Friday, February 03, 2006

Lace: A Rant and a Schematic

At some point in every man's life there comes a moment when his illusions about himself are shattered. When he realizes that no matter how hard he may try, he's never going to be exactly what he'd hoped he might be.

I have reached such a point. Like it or not, seems that I'll never be butch.

There have been quite a few articles in the mainstream press about men who knit. If you've read one, you've read them all. They all hit the same key points:
  1. Knitting is not just for grandmas any more! Men knit!
  2. But that doesn't mean they're gay!
  3. No, really! Lots of straight men knit!
  4. Knitting does not make you queer!
  5. See all the manly men knitting and drinking beer and not being queer?
  6. When men knit, knitting is very, very butch and not at all queer!
The most recent article of this type to flit across my desk was about "Boys Night" at KnitNY in New York City. As usual, the writer did his best to stave off heterosexual panic by emphasizing the beer drinking, back-slapping, and the knitting of bikinis for girlfriends by "many" of the members.

Even the manager of the shop was quoted reassuringly as saying that this was not a gay dating event.

I have never been to this particular knit night. Things may well be different in New York City than they are in Chicago, and perhaps at KnitNY the straights outnumber the gays, and the gays stick to their knitting and never flirt across their needles (yeah, right).

It may be that, in New York City, even the gay men who knit aren't, you know, queer.

But I can speak for myself, and when I knit, knitting is queer as a three-dollar bill. Even if I'm kitted out in my favorite cycle boots, chaps, a biker jacket, and three days of stubble, nothing's going to help.

My name is Franklin...and I like to knit lace.

Due to the bizarre American belief that the creation of anything delicate and beautiful is inherently sissified, an American male who knits lace automatically places himself at the Liberace/Rex Reed end of the Kinsey scale.

A man who is knitting scarves or sweaters or socks is on somewhat firmer ground. He is performing the very manly task of crafting protection from the elements. A hat, when you think about it, is just a roof you can wear on your head–and what could be more masculine than roofing?

There is no such excuse for lace. Lace has no practical purpose. A lace shawl will keep you warm to an extent, but the real purpose of lace is to be pretty. And American men are not supposed to make pretty things. Men are not supposed to even care about pretty, unless they're looking for female companionship.

So be it. I've never let other people dictate what I do in my life, and I'm not going to start now. And as for those men–gay or straight–who have to pound their chests while knitting lest other guys make fun of them?


The State of Maine Stole

About, oh, a month ago, reader OutfoxedKnitting asked whether the "State of Maine Shawl" listed in my projects was a pattern readily available. Well, sort of.

I'm making the shawl–which has become a stole, and will henceforth be referred to as such–for my sister. Susan lives in Maine, and her husband is in politics there. He is, in fact, a state senator. This means Susan has quite a few political outings to attend, and as Phil is about to go into re-election mode there will be even more such outings.

So here's my plan. I've decided she needs a nice wrap, preferably something that could be thrown over a day or evening outfit, that is Maine-related and might serve as a nice point of conversation. And if I can, I'd like to make it local fiber–maybe alpaca.

This is what I have in mind, and what I've been swatching.

All the patterns are Shetland, right out of Sharon Miller's Heirloom Knitting. And all of them have something to do (in my mind, anyhow) with the landscape of Maine.

For the ocean, there's Print o' the Wave. For the forests, there are patterns resembling fir cones and ferns. And for the edgings, I'm trying out different patterns that look like mountains. (Susan and Phil have spent many happy days climbing the mountains in Acadia National Park.)

I also want to work the word "Dirigo,"* the state motto, into each end of the stole. I nabbed that idea off a palatine in Galina Khmeleva's Gossamer Webs that has the word "Orenberg" knitted into one end.

Have I ever knitted words into lace? No. But Jean has done it, and I love how it looks, and perhaps if I ask very sweetly she will offer pointers.

Of course I'm awfully glad Phil's not in politics in our former home state, Hawaii, where the state motto is "Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono." Maybe in another 30 years I might be up to that.

* Latin: "I lead."
** Hawaiian: "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."


Valerie said...

Trust me, that article was full of it (as I'm sure you suspected). It's also one of the two yarn stores I won't patronize, but that's another story. I wonder if we'll ever get back to the point where men knitting isn't even remarkable, much less a sideshow spectacle.

I'm anxious to see the lace swatches! I like that it has so much meaning in every stitch.

Andrea Rusin said...

You are the best brother EVER! Can you call my brothers and talk some "knitting for your sister" sense into them?

Andrea Rusin said...

And...wait.... why does it follow that because the articles about guys knitting are so bizarre that YOU aren't quite what you'd hoped?

Walk your path, big guy. You're a light in my life.

Anonymous said...

You write so well and make me laugh and I keep coming back for more.

