As knitters males are clearly in the minority. The first time this really came home to me was last August when I attended my first craft exhibition. I had intended catching the train to the racecourse where the exhibition was being held, but had ended up running late, and so drove to save time. As I approached the entrance to the rather full car part, the security guard asked “Are you just picking someone up?”, I replied “No” and he directed me to the right (the far end of the car park with the few remaining parking spots, rather than down to the left where the entrance was. If I’d thought about it, I would have found the assumption strange, but I wasn’t thinking about it.
As I walked towards the bridge over the train line, I first noticed it. Apart from the security guard on the gate and me, I couldn’t see any men. Even the security people on the gate were women. I didn’t have a problem with any of this, but I’d just never thought how completely women dominate the craft scene and sure enough for the rest of the day most of the men I saw were dutifully following their wives around carrying things. I, on the other hand, was enjoying getting the extra attention of being the odd-one-out at the pitifully few knitting stalls at the show.
Being the anomaly can be a bit of fun, but it can also be frustrating. Some listeners have shared their experiences of this:
Kerry wrote: I often get the feeling that I’m the invisible man when I go to a yarn shop, many staff seem to think that I couldn’t possibly want to buy something. Alternatively, they look at me as though I am there to rob the store!
Mike said: When we walk into a yarn shop, and my wife says that her husband is the knitter, the owner always says that s/he has lots of male customers.
Jan, the owner of my local yarn shop, whom you’ll get to meet next week, says the same thing, she has quite a few male knitters, and the very first time I walked into the shop she was very welcoming, worked out how much I knew (which wasn’t much) and then gave me lots of good advice and showed me a cast-on technique for the jumper I was working on.
So what do men want? Just to be treated like knitters.
The pair of encounters I had at one Sydney yarn shop show both sides of the coin. The first time I walked into this up-market yarn shop I was greeted by the owner and spent an hour in there talking about everything from patterns and yarns to the difficulty of getting a regular supply of some yarns and the advantages and disadvantages of doing business in China. I left with a pile of yarn, some Addi Turbo needles and even a free sample ball of a yarn they didn’t carry and which I eventually had to import myself, so I could make some swatches while waiting for the shipment.
Having made the swatches I realised I needed the next size up of needles and so went back to the shop to get them. This time the owner wasn’t there, and when I asked the needles the lady shop assistant said, “Is that what she asked you to get, dear?” When I told her they were for me, she put them on the counter and gave off the distinct impression that she just wanted me to pay for them and leave. So I did. Now luckily the two trips to the shop were in that order, as if the second encounter had been the first, there wouldn’t have been a second one at all – as it was, the happened the right way around and I’m still occasionally visiting the shop which has some lovely and exclusive yarns.
So what do men really want in knitting, just to be treated as knitters, after all, there’s nothing inherently gender specific about knitting that means that men would be better or worse at it than women; and from a commercial point of view, male and female money both still pay the electricity bill. Of course, being in the minority does have some commercial disadvantages – if I was manufacturing knitting accessories, it would be commercial suicide not to mainly consider the requirements of female knitters, but that can be done without ignoring male knitters.
For those of us that knit in public, the most obvious expression of this concentration on female knitters is the knitting bag. Almost all knitting bags are designed for women, and few of them suit men who don’t want to look too out-of-place when commuting to and from work. I like rosewood knitting needles, and have started to build up quite a collection of them, so one of the first things I looked for was something to store them in which would keep them safe from breakages (and from cat chewing). The needle manufacturer makes a very nice needle case, with a good solid backing to keep the thinner needles safe – it’s purple and covered with pink flowers, but that’s not a problem, the case lives at home in my knitting cupboard. But I couldn’t have the same thing on a knitting bag because it would just look strange carrying it around because it would be out of context. I’m happy for people to see me knitting, and in fact the bag wouldn’t look out of place if I was knitting, but carrying it through the streets of Sydney without people knowing what it contains would make me feel uncomfortable. A silly feeling perhaps, but that’s from growing up in a male dominated culture I suppose.
So what’s the other thing men want? Just for designers to keep in mind that there are some male knitters when designing their accessories. For example there is a Jordana Paige messenger style knitting bag that is available in colours that women or men could carry – but so far those are the only knitting bags I’ve found that I’d feel happy carrying (but I did come up with another solution).
So if you’re a designer, or you make or dye yarns, or make knitting accessories, keep in mind that there are some men knitters, most men love gadgets, and if you make it, we will buy.