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Boy meets purl

Knitting craze doesn't discriminate as guys show they're manly enough to stitch a sweater

Geneva 5/15/2005 By Kathaleen Roberts

STAFF WRITER - Courier News

When Mark Hensel pulls out his lunchtime knitting needles, his hard-hatted colleagues cast doubts about his manhood as quickly as he casts on.

"Right off the bat, they think I'm gay," the St. Charles electrician said with a laugh. "Sometimes I roll with it. What I usually say is, 'Before I started knitting, I really liked women and now I look at men. I'd like to see you after work and hold hands and talk about my feelings.'‚"

The 30-year-old Hensel started knitting two years ago after learning from his mother. Despite his co-workers' jibes, his chunky wool scarves symbolize a trend weaving across college campuses and yarn shops throughout the country. Men are joining women in the yarn store aisles, going public with their knits and purls and their balls of yarn.

The Craft Yarn Council of America keeps no numbers on guys who knit. But a recent survey showed the percentage of women between 24 and 34 who've knitted climbed from 13 percent in 2002 to 33 percent last year.

Not just Grandma's hobby

Usually derided as the musty pastime of old ladies, knitting has suddenly become hip as stars such as Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne and Bill Cosby go public with their hobby. Knitting clubs for boys have cropped up in shops and schools across the nation.

"We know that we have a significant number," said Mary Colucci, executive director of the Gastonia, N.C.-based Craft Yarn Council of America. "The council is in touch with retailers across the country. What we're seeing is a lot of younger guys are coming in — teenagers."

Many take advantage of free patterns and streamed instruction videos on the Internet, she said. Some members of a Connecticut basketball team started a club after spotting a teacher wielding needles and looping yarn at lunch.

"I've had grammar school teachers say the same thing," she added. "The kids love the feeling of working with the yarn. They want to be individual; they want to make things that are unique to them."

Thirteen-year-old Anthony Tucker of St. Charles wanted to learn how to knit after watching his grandmother. He also plays football and soccer. He's been knitting for "three or four years" now.

"If I'm bored or something, or I have free time, I'll sit down and knit," he said. "I tell my friends," he added. "They're like, 'That's real cool.' I made a scarf for my girlfriend."

Nine-year-old John Vislisel of East Dundee wanted to learn how to knit as soon as he spotted the jewel-toned sweaters and Christmas stockings dangling from the displays at The Gifted Purl in West Dundee. His younger brother, Caleb, 7, jumped at the chance as he watched his mother, Rachel, refresh her technique with an employee. But John, who also plays football, basketball and soccer, held back.

"At that time, I thought it was sort of a girly thing," he said. "But it's both — because men started it and then women took over."

Now both boys click their needles as their mother reads them classics such as Little House on the Prairie and Sarah Plain and Tall. As their multicolored scarves grow, they chatter about making hats and mittens.

'It's relaxation'

 Neil Edmondson, 53, grew up in the north of England surrounded by knitters — his mother and all his aunts.

"They would throw needles and yarn at me just to keep me quiet," he said. "I had a reputation as something of a pyromaniac."

Today he's married to Lesley Edmondson, the owner of Wool and Company, a Geneva yarn shop. When he helps out in the store, some of the female customers are surprised to learn he knits. He's working on a bolero jacket that will be used as a display sample. His future son-in-law has taken up the family lineage by designing a pattern for a man's hat.

"It's relaxation," Edmondson explained. "My regular job is high-pressure corporate sales. I do two things as a hobby: I fish and I knit. It's close to the earth, and you're using natural fibers."

The electrician Hensel took up knitting to have something to do while he visited with his mother during a recent illness.

"My first scarf I knit up in two hours," he said. "I got addicted and I couldn't put it down.

"What I love most about it is I love jazz and classical music as well," he said. "I can sit down and listen to all the music I love and keep my hands busy. It's relaxing to me.

"I've never been one to care about what people think."


news and update

We are constantly adding new classes to our schedule, make sure that you register here to get your advance notice of additions and changes.

We are always pleased when the press helps us to spread our love of knitting.  Recent articles:

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