These days, the first thing a lot of non-knitters picture when they hear the word “knitting” is someone’s kindly grandmother in a rocking chair, needles clicking away. But that wasn’t always the case! When knitting first arrived in and spread through Europe in the Middle Ages, it fell under the jurisdiction of established guilds for handwork, where professionals—men—were required to study the craft for years to progress from journeyman to master. (Ordinary women learning to knit for themselves and their families, probably thanks in part to leakage of industry secrets, seems to have been something of a labor revolution.) Even after knitting spread all the way to Scandinavia and the Baltic, it was still common for men to engage in all kinds of fibercrafts; shepherds could use long quiet hours in the fields productively, and walking from place to place was time that could be spent knitting!
“A Knitting Fisherman” by Julius Exner from Traditional Danish Sweaters.
A Jutland Shepherd on the Heath, 1855, by Frederik Vermehren
Today, knitting’s popularity among just about everybody is on the rise, and men who knit are everywhere, including TSB books! Take Arne & Carlos, the fan-favorite Scandinavian knitting superstars. Both grew up with knitting and crochet all around them and picked up handcrafts readily. As fashion designers, they’d been running their own label for years before they started to notice that their knit designs had the most flair, got the best response—and were the most fun for them, too.
“We discovered what we really wanted to do was right in front of our noses the whole time,” they say, and they promptly turned knit design into a career of 15 years and counting, with inspiration drawn from everything from wildlife in their own backyard to vintage Mexican embroidery, and over half a dozen books to their names.
Martin Storey was taught to knit when he was young, inspired by a teacher who saw nothing unusual in passing along a love of handcrafts to girls and boys alike—and is now one of the best-known knit designers in the world. It took years, and dedicated encouragement from a friend who was an art student, for him to pursue his love of knitting and turn it into a lifelong career. His work for influential yarn and knitwear design companies like Artwork and Rowan has led to multiple stunning pattern collections, and 10 books and counting, showcasing his love for cables, contrasts, and dynamic colorwork. Martin is a master at his craft and knows what knitters want—together with a fantastic eye for texture and color, this guarantees his garments are a joy to look at, to knit and, most importantly, to wear.
Ivar Asplund learned the basics from his grandmother when he was just five years old and found himself smitten right away. He loved to look at the projects she was working on, asking her to explain how she’d made them—and the answers were never as complicated as he feared. His grandmother taught him not only how to knit, how to work cables, and how to construct sweaters, but also to be willing to try new things and take risks: you’ll always learn something in the attempt, even if the results aren’t perfect the first time around! This has led him to favor deft, complex colorwork patterns, and stunning combinations of intertwined cables. Ivar’s grandmother passed away when he was 17, “but she continues to be with me in all my projects,” he says, “because handwork was how we talked to each other.” His first book to be made available in English, CABLE KNITS FROM NORDIC LANDS, is dedicated to her memory.
No matter how knitting might have come into your life, it’s worth inviting it to stay: knitting is enjoyable, relaxing, and productive, and all you need to get started is one pair of needles and a skein of yarn (even if you end up with … a little more than that, before you’re done!). It’s been both men’s industry and women’s work, and at the end of the day its appeal is undeniably universal.
Who do you know who might love to learn to knit—or might need encouragement to give it another try?
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Trafalgar Square Books, publisher of fine equestrian and craft books, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.