Photo Credit: Flickr Wolfgang Lonien
There’s a hidden secret which I want to share with you today. I’ve heard whispers of it from time to time, been told stories, read about it in history books and glimpsed it with my own eyes... are you ready?
Men used to knit! And embroider and net and pretty much do all sorts of craft, which women mostly do now.
Let me offer three tiny pieces of evidence:
1. I recently read a great book called Swing by Sailor: True Stories From the War Brides of HMS Victorious by Catherine Dyson. It tells the story of 700 Australian wives of British servicemen, how they met their husbands, their journey to England on a British navy ship in 1946 and their lives in the UK. It was a long and boring voyage so all sorts of entertainment was sought. One war bride, Irene Real recalls:
“We had a craft competition and everyone had to enter something for it, so I got involved... a petty officer won the competition; he had done this beautiful tablecloth of pansies, and he’d padded them out. His work was minutely perfect - stitch for stitch it was so perfect. Their knitting was beautiful, and their paintings, and it was the first time I saw tatting. The sailors did them because of the time they spend on board. It was just exquisite.”
2. Captain Harville in Jane Austen’s Persuasion uses his spare time at home to net fishing nets.
3. The National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, UK celebrates the “long history of crafts in the Navy” noting that men used to knit and stitch pictures, slippers and toys for their children.
I know that there are some men who still happily knit and the creative crafty male community is alive and strong. Yet I fear today it is far more acceptable to teach a young girl to knit or sew than a young boy. I once taught a class of five year olds to sew at a historic homestead: a class full of little girls and not one boy in sight.
I’m curious: when did men and knitting needles part ways?
As a young child in the 1980s, I remember an elderly family friend proudly showing off his very good embroidery: his retirement hobby. But even then, he was rare.
Further back, a relative of mine who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s remembers that men were always making something in her childhood. It wasn’t unusual to see a man knitting or making something. They would often carry a knife and whittle wood into whistles or toys. She recalls though by about the mid-1960s you just didn’t see men “making stuff.”
So what happened? Why did they stop?