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Men Who Knit and the Women Who Love Them
April 13th,  2010

Closet knitters unite! Macho men prove that knitting isn't just for hippies and hipsters
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by Heidi Grieser

I've been tracking the most famous male knitter in town for weeks. From yarn stores, to early morning knitting circles, to his usual Sunday afternoon haunt. This mechanic from Rocky Mountain Power has left a wide berth of adoring women in his elusive path. Every place I go they all say the same thing, "Warren is an amazing knitter, and such a great guy."

Russell Crow knitting
Russell Crowe says he
doesn't knit, but he certainly
looks fetching giving it a try

Similarly, I knew a heart-breaker back in college that came into the coffee shop where I worked. He'd sit at a conspicuous table by the counter crocheting an afghan; I watched a slew of women come and go, drawn to his 'craft,' I'm sure.

When I finally caught up with Warren the Mechanic at a coffee shop, he was predictably sitting with four women and calmly knitting something brown and woolly. After talking with Warren, I have to report that he is married and got into knitting by accident.

Warren said, "literally, by accident. I fell into a snowblower with my right hand and they had me doing all kinds of therapy -- cross stitching, making those fly fishing lures, and then knitting worked the best because it was so portable."

Twenty years later, Warren is still knitting. While he enjoys the socialization associated with knitting circles, he used to travel for his job with the power company. "I'd end up in a lot of out-of-the-way places and when the shift is over, what do you do? Knitting is an instant sanity saver," Warren said.

Male knitters
The most famous male knitter in
Salt Lake City found at the Coffee
Garden. Warren MacNeil knits
there at 6:30 AM, usually with a
multitude of ladies (who love him)

"The longer I've knit I've found there are men out there that knit but they are 'closet knitters.' It's not considered masculine, but if you go back to the guilds (in the UK), it was the men that did it."

Soldiers historically knitted clothing for themselves while in the trenches and Warren has a son stationed in Afghanistan that he supports by sending socks and caps.

While there are many practical reasons for picking up knitting or crocheting, most male knitters are younger men who initially learn knitting or crocheting to make trendy hats. There's even a boy's soccer team at a local high school who knit and sell hats for their annual fundraiser.

Steven Espinosa, a knitting teacher at Piper's Quilts and Comforts, points to the hat project as an entry for many men into the world of knitting. "Shows on TV, and books are featuring hats because skater hats brought a lot of young guys into knitting. They think, 'I'll make this one project' and then they get addicted," said Espinosa.

Similarly, Espinosa sees many couples with a baby on the way come in to the shop. "Dads want to be involved, but I think they're embarrassed. Then they see me in the store and it's easier for them after I suggest they pick up some needles and make the baby a hat while mom makes a sweater. And sometimes the men will be better at it and end up finishing the mom's project and keep coming back for my Tuesday knitting night."

Male knitters
A knitting project completed at Blazing Needles in Sugar House

Another group at risk for a knitting addiction are people in high stress jobs, particularly jobs with numbers. Many men fit this profile, observes local knitting shop owner, Cynthia Mills of Blazing Needles. She makes this observation from the various knitters who assemble at her shop Thursday to Sunday for open knitting circles.

Knitting requires precision and counting, so it makes sense that accountant Stephan Burch, who is a regular at Blazing needles, might find knitting relaxing. "Before I started knitting, I would go home and read a few hours and now I go home and knit," Burch said.

Male knitters
Some men's projects from
Blazing Needles

But don't despair if you're not into counting or following patterns. There's always crochet! And it seems that there really is no knitting 'type.' Gender, sexuality, and age no longer define who might pick up knitting or crochet.

While a knitting mechanic certainly sounds like the perfect man to me, stigmas have been slow to change. Stephan Burch only picked it up three years ago, although he grew up with knitters and always admired the craft. "Growing up I always wanted to learn, but it was the 1970's in a small town so it was maybe not the most politically correct thing to do."

Children are particularly adept at picking up skills like knitting and crocheting, and many elementary schools are beginning to teach it in class or in after-school programs. Teachers have reported increased levels of concentration, follow-through, sense of mastery, communication and fine motor skills. Formal research projects are in progress to prove a link between knitting and increased math skills.

Knitting teacher Espinosa, said he doesn't know of any other male teachers in Salt Lake City and he'd like to see that change. But from experience I'd say if you're a guy and you want to learn, find a knitting circle or shop and there will be many eager teachers!

Watch Utah Stories' mini documentary on Warren MacNeil

Knitting Through the Ages

Many historians back the view that it was men who created knitting and contributed significantly to its development. The theory is that Arabic fishermen, skilled in knotting fishing nets, probably spread the knowledge via the Mediterranean. During the Renaissance, men were the only ones who could join knitting guilds, while women took care of spinning.

Male knitters

Pre-Industrial Revolution: A Gansey--sometimes known as a fisherman sweater--was particularly important in the Scottish Isles. Making sweaters was a cottage industry that the whole family participated in. Men working on boats or sheepherding had a lot of downtime to craft sweaters.

Male knitters

War Time Effort: There was a resurgence of male knitters during the World Wars. This picture is the cover of an eight page booklet produced during the second World War to encourage the casualties among the armed forces to take up knitting as therapy.

Male knitters

American schoolboys knitting squares to sew into blankets for British troops during World War Two.

Male knitters

Now books and TV personalities reflect mainstream male knitting

Learn more:

Blazing Needles in Salt Lake City

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