Boy meets purl
Knitting craze doesn't discriminate as guys show they're
manly enough to stitch a sweater
Geneva 5/15/2005 By
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
"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
"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.
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."