TWhen Brendan Girak first knitted in public, he took a friend for support. “Lara and I were in a big park and that calmed me down,” says the 28-year-old from Perth, Australia. “There weren’t that many people and Lara is a very confident person.” Knitting calms him down. “It keeps my hands busy and prevents me from being anxious. In the park, I focused on what I was doing. I was really attentive and in the moment. “
Soon he was taking his yarn off in cafes, during college lectures, on the beach, and in the pub. “Yesterday an elderly man came up to me in the park and said it was unusual to see a young man knitting. He assumed I was using it to pick up girls. I don’t see many guys knitting either – only on Instagram. “
But beyond social media too, there are signs that other men may soon join him. The online community hub LoveCrafts is reporting an increase in the craft activity of young men, with more than a third taking up some form of needlework (including knitting, crocheting, and sewing) during the pandemic. Top-class newcomers such as the diver Tom Daley are newcomers. Men make up 10% of Girak’s 65,000 followers on his Instagram account @knitwitsandyarns. “A lot of men who knit come from woodworking,” he says. “What else are you doing in lockdown?”
Once addicted, these new converts tend to knit anything. Girak knitted the complete set of 30 National Basketball Association team hats and 120 baggy sweaters. Daley, meanwhile, has shown an Olympic commitment to needlework, making ankle boots for his son Robbie, a version of a Gucci dress for a friend, and a crocheted swimwear for himself. “I wouldn’t do Tom’s budgie smuggler,” says Girak. “But I respect the work that goes into it.”
Daley got into crocheting after his trainer encouraged him to find a way to relax between dives. Girak first tried to ease the boredom. “I looked at the test cricket and it lasts all day. My mother knitted and I thought I can. ”He started knitting in earnest a few years later when he returned from traveling in Europe. He was 24 and a combination of too much partying, a broken relationship, and a sense of separation from his old school friends had taken its toll. Knitting was something he could do on his own and it led him to make new friends.
“My mom took me to the local wool store and then I started walking alone,” says Girak. “I was sitting at the counter knitting and chatting with one of the ladies who owned the shop.” He had the feeling that, unlike his former friends, women had no special expectations of him. He joined the store’s knitting club and met Lara. “She is 50 and one of my best friends. We were both there because we went through things, ”he explains. “We talked afterwards. It was just, do you want to have a coffee and knit? “
Girak was lucky enough to find a local knitting circle. Vincent Williams Jr. is a Lithonia, Georgia, US knitter who didn’t see anyone like himself when he first started out on the job. “It was frustrating not to portray myself as black,” says the 27-year-old. “Knitting has always been marketed as something for an older white lady.”
The new generation of sew bros, young men who make their own version of runway clothing for a fraction of the cost, have shown that handicrafts are an achievement men can be proud of. Williams Jr. had rather useful reasons to start knitting, however: he needed something to keep him warm in early winter mornings when he was working outside with horses. “I bought a scarf and it looked like I was shopping at Baby Gap,” he laughs. So he went on YouTube and taught himself how to knit a chunky cable knit version.
Williams Jr’s scarf was such a hit that friends and family started asking inquiries. He set up a website, sold patterns and gave tutorials. On his Instagram page @visuvios_crafts, he knits for Harry Potter films and shares moments from family life teaching his father, an Air Force veteran, to crochet. “I want people to see how I bring my passion for music, for animals, for black culture to my craft. You can see how diverse the maker world is. “
As a teenager, Williams was six feet tall and had a full beard. “People bombarded me with questions about sports. As a tall black man, they assumed I would play soccer. But I wanted to play instruments or gymnastics instead. ”Then he found solace in Harry Potter. Now he realizes the same instinct when picking up his knitting needles. “I can just chill, light a candle, make tea, listen to music and knit. It’s not always just fun – it can be healing. “
When Ola Ogunlolu, 21, became obsessed with knitting three years ago, he hadn’t expected to find like-minded hobbyists at home in Lagos. “It’s pretty hot in Nigeria most of the time, so who makes a rough blanket or sweater?” He asks, not unreasonably. But inspired by a granny square his cousin crocheted, Ogunlolu looked for ideas online. He followed YouTube tutorials and made glowing hats, scarves, and a rainbow pattern cardigan. “The process is so therapeutic. A lot of the things I make have no use value, but I enjoy the fact that I made them, ”he says.
“Craftivism” is an important aspect of the current movement, in which the makers bring political and social messages into their work; As protests against Black Lives Matter gained momentum last year, Ogunlolu, a psychology graduate, felt compelled to add his vote using a pattern for a BLM square. “I had to say something. Some people said we should keep doing handicrafts separately, but I felt that it wasn’t enough to withdraw into this solar world and pretend the real world wasn’t happening. “
Men who knit in public can expect to attract attention, and Vincent Green-Hite actively invites them to do so. He crochets small, stuffed yarn creatures, according to the Japanese amigurumi tradition. He’s also a heavy metal fan and dresses accordingly. So when he’s taking photos for his Instagram account @ knot.bad in his hometown of Portland, clad in leather, wearing a mohawk and holding a cute crocheted ice cream cone, he appreciates that people might have questions. He was just a little surprised at what they were asking.
“The only thing they ask about is my sexuality,” says the 26-year-old, whose followers also know him as Yarn Punk. “It’s so weird to ask in public. I’m straight and I would be proud to say I was straight or gay. I just don’t really know what that has to do with crocheting. “
Green-Hite started crocheting as a sideline for his pizza delivery service. Since then, he has managed to turn it into a full-time job, selling designs online and making commercial connections. Like his colleagues, he says it increased his well-being and allowed him to explore his relationship with gender. “I was taught that unless I got calluses on my hands, it wasn’t a man’s craft,” he says. “Crocheting made me feel more connected to my feminine side, even though I’m not sure if it should be viewed as feminine.”
Knitting is increasingly used as a tool for men to get into conversation about masculinity, such as the Brazilian collective Thread of Conversation, which meets to knit and talk. Girak volunteers at a school where he teaches knitting. “I want to help boys talk about their mental health through knitting. It helped me, ”he explains. “My own little knitting community helps me deal with a lot of things. We knit and then we talk about life. ”