Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Male Knitters and Male Chefs - Separated at Birth?

I've always found it fascinating how there is a huge disparity between accepted gender roles in the domestic kitchen versus restaurant kitchens. I don't think it's a stretch to say that, despite making huge strides over the past 50 years or so, the traditional vision of the male breadwinner (hunter) and the stay-at-home female (gatherer) remains. Clearly, there are far more families with dual-income earners and the idea of a sit-down dinner at home with the whole family present seems quite quaint. Despite this reality, one need only turn on the TV to get the message that a woman's place is still in the kitchen. When was the last time you saw a commercial featuring a man making use of Tupperware products? Or using dishwasher detergent? Even as our responsibilities are more and more shared, our media tells us little has changed when it comes to domestic kitchen duties.

Now, look at the restaurant/culinary business and think about who the leading names are. Bobby Flay, Emeril (sadly), Gordon Ramsay, Mario Battali, Morimoto. Yes, Rachel Ray and Giatta DeLaurentis are popular now, but it is still far more common to see a male executive chef than a female in most restaurants. At some point men got it in their heads that it was OK to enter the kitchen when it was a commercial endeavor. Maybe it was the appeal of having an appreciative and captive audience eating their creations, and often paying handsomely for the honor. These men have no doubt inspired a generation of young male chefs to be unafraid to pick up a spatula and try their hands at cooking. Personally, I love to cook...but only when it's for someone more than myself. I can't lie, I get a certain high when someone goes back for seconds of a dish I've made. But when I'm alone? Then it's around the corner to the deli for a quick sandwich and I'm happy.

And here is where cooking and knitting come together, at least in my mind at least. Both essentially involve taking raw materials and making something new out of them. This comparison is closer if you think of different stitches, needles, and yarn as the ingredients, with the pattern as the recipe. While both require some basic training, they are both most fun when those basics allow you to simply experiment and see what happens, for tastier or not. At the end of a fair amount of hard work, be it knitting or chopping, you're left with a final product that hardly resembles what it's made of.

So why so many male chefs and so few male knitters? I would say that the "glory" element is missing from knitting, and that may make all the difference. On KH today, I asked in a forum who people knit for. While a fair amount of responses included a DH, DD, or the like (aren't you impressed I know what that means now?), many also included the simple "I knit for myself." I honestly believe it is harder for men to take up a hobby just for the simple reason of self-pleasure (stop giggling). Men need something to be proud of, to show off to their buddies. Think of how protective your husband probably is of his grill while he's cooking. He can proudly set his steaks down, knowing he had creative control and was solely responsible for what he made. Would he feel the same eagerness at showing the world his work if it was a scarf? Would he get the same sense of satisfaction at someone using his handmade dishcloths? I have to think not.

I've experienced a tremendous outpouring of support since starting this blog, mainly from the KH community, and all thanks to the Knitting Gal, who has led the way. I can't wait to get updated pictures of my WIP online in the same way that I can't wait for someone to try my BBQ sauce (which, I must say, I'm quite proud of). However, it's easy to do all this online. The trick will be when we have company over and whether the words get caught in my throat when asked "who made that blanket?" We men need one, just one, Bobby Flay of knitting. Then, maybe, can we shout, "That's right! I made these oven mitts! Now come get your casserole kids!"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Share and Share Alike

Hopefully this post gets read in time to make a difference for all you ladies out there who have been trying diligently to get your man to knit, because tonight is a perfect night for it to happen. Why tonight? Because tonight is the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, featuring not 1, not 3, not even 5, but 6 Red Sox. I've no doubt that if I listened closely enough, I could hear your groans from here (even Knitting Gal can sense something in the air). I don't mean to imply that women as a whole are uninterested in the All-Star Game, however, I think it's reasonable to say that a fair amount of you could really care less, even if you are baseball fans. All this is by way of saying that there may be an inevitable clash of control over the remote tonight. How does this figure into getting your man to knit? I think it's the perfect opportunity to attempt a little quid pro quo.

Here's the deal, you get from 7:30 p.m. EST to 8:00 p.m. EST to teach him the knit stitch, nothing more, nothing less. In return, he gets to watch the game, no complaints. But there's a catch, he has to make an effort during commercials to continue what he started, even if he puts it back down when the "action" starts up again. I make no claims for this working, but it seems like a good idea in principle so I'd be curious to see if it works for any of you.

