Old men knitting, a gap, then young men knitting

Flickr photo

I posted a few photos of knitting ideas this week, and when I was thinking about what to post to round on the week’s set, I got to thinking about men knitting.

Several times, I’ve had old white men come up to me while I’m knitting (or especially the few times Galen has been knitting in public), and they’ve talked about how they used to knit, or about how all their sailor or fisherman coworkers used to knit their own socks, hats and sweaters. People in my grandparents’ generation. Pretty much the exact dudes in that photo. The middle one is knitting. Can you tell? That’s my usual move, knitting while everybody else drinks beer.

My gramma, who has been my main knitting tutor other than books, is totally unphased about men knitting. She seems to find it normal and expected, which strikes me as odd since knitting is now cast as such a gendered activity, as a feminine art to be reclaimed and valued, as something our grandmothers did. When guys knit now, it’s celebrated as a happy transgression similar to chicks fixing cars. I should ask my grandparents about this, see if they remember a break when western or North American men stopped knitting.

(My brief googling for pictures of men knitting turned up lots of men knitting within apparently conventional knitting roles in Peru — Andean male knitting traditions are well-known— as well as Turkey, plus net-makers all over the place. Only the young urban male knitters in North America had any kind of “breaking tradition” vibe happening. E.g., a drummer, a subway rider.)

I wonder if it has anything to do with different modes of transmitting knowledge. I’ve never seen any written knitting instructions or patterns geared to guys before the last few years (Knitting with Balls and the like). All the heaps of vintage commercial patterns I’ve seen are for the ladies. I would assume the knitting sailors and knitting workmen maybe learned it right from another person. I could also see job changes, mass production, world wars, and gendered income differences being involved in there.

I haven’t even tried to google this. It’s just going in a pile with other vague research topics that I casually keep an eye out for. Knitting grandfathers. Maybe I’ve got some.

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