Today's post is excellent and wonderfully perceptive. Here in England polite lady knitters are still debating the niceties of calling their groups Stitch 'n' Bitch vs Knitter Natter (yes, we are that sophisticated) so I think the real & hidden meanings of gay/queer knitting groups will elude British knitters for a while longer. I'm glad to see the subject is being tackled with a good dose of irony here.

birdfarm said...

Also, for a sister living in Hawaii, you would not have even the remotest excuse for knitting a shawl. A bikini, maybe.

As for countering heterosexual panic by butching up stories about men knitting, I just can't resist going back to your very own article in the first issue of the Menknit zine.

Let's see. You referred to Stitch 'n' Bitch (the book) thusly: "Among its many virtues: it’s cheap. If you buy it, try knitting, and hate it, you won’t have shelled out more than a night’s beer money."

I still remember reading this the first time (hence my ability to find it again) and thinking, "beer money?? Since when does Franklin think of anything in terms of 'a night's beer money'???"

As I peruse further, I note that the following passages also appear in the selfsame article:

"[E.Z.] encourages fearless, independent decisions about knitting based on intuition, cleverness, and experience. (Scary? Nah. You’re a man, right? So knit like one.)"

"[With Mary Thomas,] you’re gonna have to sweat."

"I was sore as a Marine who has just finished boot camp, but just as proud. You know how it is, boys. No pain, no gain. The minute these bruises clear up, I’m going to tackle sock number two. And this time, I’m taking the helmet off."

Oh, Franklin.

C'mon, admit it, you just might have butched up that article a little.

Is this one of those times when you want to shake me? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Who cares if you're "butch" or not? You knit LACE!!! Not only that, you're designing!!!! I have tried both, and failed - not given up, just failed. My lace ended up looking like a REALLY bad macrame project, and every time I even THINK about designing something, my head explodes. You, sir, are my HERO!!!! :D

jenifleur said...

I'm just dropping by to say that I heard your piece on Cast On (yes, I'm behind. I'm catching up, though) and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

I always bristle a little at the "knitting isn't just for grannies" news *bulletins*. Everyone seems so eager to categorize and label everything and tie a neat little bow on it. I don't understand why they care so much who's knitting and for what reasons and what that makes them.

Here's a label for you: One hell of a fine knitter.

Anonymous said...

Yonkele: Yes, I think we all must agree that you are as butch as you are ever going to be. But I think we disagree that your lack of stereotypically masculine affectations is somehow a disappointment. You, dear Yonkel, are a fine example of manhood. Bless you.

Now quit blogging and start knitting. It's an election year, Babycakes!

the fiddlin' fool said...

I actually enjoy lace knitting. I haven't down anything as delicate as a shawl, but I have done some lace socks with tremendous success. There is something very satisfying about increasing and decreasing to come out even.

I actually have some lace-weight alpaca on the needles for a shawl, though it looks a bit more like alpaca vomit than a shawl.

Anonymous said...

You want butch knitting? Piecework Jan/Feb 2002, Vol.X No.1, pg.56ff: "Some Arizona Outlaws and Their Knitting", by Nancy Nebring and Mary Seubold Cahill. C.E.Hobert was a lifer in Yuma Territorial Prison, serving time for murder, with solitary for attempted escape and rule breaking. During his free time, Hobert knitted lace: collars, baby clothes, a tablecloth and a piano scarf are in the archives. Several other male prisoners are also known to have made lace. And one female prisoner, the only known female stagecoach robber.

I'd rather you didn't imitate him too completely; knitting lace is manly enough.

I join those eagerly awaiting the stole.

birdfarm said...

Marilyn, just for the record, I totally agree. I thought it was a great article and perfect for the inaugural issue. He didn't compromise his voice, just used some metaphors that would be familiar to his audience. I just felt like tweaking Franklin's toes a little. Hope it is taken in the spirit in which it's meant.

Anonymous said...

Franklin, my most favorite people know who they are and are proud of it, no matter what. I so admire that ability, not everyone has it. If it's anything that makes me not want to hang around someone, it pretentiousness and phoniness. By pretentiosness I mean pretending you are something you are not, not having lovely manners. Not the same thing, I think you understand. BTW, the wrap sounds wonderful!

Will Pillage For Yarn said...

The "omg it's so not gay!" theme in media is tiresome as is the theme that goes "OMFGWTF, men knitting! It is like a yak dancing Swan Lake! Alert the media!" Invariably, "not gay!" kicks in right after "yak with in toe shoes!" because... why? Que? I mean, where does it even factor in? WHO CARES??

Okay now I have this mental image of a big gay yak in a tutu but that's just me and I am insufficiently caffeinated and some mornings are like that. Moving on.

You make things of singular shininess. Carry on with that.

Katy said...