At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I'd like to share what I think is the secret to sharing your hobby with your hubby: make sure he knows it is just that, "sharing." When the Knitting Gal first tried to get me to knit, I thought she was foisting something on me that I gave no indications I was interested in. Maybe you get the same feeling when your man talks about power tools (something I know nothing about), or tries to explain what a nickel package is in football (something I only know of from playing Madden football). Again, I don't mean to perpetuate stereotypes, but it's probably right more often than not. It's easy for both sides to take the other's efforts in the wrong way. Maybe we assume he or she is simply hoping for, at best, a nod and a grin as we indulge their need to talk about their passions.

On the contrary, I think we all want to share our enthusiasm for what gets us going, in the hopes that we can share these things with the people we love. We hope that if we display enough excitement, maybe we can rouse those same feelings in others. We don't do so out of a selfish desire to convert one more person, but to expand their worlds to include what we think they'll appreciate if they gave it a shot.

To get back to knitting, it's clear that if you're reading this then you are probably somewhat passionate about your craft. Your man may know this to some extent, but does he know why you love it? What visceral emotions it evokes in you? If you share these feelings with him, he may see that not only can he share these benefits, but he can better understand who you are and what moves you. By the same token, you may both discover that your passions produce the same base emotions, but in different ways. For example, many men have a strong connection with baseball because of weekends spent playing catch with their fathers (or mother as in my case). Learn to knit from your mother? There's your connection. If he even tries his hand at knitting, and you give him half an hour in the yard with a ball and glove, you've now shared pieces of your childhoods in a very meaningful way. Maybe he'll find that he likes the way you can see your progress before your very eyes. Maybe you'll find you like the sound of the ball smacking into leather (there's nothing like it). Either way, by the end of the experience you'll know a little more about your significant other.

In the end, my point is that we have a lot to gain by breaking down the compartments of our relationships, and hobbies are a great place to start. As soon as I could see past "her wanting me to take up her hobby" and see it as "her wanting to share her passion with me," I opened up to the experience. You may find that you need to take the initiative and show him the way, maybe by asking questions about what he enjoys, hoping for him to follow your lead and return the favor.

I have a feeling this was a somewhat rambling post, but I hope it helps in some small way. I'd love to hear your stories! Good luck!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Proud to Knit...Except When Not

Good afternoon frieknds! It's a gorgeous day on Chappaquiddick and I figured I'd take a break from studying NY-MA legal distinctions in the sun to talk about something that happened last night. As background, the Knitting Gal and I have been "on island" on Chappy for the summer doing our studying for our upcoming bar exams. We've been alone for most of the summer, but her family came to down for the past few days. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I have a particularly good relationship with her father, a fellow member of the legal profession and, more importantly, devout Sox fan. At first, when they arrived, I was hesitant/unwilling to take out my project for fear of being made the subject of fun, even if good-natured. I thought I had overcome my shyness, also alluded to in a prior post, when I didn't rush to hide my needles when they came back one evening.

Last night, the Knitting Gal and I were enjoying a rare few hours alone, each working on our projects. Just as I finished a row, her parents came back home. Time for the moment of truth. I told myself i was putting the project down to talk with them about their anniversary dinner and be generally sociable. We settled back in to watch the Sox lose a frustrating heart breaker, at which point the Knitting Gal asked why I wasn't working on my blanket. "I finished a row and I'm taking a break," I replied defensively. Taking a break meant not picking up the needles again all night. Basically, I lost a few hours of progress out of embarrassment, even as I tried to convince myself I was choosing not to knit.

So, the big question then is, why are we, we being men, so afraid to knit in public? I challenge you to find a man on a subway or bus knitting, whereas women seem to have no problem with it. I imagine it's a great way to avoid dealing with other commuters and a nice way to escape the world for a while. At the same time, I doubt I'll ever find out for myself. Part of the answer to the overriding question is that, yes, we're afraid of what others might think. In our society, it is essentially criminal to be un-masculine, despite role models such as Ryan Seacrest. Despite knitting's proud heritage of rugged men knitting fishing nets, it is now viewed as a distinctly feminine pursuit and conjures a certain image in one's mind.

If that's the easy answer, what's the more difficult-to-pinpoint answer? For me, it's that it's simply easier not to knit in front of people that I feel might judge me for it. I won't pretend that I'm one of those "I don't give a damn what you people think" kind of guys, but neither do I live and breathe by what others think of me. When it comes down to it, I'm just as happy to put down my project in favor of simply watching the game, or reading my book on the subway, and picking it up again when I feel more comfortable. Sure I lose some time, but I've also avoided injecting anxiety, whether or not warranted, into a hobby that is supposed to be relaxing and stress-free. Would my blanket be done faster if I didn't take these breaks? Probably. But would I enjoy the process as much? I'd tend to think not. But maybe I just haven't given it a proper shot.

