JJ Vincent introduces you to the entertaining world of the textile arts.
My adventure that is the world of fiber arts started (as many great adventures do) quite by accident. My partner broke his ankle and was confined to the upstairs of our place for a couple of weeks. We’d given our girlfriend, who is very crafty, a “How to Knit” kit for Christmas. She figured it out, came over while he was stuck, taught him, and he was hooked. I learned to knit because he did. Learn or be lonely.
Weaving was my choice. At about the same time as I read Farmer Boy (one of the Little House of the Prairie books), I made a friend whose mom had the kind of loom you associate with the word loom: lots of hanging and moving parts, kind of noisy, made beautiful things. I was fascinated, and as an adult I found a small, quiet, portable loom.
Sewing was an accident. I hated it growing up, having been taught by a master quilter mother who was quite unkind when I made a mistake, but when my partner suggested I make our girlfriend an apron for her birthday, I readily agreed. I’m still sewing.
So what do all of these things have in common? They are all crafts typically associated with women that more and more men are doing.
The textile/fiber arts extend far, far beyond what I do, but the one I see more and more men are doing in their rooms, their trucks, while waiting in the doctor’s office, during long drives, during NASCAR races and football games and camping trips, is knitting.
Knitting is no longer the fluffy-pink realm of grandmas and mothers-to-be. It’s not just making dainty sweaters or ugly afghans or cute little baby booties. It’s about taking two sticks and some string and making something out of it—a corset, a scarf, a cup koozie, a willy warmer, socks, gloves, bicycle seat covers, bags, beanies, just about anything. For men, it’s a little subversive, even if you chose not to do it in public. You know that even if you are sitting alone in a room with the TV on, putting the last 10 rows on the Dr. Who scarf, you are doing something different, something that sets you apart, something common enough to have a shelf at the bookstore but unusual enough to draw open stares in public. You are part of a tribe that’s chosen to step outside of the gender lines, even if just in this one small way.
There are preconceived notions. I’m not going to lie. Knitting in public takes a leap of faith and a willingness to engage with strangers, because people are going to ask what you are working on, is that knitting or crochet, where can you by yarn, where you go to church, all manner of questions, usually when you are in the middle of something crucial. It’s like having yarn and needles make you a conversation magnet. There’s also the perception that knitting is a “woman thing,” and by extension men who do it must be gay. Not true. But you’ll still hear it.
So why do it? Why do something that you know, in advance, is likely to draw inquisition and possibly ridicule?
It’s fun. It’s portable. You don’t have to be able to draw or paint. I sure can’t. You don’t have to carry a boxful of supplies. You can knock out quick, handmade gifts. You can make large, extravagant items. You can lovingly craft a pair of stripey socks. You can use the bright yarn from the local big-box store or the natural yarn made from the chest hair of bison. There are unlimited items for your toy box. And it’s cheaper than building cars. Takes up less room, too.
But most importantly, you can play with color and texture in a way almost impossible in any other medium. Consider the sweaters and gloves you’ve worn that have designs you love, that you run your hands over when no one is looking. Think about the little smile you get inside when you see a bright red rose against a green lawn, or a rainbow, or a sunset with 10 different colors in fluffy clouds.
It’s okay to admit that you like pretty things. It’s one of the hard parts about being a man, having something you love but feeling like you can’t share it with anyone because of how they might view you.
It’s also okay to eschew making pretty things. There are plenty of things to make that aren’t anywhere on the pretty scale, from tiny, scary little toys to zombie-apocalypse scarves to shark hats that the Sharknado creators would covet.
That’s part of the beauty of fiber art. The materials are limitless. The things you can make are endless. Don’t like patterns? Make your own. Don’t like metal needles? We’ve got bamboo, wood, and in a pinch a pair of old ballpoint pens will do. Don’t like wool? We’ve got cotton. If you are into green living, we’ve got recycled yarn for you, too. Sustainability report? Natural fibers are the ultimate in green living: the plants and animals they come from will make more.
Think you’re not patient or coordinated enough, or don’t have the time? You’ll be surprised how much more patient you get with the world when you have needles at hand (provided some jerk is not calling out numbers while you are counting 124 stitches). Not coordinated? Once you get the basics, it’s amazing how quickly you are off and running. No time? This is something for your hands to do while you are watching TV or waiting for the laundry to finish.
And by the way—it’s a great way to pick up chicks. Trust me.