Along with Valerie, I also do not patronize that store. If you come back to NYC, go to Boys Night at The Point. They won't try to force macho "back-slapping" on anyone and I hear they are getting a beer license soon...

Anonymous said...

On the matter of knitting words into lace, there is also a method where your letters are little solid blocks in a section of openwork--rather like filet crochet.

The counterpart to men knitting manly things is women athletes wearing girly clothes to compete. Women curlers and golfers in cute little kilts and skorts seem to be the worst offenders.

Anonymous said...

I thought the men were a bit tooooo eager to prove they weren't gay myself ;>

I'm originally from Maine, I'd love to see the scarf when finished

Susan said...

Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! I am most excited about the State of Maine Stole! I'll have to go to the next State of the State address and wear it proudly. :) A thought about the edges (mountains). The mountains in Maine are more undulating and curvy than pointed and peaky. Don't know if that will make a difference in the pattern you choose, but it seems like it might be nice to know.

Anonymous said...

I love the way lace's only job is to be lace and pretty. We don't require paintings to be useful or statues, do we? Reminder to self: knit more lace and less sensible childrens jumpers because knitting doesn't need justifying. You've encouraged me to be braver. My persecuters say"knitting - you'll never wear that here in our heat". I still have no smart reply after all these years.

Anonymous said...

I think you're right about all the articles about "Men Knit!"

I've not yet tried lace, but hope to get there before summer. I tend to knit toys instead. That stole idea is pretty cool. Wouldn't you just chart out yarn overs or something similar for the letters? (Again, keeping in mind I know little about lace.)

Anonymous said...

Lace is complex stuff requiring concentration, attention to detail, and masses of manual dexterity.

Who needs to be mas macho when you have the capacity for those three things???

Anonymous said...

What's a Yonkele ?

Anonymous said...

Ted, Thank You for asking! I was about to myself.

Franklin & Susan - could you please ask your parents to adopt me? At least for long enough for Franklin to decide he wants to knit me a shawl?...

SO much thought going into that piece. You are a fantastic brother. Can't wait to see it.

Lucia said...

Franklin, if you don't know the State of Maine Song, you should. What Roger Vinton Snow (that last name cannot be a coincidence) expressed so perfectly bombastically in song, you propose to say stunningly in lace.

Would you please adopt me and make me a lace hat?

Anonymous said...

At the very real risk of sounding like a Billy Joel song...just the way you are, sugar, just the way you are. I, for one, am SO glad you're not going to try to be butch.

(god, the yak in toeshoes...I'm dying over here...;-)))

Anyway, you're loved by a whole bunch of people exactly as you be, my friend, so shave the damned stubble and go knit something pretty so we can watch and be astonished at your brilliance simply because it's Franklin's brilliance. Mwah.

(on that note, I think I need a new motorcycle jacket.)

Anonymous said...

Honey, I'd be more worried about the guys who are lying to themselves than the folks who know and love who they are.

At Christmas my brother-in-law showed us photos of him and three of his colleagues in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (BIL is not a mountie, he's a civilian working on crime databases) who dressed up in tights and pink tulle tutus to raise money at lunchtime for a coworker with cancer. Those large, confident men danced around the cafeteria and had fun and made a pile of money.

Real men come in all shapes, sizes and styles. Whatever.

And you will have such fun knitting the pine cone pattern. It bumps up like eggcrates before it's blocked!

Judith in Ottawa

Anonymous said...

I live in Maine, and even I don't know the state song! Of course, I didn't go to grade school here, which is where they teach all that stuff.

Hopefully your sister will never have to meet me professionally (I'm an ER vet in Portland), but if she ever brings her dogs in to see me, you can bet I'll be asking her to bring the stole by for a look-see. :-)

Elemmaciltur said...

Yeah...sissies. I'm usually the only guy in the SnB group here...sometimes there's this other guy there...although I'm not sure whether he's gay or not...I think he is, because my gaydar went off mildly. :p I don't really care about those homophobes who need to exclaim that "Just because I knit, it doesn't mean that I'm gay", just as long as they leave me alone.

Hmmmmm...seeing as because you knit REAL laces. I wonder if you could help me. Just go and read about my woes HERE

Anonymous said...

hi franklin--

non blog related-- i just received my "marge" long sleeved tee shirt--(which i wore to work at my LYS), i love it! as did the patrons of the store--thanks for putting it on a shirt so quickly--have a good week! bess

Maureen said...

Who gives a darn whether you're butch gay or just troppo?
I just wish I lived in a climate conducive to knitting and that I could knit lace,crochet up a storm,or even be moderately successful with needle tatting.
And thanks to Jane of Quiddity for introducing me to your blog!
Maureen in Queensland!

City Wiccan said...

that reminds me . . . I just take out that article that I interviewed you for and submit it for publication.

