These knitters can take the needling
A special boys-only class finds young men mastering a skill and ignoring the teasing
By Lisa BlackTribune staff reporterPublished February 1, 2005
They are guys, they knit and they defy ridicule.
"It's just knitting. It's not like I've killed someone," said Conrad, 15, a swim team member who doesn't care what classmates think. "It's the new fad."
The craft has enjoyed a resurgence over the last few years, and not just among a younger generation of women. Boys increasingly are knitting--from an Evanston 4th grader working on a scarf for himself, to a college student in Oak Park who skillfully knits toylike stuffed monsters, to raw beginners like Conrad.
Long stereotyped as the afternoon pastime of elderly women, knitting has become hip as celebrities such as Russell Crowe and Laurence Fishburne go public with their hobby. Knitting clubs for girls and boys have cropped up in schools across the nation. And new books and shows such as DIY Network's hit "Knitty Gritty" have made it cool to knit guy-friendly items such as guitar straps and iPod covers.
Although women still outnumber men in yarn store aisles--and no one can be sure how many boys knit--professionals say more boys are going public with their needles and balls of yarn.
"I have heard several boys say it's a wonderful chick magnet," said Mary Colucci, executive director of the Craft Yarn Council of America, based in Gastonia, N.C. "I've heard teachers say that the boys are more challenged by some of the intricate patterns."
But unless they have the size and stature of, say, ex-football pro Rosey Grier, a confirmed knitter, it could be awkward for some guys to announce their new passion to friends.
`Only girls do that'
"In the beginning you don't want to tell people," said Louis Levin, 9, a 4th grader from Northbrook. "I've had it happen once where someone said, `Oh, only girls do that.'"
Still, he said, "It makes me feel good I'm standing out in the crowd."
On a recent Saturday at the Three Bags Full store in Northbrook, Corey Gilbert, 15, is the "For Boys Only" class instructor. Already a knitting veteran, the Glenbrook North High School sophomore helped Conrad and two other boys get started, showing them how to wrap the yarn around the needle and make those first crucial stitches.
One of them, Louis, arrived with some patterns to choose from and a scarf he had already started. He is knitting a teddy bear for his teacher's baby, due in March.
Like the other young knitters, Louis is proud that he can give his finished product to people as gifts.
Nearby, tubs of supplies with labels such as Yorkshire Tweed Chunky and Biggy Print hinted at the many possibilities open to the young men.
Jim Flanagin, 11, of Northbrook stopped working his needles long enough to make a phone call.
"I'm knitting your hat right now," he told a friend on the line. "Do you have your measurements?"
Gilbert's mother, store owner Lynette Swanson, whispered to Jim that he could use his own head size for comparison.
Then she reminded Conrad to breathe--much like an aerobics instructor might tell her class--as the teenager sat, frozen, afraid that he had made a mistake.
"Ooooohh," Conrad groaned. "How do those old women work so fast?"
In Evanston, a similar scene took place recently at Kingsley Elementary School's library, where 15 pupils showed up for the knitting club's first meeting of the school year. Among them were five boys, including Terron Wint, 10, a 4th grader who had never knit before.
He carefully touched the bright balls of yarn stacked in baskets, choosing black, gray and dark blue for his scarf.
"Last year my younger brother was in knitting club, and he was so good at knitting that I thought I would try it," Terron said. "I might bring it to recess because there's nothing to do, or if there's free time, I can just take out my needles and yarn."
Dylan Blanchard, 10, started needlework three years ago, taught by his mother Jane Grover, one of several parents who lead a knitting club at Kingsley and a few other Evanston schools.
"It makes me feel like I'm exercising ... because my fingers are working," said Dylan, who said he often knits before going to bed. "It makes me feel happy. I know I'm doing something and not just sitting around."
Grover was pleased to see many of last year's pupils return, projects and knitting needles in hand.
When she first started the club, she said, she worried about "arming them with needles."
"It hasn't been a problem," she said. "There were about 35 kids, and all of them used the needles for knitting."
While boys are slowly discovering the joys of knitting, enough stigma remains that Vickie Howell, the Austin, Texas-based hostess of "Knitty Gritty," could not persuade a young man in his 20s to talk to a reporter.
An `art form'
"He didn't want it to be out there that he was knitting," Howell said. "I'm trying to work toward getting knitting and crafting seen as an art form."
That's not a problem for Michael Greischar, 22, who works at the Tangled Web Fibers store in Oak Park while studying filmmaking at Loyola University Chicago.
During his free time, he knits monsters that he said resemble "little stuffed animals but are scary-looking."
As a high school student at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, Greischar learned that knitting was a good way to attract girls, although he said he sometimes felt self-conscious when other guys were around.
"If you're sitting in the library at high school and you're knitting with a bunch of girls, it's not such a normal thing," Greischar said. "But I did it."
Young boys such as Louis Levin also are coming around, as evidenced by a recent conversation he had with a friend as they sat in the backseat of a car.
They were jabbering about their most embarrassing moments when Louis blurted out: "Oh, and another thing," he said, looking to his friend for reaction, "I knit."
The boy smiled and, without missing a beat, said, "That's OK. I cook."