Dear Colin, Jake, Brandon, and Evan,
First, let me start by saying that I was very excited to read your e-mail and to know that the four of you have discovered what an amazing and satisfying art knitting is. By now you have probably already figured out that, with just two sticks and some yarn, the possibilities are endless - with our craft you can create things that are both meaningful and functional for yourself and those around you. This is just one of the reasons knitting is so addictive... not to mention it satisfies our inherent urges to be both artistic and mathematic. And these are only a couple of the perks....
I'll start by telling you a little bit about how I got into knitting:
At a young age, my mother (who is an avid quilter and has knit for many years) taught me the basics. I remember having a deep interest in knitting from the beginning, and learned probably around the age of 8 or 9. I can't remember making many substantial projects that early on, although I do remember learning to make an I-Cord (if you don't know what that is, ask your teacher and she'll show you) and not stopping until it was about 15 feet in length! Its still up in my parent's attic somewhere as a reminder of a very humble beginning. While I learned to knit young, there was a period of many years when i didn't ever touch the needles. When I was in college, my girlfriend started knitting scarves for her family and friends as Christmas presents, and my interests were violently awoken! Another of our friends was also working on some small projects at the time and I asked her if she would refresh my memory... I spent a night on the couch getting comfortable with knitting and purling... and from then on, its history!
Although I learned the basics in this way, I would consider myself mostly self-taught. Over the years as I've attempted to quench my insatiable thirst for knitting knowledge, I've tried knitting just about every type of garment and learning each new technique that I catch wind of. The internet is a great resource for teaching yourself new techniques and getting patterns or project ideas. There are a lot of amazing knitters doing a lot of amazing things out there right now, and the internet is a wonderful avenue for us to share our accomplishments with each other.
Now to answer a few of your questions:
∑ Of course I'd be lying if I said that I had never felt "different" or isolated as a guy who knits. Although it is slowly becoming more common, you will definitely be faced with challenges by the public, and maybe even your friends or family members. One thing that I think is the most important thing to keep in mind is this: When you face opposition to your interest in knitting, it is usually because you are forcing people to directly confront their OWN ideas about gender roles, and you should never let this reaction effect the way YOU think about yourself or your right to pursue something you enjoy, despite it being "unusual" (or, the adjective I hate most, "unnatural" - this term is wholly problematic and I think should be stricken from the English Language indefinitely) It is very important to make this distinction.
∑ I am rarely verbally insulted intentionally, although I feel non-aggressive insults often when i am in public. These "insults" are always non-aggressive and for the most part unintentional. For example: I am commonly spoken to by women in a patronizing manner as an adult would speak to a child ( i.e. "oh thatís so sweet, you're learning to knit" - notice they are assuming that I am LEARNING, regardless of how obviously difficult the project in my hands looks) - it is almost always assumed that i am a beginner. People assume because I am male, I lack a certain capacity for being able to knit in a sophisticated or advanced way. We know this couldn't be further from the truth. Unfortunately, its not so clear to the general population. This is a constant source of frustration for me, but I have learned to ignore it. I guess, at least currently, this comes with the territory.
∑ Any teachers I have had have been female, although I have taught some males to knit, and in all cases they have very much enjoyed the activity!
∑ In my mind, none of the activities I do are considered "girly" (including knitting). By that same token, none are necessarily considered "manly" either. Here's what I mean: I like to think that each person should be able to do what makes them happy without having to take gender into account at all. If you really think about it, why does anything have to be considered "girly" or "manly" anyway? These terms just serve to separate people from each other in unnecessary ways. Unfortunately, many elements of Craft and other creative arts are sensitive areas to people who hold to more traditional opinions about gender. I like to think that the more we challenge these views, the more we can help change these limitations to be more accepting of everyone. We all have to be here together, why not be as accepting as possible?
Colin - bravo for having the courage to take your knitting to school with you, although I know this seems like a daunting task. Inevitably you will come across opposition from people who are not secure with gender boundaries being challenged. This tension may seem magnified in an all-male environment, although your opportunities for helping people think outside-of-the-box here are magnified as well! You may be the person who helps them to start thinking about these things, which is very admirable. It will never be easy in this situation and will take some courage to make the first step, but I think you may find that it gets easier as you go along. Try talking to people about why they think you shouldn't be knitting. Discussion is a very important part in the process of changing peopleís ideas about gender. You may also be surprised to find people that are interested in knitting as well, although they may not be outright about it. I would love to hear about your experiences.
Now onto the good stuff: Knitting-Related Questions!!
∑ I enjoy knitting both hats and sweaters the most. Sweaters because they are the most rewarding and useful. Hats are a great way to be creative and get instant gratification. Plus, they donít take up too much closet space and you can never have too many! Also, hats a great way to use up extra yarn, or try new yarn without spending a lot of money on it. I also enjoy knitting lace - I love the mathematics of it and the amazing results you get with the finished product.
∑ There are a lot of websites where you can find free patterns. You will learn quickly that there aren't very many 'male' patterns available in general (or at least, not very fashionable ones!), especially in contrast to the WEALTH of female patterns everywhere. If you end up keeping knitting in your life, it will be very beneficial to learn basic elements of design or at least enough to execute minor alterations to a pattern (substituting different yarn, changing measurements, etc.) to work for you, as a male knitter. You will find that the world of patterns opens up to you if you can be creative. Many of my favorite projects have started as women's patterns, and after minimal modification, they have become male-friendly.
o Knitting Pattern Central: Thousands of free patterns for all types of projects. Some great and some not-so-great, but there is something for everyone. I like to look up patterns that I think look ugly, and try and think of ways to make them cool, or at least work for me. http://www.knittingpatterncentral.com/directory.php (Updated Weekly with new Patterns)
o Knitty: updated 4 times a year, I'm sure you've already heard of it. Lots of patterns, with good pictures to help you visualize. www.knitty.com
o MagKnits: another online knitting magazine that is updated monthly (or close)
o GOOGLE "Free Knitting Patterns" and see what you find. New things are always popping up on the internet.
o Check your local library for their knitting books. This is a GREAT place to get free knitting patterns. I use the library for knitting books exclusively.
∑ I am a relatively fast knitter - but I have had multiple projects that take months to complete. Large lace projects can take years to finish! I have worked on some sweaters that have taken multiple-months to complete, but this is largely because I put them aside from time-to-time to work on other things.
As I said before, I was so happy to hear that you have all discovered the exciting world of knitting. I'd love to hear more about the challenges and victories that you face as you continue with it. Most of all be COMFORTABLE and CONFIDENT doing it, because really - knitting is cool! You know it is, and thatís what matters. Who cares what other people say? If you love it, stick with it. You really will be glad you did.
Best of luck to you all!