Anonymous said...

I have had the most effed up week you can imagine. Thank you for making me laugh out loud for the first time in DAYS.

Anonymous said...

What if it was an article about "GASP! Some gay men like to drink beer and watch sports! OMG, gender role confusion!" Would we find that offensive? Absolutely. The reporter in question would probably be sacked. So why is it considered okay to publish an article "GASP! Straight men knit! OMG!"?

FWIW, the first knitter I ever knew in person was my roommate Allen, who was straight, and had learned to knit while stationed on a submarine in the Navy. Whenever The Topic came up, he would just shrug and say "I like knitting." And that would pretty much be the end of the conversation. It was great to watch: "What are you, some kinda fruit?!" "*shrug* I like knitting." (Pause.) "Oh."

Amie said...

.... yes to everything above, but...

Will the Maine stole pattern be for sale? It really should be......

Liz said...

Hi Franklin!

Another mid-western here. (MN)

My friend had your site linked on her blog and I'm glad I swung by.

My dad knitted, learned from his mom, and he would help me when I got stuck when I was just learning. I have taught people to knit, bith men and women, boys and girls. One weekend I had 1 teenager and 1 10 year old (both guys) learning garter stitch. I don't really understand the mistique about knitting and the gender issue but then I have always liked building forts and working with tools...

Can't wait to see the wrap you are making for your sister! She is very lucky, it sounds beautiful!

Sherry W said...

All this time I was under the foolish misunderstanding that being gay or straight was about the partners you pursue, not with the hobbies you pursue!

Anonymous said...

You're obviously butch to a point, dear. (or, rather, two)

Anonymous said...

You know Franklin, I don't know about the manager at Knit NY. I think they're on some b.s. Besides, talking about delicate, what about Rosie (remember him?)Grier's needlepoint? Don't get me started.

My dad wore lace and ruffled shirts in the 60's ala Sammy Davis Jr. (my dad was the same size and a bit of a player), hence my affection for lace on men. Now, I want to design lace polo shirts for men in the summer. With all this darn confusion, what am I going to do?

goblinbox said...

"...the Liberace/Rex Reed end of the Kinsey scale."


Jay said...

You know, I have to say that no matter how much the press decries it, the majority of men who knit will be gay... at least for the next few decades. The simple fact is that knitting is viewed as a feminine occupation, and therefore very few straight men will show any interest in the craft, let alone pick up sticks and join in the clicking.
I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing because it MEN knitting that is important, not the sexuality of the men wielding said pointy sticks. As long as men are knitting, then contemporary, truly wearable patterns for men will continue to emerge.
And if you're a lace knitter then every person that knits - regardless of their sex or sexuality - will hold you in awe!

Anonymous said...

Dear Franklin:

I am a native Mainer living in Hawai'i so I'd love to see your Dirigo scarf if you get the pattern together sometime. Meanwhile, the former rabbi at our local synagogue (in Honolulu) has a crocheted yarmulke with the state motto around the edge -- complete with 'okina and kahako. I have been trying to reproduce the chart so I can make one for my fiance.

Kate (also a college friend of Birdfarm, Dr. Faustus, etc. but seem to have missed meeting you, sorry!)

Anonymous said...


This is a fantastic blog, btw, the only one I get consistent enjoyment from reading. Anyway, inspired by you, I'm wanting to move from the "knit things that are useful" camp into the "knit things that are pretty" camp, and finally try my hand at lace (which I've avoided up until now partly because I hate blocking and I understand that one must block the hell out of lace -- but I am now intrigued enough that I'm willing to suck it up and just block).

So I'm wondering - do you have any tips or advice for a novice lace knitter? Any projects you'd recommend to start? Any books to which you are particularly partial, that would also be helpful to the beginner?

On an unrelated note - I see from your 100 Things list that Nellie Melba is your favorite acoustic era singer. I couldn't name a single favorite myself, but if forced to narrow my list to five, Melba would definitely be among them (and I was gratified to see her among the "Bad Girls" in the Women's History Month Smackdown). My boyfriend loves her - if possible - even more than I do; Nellie Melba, in fact, sort of helped bring us together (but that's a longer story than I'll go into here). I envy you your Victrola -- we have a stack of 78s, but nothing to play them on.

I hope that you see this comment, even though it is attached to an older entry -- I would have emailed this to you, but could not find an email address for you at the blogsite. If you have any info in response to my questions, you can email it to me if you like: Many thanks, both for any advice and for the funny and inspiring blog.

All the best,

PS - Here's the blogsite of a straight man who knits lace:

Anonymous said...

Lace isn't sissy! See, doilies are lace, right? Well, they were made to protect chairs from the pomades and the like MEN used. It's like making a tarp and putting it on the chair to protect it from paint splatter!


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