I'll probably come back to this issue at a later point to think about it in more depth, but I wanted to relate my feelings as a result of last night specifically. Maybe the lesson to be learned is that I need to give others more of a chance to not live up to the negative reactions I anticipate. Perhaps that, in and of itself, is the first, and most important, step toward public knitting without anxiety.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Wow, I Love How That Shapeless Sweater Fits!

Welcome back Frieknds (anyone want to help make "frieknds" a new knitting word?)! Today I'm going to tackle one of the issues that may prevent men from really delving into to the world of knitting: Lack of good, readily accessible projects, specifically in the sweater category. Recently while browsing blogs, I came across a woman who has a running joke with her husband that she knits him sweaters that he'll never wear. I've also seen books with titles like "Sweaters He'll Wear," or something like that at least. One would get the impression that men are very difficult when it comes to sweaters. I'd like to propose that men are, in fact, extremely easy when it comes to sweaters. All we want is something simple, comfortable, and that fits well. If a boyfriend, or husband, upon browsing through his girlfriend's, or wife's, knitting books was to feature such a sweater, he might just have the urge to make an effort to learn. While he'd invariably start with easy projects, it'd be with an eye towards a big project.

Unfortunately, it's very easy to get frustrated with what's out there for menswear. Frankly, the books that I've seen have been awful. The sweaters look bulky and shapeless and would do little to make a man feel well-dressed. Here is exactly what I'm talking about:
This is a sweater I will WILL NOT wear. Now maybe this guy on the cover likes unflattering sweaters. Maybe he has several growths he prefers to keep covered up. But me? I like clothes that don't require flippers...because I'm swimming in them? Get it?

Now this, this is what I want to see more of:
Notice the clean fit, the simple pattern. I would knit this sweater, if only I could decode all those abbreviations, which leads me to my next point.

Want to get your guy a good book to start with? Good luck. With all likelihood you'll end up with a general learn to knit book that may have a scarf or hat he'd be interested in, but little else to knit for himself. Granted, he may get great joy out of doing only projects for you, but that might not be enough to really get him excited. What I'd like to see is a book that demystifies patterns. Yes, the abbreviations make the pattern much shorter, but when embarking on your first big project, it can be annoying to constantly be flipping back and forth to a glossary, when simply spelling out the instructions, at least for the first portions of a pattern would take out a great deal of complexity.

Speaking from experience, looking at a knitting book without knowing definitions is literally like reading a foreign language and could easily turn a guy off from trying right from the get-go. I imagine non-baseball fans feel similarly stupefied when looking at box scores containing stats like OPS, OBP, WHIP, and SLG. Would a "dumbed-down" box score get you more interested in the game? Who knows, but at least you wouldn't feel like you were speaking an entirely different language.

To get back to the point I think I've strayed significantly from at this point, we men need projects to feel excited about. I want a sweater I'm going to feel good about wearing, not because I knit it, but because it's a nice sweater. I want something that doesn't make me feel like I should be setting dinner at the Huxtable residence. Heck, I'd take a throw pillow with the Sox logo on it!

If I'm missing something here in the available literature, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from all my new frieknds! (See catchy isn't it?)

This looks like a very promising book and is on sale at Knit Picks!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Check Out My WIP

I'll be honest, I didn't know what a WIP was until about 5 minutes ago when the Knitting Gal told me that people wanted to see my work-in-progress, or "WIP." On that note, a huge thank you to everyone who has already commented, it really made me smile and feel good about starting this. Before I get to the rest of the pictures, I think the story of my foray into the world of K1...K1, rpt.

The Knitting Gal and I took off one beautiful mid-May-ish weekend morning to the glorious state of New Hampshire for some sort of yarn fair. To be honest, I could look up the name for this festival but, to me, it'll always be "that yarn festival in New Hampshire," so I think it'll stay that way here. Also on the honesty track, I was in a fairly pissy mood as we pulled into the fairgrounds, convinced that I was going to be extremely bored and not expecting much to capture my attention. As we passed through the gates, my spirits perked up slightly at the sight of fresh-made baked goods, at least the day wouldn't be a total waste.

In a stroke of luck, we came across a booth of people selling tea in the first barn/exhibition room. I contented myself with trying many varieties of green tea as the Knitting Gal oohed and aahed over alpaca "hanks." That's right, I know what a hank is (although I'm not quite sure when a hank becomes a skein becomes a ball). As we strolled through the grounds, I started to let myself at least feel the yarn the Knitting Gal was looking at, noticing the different textures and "weights." I started asking questions. What's DK weight mean? What would you use bulky yarn for? What the hell does variegated mean??

