..When Real Men Can Enjoy Knitting and Why Women Knit More than We Do:
(c) 2015, Davd
I was sitting in my bed mending a glove, resting after supper, when it occurred to me that i rather enjoy mending socks and gloves and torn work clothes, especially on a cold winter morning while the woodstove warms the cabin, or a cold winter evening when i figure things will get through the night without another fire, but it’s too cold to sit still at my desk.
Fishermen are skilled, hard workers—and they mend their nets fairly often. When Jesus first met two of his disciples, James, the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; they were in their boat mending nets.(Matthew 4:21, Mark 1:19). Now, fishermen’s nets are large, bulky, and often smell fishy, so i would not expect the men to mend them sitting in bed—or even indoors—but plainly, mending is men’s work as well as women’s. What i sat in bed mending, had been through the laundry.
I was wearing a pair of fingerless gloves that i knit myself, 30-40 years ago, and a sleeping cap that i also knit myself, back then; and it was uh, rather obvious to me that i hadn’t knit anything in the past 25 years. Now knitting is really quite a lot like mending, only less fussy—it’s actually a little more enjoyable, as i remember. So why do i mend for an hour or two a week, at least in winter, but not knit? Because there’s so much mending to do, and reading in bed, that lately i never get to where i really feel like i have time for knitting.
Obviously, things were different 25-50 years ago—so how were they different?
I was a professor then, that’s how. Being a professor, i had to go to meetings—hours of meetings per week—at many of which meetings i had bleep all to actually do. I was commanded to attend, and there was maybe a minute or less in an average 1-2 hour meeting, that i actively “participated”. I was at the meeting obeying Orders From Above: All Such-and-such were Required to Attend. Plus which, i got to talk briefly with colleagues i didn’t see much of anywhere else, before and after.
Sitting in those meetings—and teaching classes, and preparing classes, and doing research—i didn’t wear-out my socks and gloves much, or tear my work clothes. As a professor i generated a lot less mending and i had a lot more sit-still time. Plus which, a knitting project—say, a toque or a pair of mittens in the making—is much easier to carry into a meeting than sixteen assorted socks in need of darning and seven colours of yarn with which to mend them.
I knit mittens, scarves, and toques for myself and my children, in those meetings—plain in design, usually with a couple of harmoniously contrasting stripes. One toque i have still is a fairly dark brown with two medium yellow stripes, as are the matching mittens. The fingerless gloves are brick red with yellow stripes. In a box near the kitchen door, i have a navy blue toque with red stripes, and matching mittens. Not bad after twenty-five years or more—though i freely admit that i wear them mainly while sitting around and “to town,” where they don’t get worn down by heavy work..
Once in a while, back in those professor years, i’d knit while i sat with my youngest children, as they went to sleep—so i could be there with them in case they had something to ask me or tell me. At ages 2-5, maybe a little younger than two, children like that kind of fatherly presence. By age ten, maybe one or two evenings a week, by fifteen maybe not at all… partly because the older they get, the more they can read in bed.
Then, a couple years before i turned 50, i became a herb-gardener so i could be a better single father. Much more wear and tear on the work clothes, much less occasion to wear nice clothes, and almost no meetings at all to sit through. That’s when i quit knitting, not suddenly but gradually within a year. It wasn’t that knitting had lost its appeal—it was still a little more enjoyable than mending and a lot more enjoyable than for instance, doing “paperwork”—but that i had much less must-sit-still working time, and mending (plus some sit-still gardening tasks and some [ahem] paperwork) claimed all of that.
If i sat with one of the two youngest boys while he went to sleep or did his homework, i had plenty of mending to do, and he didn’t mind if it was less tidy than knitting.
I don’t miss the knitting experience, really, but neither do i regret it. It was definitely better than nothing at all. I’ve seen pictures of cowboys knitting, sitting on their horses, and to me that makes sense. What a cowboy does, for many, many of his working hours, is ride slowly or even sit still, watching the herd and watching for possible trouble. A knitting project is easy to carry along, a miscellany of sock mending wouldn’t be1. Apart from the horse he sits on, he’s a lot like a professor in a meeting where his chance of having anything to contribute is very small.
(Yes, he’s outdoors … but unlike most outdoor work, his watching the herd is quiet; and he works in climate areas where rain isn’t that common.)
Women have traditionally done more sitting and watching than men; and knitting is easy work to add to sitting and watching.. (If women counted knitting in that old saw “a woman’s work is never done”, that should have been back before factory knit sweaters and scarves and such were cheaply available2. Cowboys and professors know that knitting is work to be done when you have to wait and maybe keep watch, but it’s not active work with a deadline for finishing it.)
Actually, it’s a lot like whittling, without the knife (which was OK in Grandpa’s time but might be Politically Incorrect today) and the shavings, which are actually clean enough, but might not be Nice to leave in a conference room.
Knitting, like cooking and gardening and many other sorts of work, is neither men’s nor women’s work by nature. It suits people of either sex who have to “sit around” for long intervals of time. There are aspects of gardening that are men’s, much as women’s smaller fingers are beter suited to those kinds of knitting that require very fine yarn. That said, a man’s hands can knit most ordinary yarn; if he has to sit for long intervals he’s better off knitting than doing nothing, and i still enjoy my sleeping cap and fingerless gloves more than similar items i might have bought.
A man blessed with more active work should not sneer at him—even if he’s knitting in a meeting room rather than on a horse.
1. A cowboy has to be ready to take quick, vigorous action, so whittling might not be so safe as in a meeting.
2. On my bedroom shelves, which i can see from where i sit while mending in bed, are three hand knit sweaters and seven machine knit sweaters. Two of the hand knit ones belonged to my father when he was alive. I haven’t worn some of them in a year; i doubt i’ll live long enough to wear half of them out.