Women’s knitting circles have a long history beyond our grandmothers’ favorite pastime, but men’s roles in knitting have had a long history, too. In the Middle Ages, there were knitting guilds, essentially labor unions, which prohibited women from joining. When the knitting machine was invented in the 16th century, hand knitting by both men and women declined.
Today, in an automated age where handmade is rare, hand knitting is making its revival as an artisanal craft. At the beginning of 2017, I, a woman, signed up for a beginners’ knitting class at Downtown Yarns in New York City. It wasn’t billed as an all women’s knitting circle, but no men joined and that’s what it became. But there are men who are knitting these days—there are even men leading these new knitting circles.
36-year-old New York City-based Josh Bennett is the unofficial poster boy of men who knit. With over 35,000 Instagram followers, you can find him knitting shirtless in the Maldives, knitting with his French bulldog Schubert, knitting, knitting, knitting…a lot of knitting photos for someone who told the New York Times in 2014 that he will not knit in public.
“I’ve gotten better about that,” he explained on the phone. Not wanting to knit in public wasn’t about masculinity, but a matter of losing focus. People were coming up to him to talk about knitting, which he enjoys, but also distracts from his work. “I travel a lot, so I like to knit on planes,” he said. “It’s like a mobile office. I get to catch up on movies and someone brings me food.”
Bennett has done everything in the knitwear industry besides herding his own sheep: he has run several New York City knitting stores, created patterns for Vogue Knitting, taught courses across the United States for Vogue Knitting Live, got a traditional degree in Menswear Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, worked at Tommy Hilfiger as a designer, created his own line, and collaborated with brands like Marvel Studios, for whom he created a Thor-inspired sweater collection. While he does outsource some of his large-scale production, he does a fair amount knitting by himself between 5am and 1am.
You can also catch him—live!—if you live in New York City. Bennett leads Knit at Nite on Tuesdays at Alan Cumming’s new venue, Club Cumming, in the East Village. From 5pm to 6pm, you can take a beginners’ class with Bennett. Afterwards, stick around for the drinks and camaraderie while you stitch—sometimes, there are even visiting knitwear celebrities like Vickie Howell of The Knit Show. Club Cumming is explicitly “welcome to people of all ages, genders and sexualities,” and Knit at Nite is open to all levels of knitters. “Once a week, I get to work with 30 to 60 knitters and to help them and see what they’re doing,” Bennett said. “To me, it’s all about the story. Every piece that you make has a story behind it.”
Bennett first learned to knit from his grandmother, but for men—and women—who didn’t learn from our relatives, there is still time. At The Wool Tree in South Lake Tahoe, California, there are snowboarders who want to make their own winter gear. There are men who, yes, take up knitting as “babe magnets.” (Hollywood heartthrobs Ryan Gosling and Nicholas Hoult have both gone public with their knitting hobbies.) And there are men-only groups, like the Hombres Tejedores in Santiago, Chile, which just want to teach men how to make beautiful things. “Someone took the time to sit and follow instructions and physically create something that you can wear with two sticks and a piece of string,” Bennett said, explaining the appeal.
Or you can just sign up for an after-work knitting class like I did. You might be the only man there, but I promise, we purl, not bite.