Saturday, March 7, 2015

History of Men Knitting

Me and my toolbox (first year of apprenticeship) 2012
It always amazes me how much we make assumptions about other people.  Usually I run into people at work that are very excited to see a female working as an automotive technician.  Most of the shops I have worked in were predominantly staffed with males.  Eventually the knitting comes up, either I start talking about it at work, or I work on a project at lunch.  It seems to blow people away.  It's as if knitting is a hobby that is way too feminine for someone who works on cars.  Well guess what, just as the automotive world is not exclusively male, the knitting world is not exclusively female.  In fact, this stigma of knitting being too girly for men is a relatively contemporary idea.  Men have a very rich knitting history dating back hundreds of years.

Around the 1400s knitted items were becoming increasingly popular.  With the Renaissance there was a large advancement in metalworking.  This means many wonderful things for society including the invention and mass-production of knitting needles.  This helped transform knitting from an exclusively luxury item to something more accessible to the average person.  Both men and women were knitting at the time but it was men who began to knit as a profession and all-male knitting guilds began to appear.  They worked much like a labour union; established to protect secrets of the craft, improve the quality of the profession, and to create business. These knitting guilds were for serious knitters only though.  To become a master knitter one would have to undertake a rigorous apprenticeship of three years training from master knitters as well as three years travelling to learn the craft and various techniques.  Once you returned you would be subjected to a thirteen week exam knitting various garments to prove you were worthy of being allowed into the knitting guild.  Sounds like some pretty tough stuff!

To gain full membership to the Hand-Knitters’ Guild of Strasbourg, knitters had to knit a wall hanging patterned with flowers, like this one. Adam and Eve appear beneath a central panel depicting Jacob’s Dream. France, 1781.
Photo found here. 
Skip ahead to the 16th century and the invention of the knitting machine by William Lee.  This revolutionized the craft, being able to crank out about 7 million stitches per minute.  This ended up making hand-knit items obsolete and found its way into the home as more of a domestic art typically practiced by females.  

Men began to return to hand-knitting with the first and second world wars.  People everywhere would pick up the needles and yarn as a wartime effort to aid the troops.  There was a large need for socks, bandages, helmet liners, mittens...etc.  Young boys and girls were even taught how to knit in school.  

In May 1918 the Seattle School Bulletin printed this patriotic knitting song:

Boys knitting socks; Seattle, 1918

"Johnnie, get your yarn, get your yarn, get your yarn;

Knitting has a charm, has a charm, has a charm,

See us knitting two by two,

Boys in Seattle like it too.

Hurry every day, don’t delay, make it pay.

Our laddies must be warm, not forlorn mid the storm.

Hear them call from o’re the sea,

‘Make a sweater, please for me.’
Over here everywhere,
We are knitting for the boys over there,
It’s a sock or a sweater, or even better
To do your bit and knit a square."

Now knitting has come back as more of a recreational hobby then a necessity.  Men of all ages and walks of life are picking up the needles for the same reasons as women do.  Knitting has even been introduced into male prisons as a way to help rehabilitate the prisoners.  With knitting comes a wonderful community of fellow crafters, and a fantastic outlet for creativity.    It is a relaxing, meditative craft that has been proven to relieve stress.  

This pretty well brings us up to modern day knitting.  I'll wrap up the history lesson for now but keep your eyes peeled for further blog posts and I will talk much more about current male knitters.  

More on the history of knitting:

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