Finally, I made a decision. I was going to knit something, and it was going to be something I could be proud of. Rather than the usual scarf, I decided on a blanket. All that I needed now was "yarn." OK, I knew what "yarn" was before the Knitting Gal, but not much more. A few hours into the day, I found it. As luck would have it, a vendor had a fair amount of blue and brown hanks of bulky yarn, 16 total and enough to do 2 blue for every 1 brown. Initially, I balked at how much it would cost to purchase them all at once. However, I learned that I was getting a fantastic deal and that I should go with these colors if I loved them. Brown and Blue being the colors of Tufts University, I thought if I didn't take this chance then I might never start a project. Knowing that the vendor wanted to get rid of all 16 balls, I offered a discounted price for the whole lot, which she gladly accepted. I never would have guessed at the beginning of the day that I'd be leaving with a garbage bag full of yarn, but I did.

I cast on that night. No, I didn't. I went and played poker with some buddies that night. I cast on the next night, 137 stitches total. I decided on a "garter" stitch for the whole thing, mainly because I didn't know how to "purl" and wasn't quite ready to learn. At first, it was terribly slow going, taking upwards of 45 minutes per row. My stitches were tight, the yarn and needles were getting twisted, and I was getting frustrated. I also realized early on that I had made the blanket too wide and would not get much length out of the yarn I had. Still, I pressed on, determined to stupidly carry on. Bear in mind that I had done about 10 rows of 20 stitches before taking on the blanket. Eventually though, I found my groove and got down to about 25 minutes per row. Then, mid-way through my fifth ball, I decided to rip it all out, cut down on the stitches, and start from scratch, this time with 100 stitches.

Working at a much faster pace now, things have been coming around rather nicely. And so, without ado, here are some pictures of my WIP:

I've gotta say, I'm damned proud of what I've done so far, and I couldn't have done it without the Knitting Gal's constant encouragement (and fixing of my mistakes). I've even taken it out in front of her family now, hoping her father won't laugh every time he passes by (we happen to have a great relationship so I don't think that would happen anyway).

It's now been a solid 2.5 hours since I finished the last sentence of the last paragraph and a dinner of excellent steak and BBQ chicken (with my homemade BBQ sauce) plus some delicious wine has left me pretty sleepy and the keys dancing. On that note, I'm off for the night. As always, can't wait for your comments!

I'm Just a Guy

Hi. I'm Michael, and I knit. Phew, that felt good to get off my chest. I haven't always been a knitter, nor did I grow up in a home with a mother who spent her nights making sweaters and scarves and such. Apparently she did have a penchant for crocheting booties but I have a limited recollection of that fact and so shall take her at her word. I do recall not so intelligently wrapping a knit scarf around my face to keep it warm during a run and ending up coughing up red yarn for a week, but I'm not even sure who made that. Anyway, I digress. No, I learned how to knit from my girlfriend, who picked up the habit during our third year of law school (recently completed by the way) and hit the ground running.

At first, I thought of knitting as "her hobby," as in, not "our shared interest." And really, who could blame me? So you know where I'm coming from, I'm a 25 year-old plain old guy who spends the greater part of his free time watching sports (often my beloved Red Sox), reading (often about my beloved Red Sox), or playing poker (generally the online variety with little at stake). I'm not a jock, and I have been known to be metro-curious, but really, I think I'm just a guy.

As you may know, "guys" don't knit. We scratch everywhere, burp, bore you with batting averages and on-base percentages, and snore; but, we do not knit . Little did I know that I was about to prove all this wrong, at least to myself. It started innocently enough. After watching the Knitting Gal (see Bill Simmons for the inspiration behind this nickname) throw herself into the world of knitting for months, I finally decided that I had to see for myself what this hobby was all about. Using some "remnants," I awkwardly cast on for the first time, then awkwardly learned the knit stitch, then awkwardly...I think you get the point. Knitting for the first time felt about as natural as, well, let's just say it felt unnatural. Knitting Gal assured me that it would start to feel more comfortable as I got the hang of it, but I was skeptical.

To make a long intro short, I am now more than a quarter way through my FIRST PROJECT, which is a blanket in the proud brown and blue colors of my alma matter. In the future, I plan on expounding on issues facing knitting guys, and hope for your feedback and thoughts.

There it is, I knit. And I like it.