clothes that I made to work and sell them for me. It was his idea, he got more orders than I could manage.

# How you feel about perceived gender boundaries within the arts (women doing 'women' crafts and men doing 'man' crafts) - is there any way you think we could step away from those 'stereotypical' activities and encourage more diversity?

I think gender boundaries are ridiculous. I don't understand why any activity should be bound by gender, especially the arts.
I think the best way to lessen the perceived boundaries is to let it be known that you indulge in a particular activity. The Knit in Public day was a good example of this.

Randy

knit4brains's picture

Hazel, I've been knitting

Hazel,

I've been knitting for just shy of 40 years. When I was a freshman in college, I lived in a co-ed dorm, and there were a group of women in the dorm who used to knit, so I asked them to show me how. Got hooked immediately and have been doing it ever since.

I knit just about anywhere I go where I'm going to be sitting for any length of time....subways, airplanes, doctor's office, DMV, etc. I've also refined my technique for knitting while standing as well. Since I've been doing it for so long, I've seen a substantial change in people's attitudes over the years. It used to be that other men would try their best to ignore the fact that I was knitting, but this sort of attitude has fallen by the wayside. The other day, I was on the subway and there were three men sitting near me. One was about 20 years old, one about 40, and a gentleman around 70 or so. The 40 year old engaged me first. He was a cop, and asked me for some technical advice on a project that his wife was working on. The 70 year old had all sorts of questions about the project I was working on. Interestingly, the 20 year old pretty much ignored me, but that might have more to do about being a 20 year old than anything else.

I'm a pretty fast knitter, and mostly design my own stuff, so I usually get a lot of questions and comments about that as well.

As for your third question about gender boundaries, as I implied earlier, I think that is fading more and more as time goes on. I think the breakdown of those sorts of walls is just a natural evolution that will continue to occur over time.

Don

dandelion's picture

Since it seems to be men who

Since it seems to be men who invented knitting, I think women moved into the knitter role quite well. It's great to see more men knitting again!

teejtc's picture

# How you first got into

# How you first got into knitting (who/what inspired you)
I first started "for the fun of it" when I was about 12. I picked up a knitting book at Walmart and learned how. I knit very little until about a half a year before our daughter was born, preferring to tat, but moved to knitting because it was more "practical."

# What people's reactions are when you tell them that you knit (surprised? Encouraging?)
Some people are surprised; some people are confused. I live in a very conservative area that makes gender assumptions about those who "break gender roles." They're beginning to learn that gender roles, while maybe socially acceptable, aren't particularly accurate or helpful.

# How you feel about perceived gender boundaries within the arts (women doing 'women' crafts and men doing 'man' crafts) - is there any way you think we could step away from those 'stereotypical' activities and encourage more diversity?
I think bounding particular arts/crafts/activities by gender is absurd. I do have some limits (i.e. I don't think adolescent boys and girls should be allowed to wrestle each other... there's something just "wrong" about that) but those limits are about specific interactions between the sexes, not about what each is or isn't allowed to do.
Similarly, I believe that some skills which are historically "gendered," ought to be considered basic life skills and taught to all children (sewing, cooking, changing tires, etc.) Knitting probably should fit into that category. Waldorf schools teach it to all of their students - why? because it's helpful in the development of fine motor skills and eye/hand coordination.

Feel free to drop me a PM or an e-mail... I'll gladly answer any more questions you may have. You'll find the people around here full of wisdom on the topic.

Grace and Peace,
`tim

BrentCLW's picture

# How you first got into

# How you first got into knitting (who/what inspired you)

My mother originally taught me when I was eight. I was home from school sick for several days and being a sick and very bored child was naturally doing my utmost to drive my mother insane. She taught me to knit on the condition that I not disturb her (she was a working seamstress with several major projects on her sewing machine that needed finishing) until I had knit a certain length of fabric.

# What people's reactions are when you tell them that you knit (surprised? Encouraging?)

Many people are initially surprised. Some few react negatively, but most are fascinated and people that I know well will ask 1.) if I could teach them, 2.) if I would knit something for them.

# How you feel about perceived gender boundaries within the arts (women doing 'women' crafts and men doing 'man' crafts) - is there any way you think we could step away from those 'stereotypical' activities and encourage more diversity?

That is one of the reasons why I do attend knitting groups in public and I take my knitting to public places like coffee shops etc, when getting together with friends. We have to be visible to make people question the validity of their gender boundary assumptions.

Anything you think you could add on the subject would be greatly appreciated, this appears to be a very emotive subject... I will be writing about women crossing the 'gender boundaries' of crafts too - this isn't just limited to men!

Well, I had a father who was a cook in the Navy, so in our household, there really weren't girl's chores and boy's chores. We all helped with everything. Second, my step-mother, who is one of the most amazing women that I know and a wonderful parent to her step-son, took up woodworking when I was in high school. People found this an odd activity for a woman, usually just until my mother made them a set of candle holders or a shelf or a box, then they thought what a wonderful that Edna does!

Brent Troth  Clearwater, Florida