Not your grandmother’s garter stitch

🕔Jan 27, 2010

Michael Hurwitz kicks back at the Brown Eyed Girl Yarn Shop in Smithers and recalls his earliest knitting memories. His mother would sit in the local arena’s viewing area at his hockey practices, busily clickity-clacking away with her needles.

“I’d score a goal and look up and she’d still be knitting,” he remembers, with just a hint of irritation. “I remember watching my mom knit and it was like, cool—you rub sticks together and you get a sweater.”

Traditionally attributed to little old ladies and expectant mothers, needle-mania has experienced a resurgence in recent years with celebrity knitters, guerilla knitters and even Russell Crowe creating a stir when a photo of him knocking the needles appeared in the press. (Does he or doesn’t he? Knitting bloggers are dying to know!) The interweaving of fibre fashion and equal rights has led to a definite increase in men who knit.

“Knitting has definitely become more popular, and the guys that are into it are probably representative of that growth—and those rigid ideas are always breaking away. I just want to knit because my mom always knit and I thought it was cool to make stuff,” Hurwitz says, adding, “I’m not just doing it to impress the chicks.” (He admits, though, that mentioning his hobby does make the ladies melt.)

Indeed, today there are websites like, Facebook groups dedicated to men that knit, and books like Knitting with Balls and Men Who Knit and the Dogs who Love Them. While social stigma might encourage women to be knitters, men may actually more adept at the hobby. Knitting appeals to the male left-brain aptitude for construction, spatial ability, visualizing three-dimensionally and problem-solving.

“It appeals to the guy side—the nerdy guy side—of my brain. It amazes me that with just two stitches—purl or knit—there’s so many things you can do,” Hurwitz says. “The fisherman’s sweater is not because fishermen wore them necessarily, it’s because fishermen made them. Making nets is almost like knitting.”

Inspired by his love of homemade socks, Hurwitz started knitting two years ago and, a fisherman himself, took to it immediately. “For me it was easy because I tie flies, so I think it was an easy adaptation. Fly-tying has similar principles of tension and finger manipulation. The esthetic is the same to me too—balance and colour and texture,” he says.

Playing with sticks
While knitting is often a social pastime, Hurwitz says he’d rather do it while listening to CBC or watching Hockey Night in Canada. (Popular knitting website Ravelry has a group called Hockey Knit in Canada, he notes.) There’s a definite—perhaps obvious—connection between hockey and knitting. Late Canadian NHL goaltender Jacque Plante knitted his own toques as a young boy so he could play outside in the Quebec cold.

On Stuart McLean’s CBC radio show The Vinyl Café, Sam teaches his friends to knit:

Suddenly everyone wanted to knit. Suddenly knitting was the thing to do. The next weekend there was a hockey tournament in Whitby and Dave drove. They all sat in the back and they were all talking about hockey and the game and how they were going to cream the team from Whitby—the kind of stuff you’d expect to hear from a backseat of little boys—then one of them said, ‘Damn it! I dropped a stitch.’

Just imagine an entire bus of young knitters. Terrace Midget Rep hockey team player Reid Turner became interested in knitting from a friend. He made a few headbands, but found the needles frustrating. Then he discovered the Knifty Knitter, a loom designed for making toques.

“I made a couple toques like that at home, but we travel seven hours on the road so I started taking it on the hockey bus,” the 17-year-old says. “It just took off. Everyone started getting Knifty Knitters.”

With about 10 Knifty Knitters being shared around the tour bus, the team became a prolific toque producer, creating roughly 70 hats last season. Some they kept; others were given away, most notably to hockey icons Cassie Campbell and Kirk McLean.

“They liked it—they seemed pretty happy with it,” Turner says. “It was really fun.”

But male knitting isn’t just reserved for the athletic crowd. Smithers resident Larry Cosman has been in forestry for 35 years and remembers a time when knitting was a common subculture of the logging industry.

“A lot of those old Norwegian sweaters were done by men because working in wintertime was so hard on your hands. It was a way to work lanolin into your hands,” he says, remembering a pair of fallers he worked with in the early 1980s. “They both knitted. We’d hop in the truck and we had to drive, like, two hours to get to our sites and they would knit on the way up and on the way back.”

The loggers would make scarves, toques, sweaters—everything for staying warm in the winter. In particular, he remembers an old Swedish faller:

“He was one of these guys that came to Canada when he was 16 and started drinking two cases of beer and smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. He was this real hard-ass kinda guy,” he says. “But he’d be sitting knitting during his lunch—this huge guy with these huge hands.”

Knitting and imbibing
Hurwitz has also noted an interesting correlation between knitting and consuming alcohol. Two years ago, the local knitting store arranged a men’s Stitch n’ Scotch night and Hurwitz brought along three friends. “They just did it to humour me,” he says.

It soon became obvious that when more scotch was consumed, less knitting progress was made. One friend got so tipsy, as he staggered to the door he offered to pick up the evening’s yarn tab. “It was like he was buying a round of knitting,” Hurwitz remembers.
Two years later, Hurwitz isn’t just a regular at Brown Eyed Girl: now comfortable discussing famous knitting designers like Jared Flood, he also works in the store—something he describes as an interesting study in social perceptions. He’s often ignored by female customers, or has callers assume they’ve dialed the wrong number when he picks up the phone.

“It throws people,” he says. “I kind of like that.”

Store manager Ingrid Granlin estimates that 97 percent of the store’s clientele is female, but it’s hard to believe as we sit on the couches chatting.

Gavin Harrison, local carpenter and aspiring knitter, comes in to chat. Harrison, who has a handful of hemp dishrags to his knitting credit, was the first to put his name down for a men’s knitting night, planned for February. “When I got taught it was all I did. I watched movies and stayed up late knitting,” he says.

“I think men like knitting because it’s technical,” Granlin says. “It’s a form of building.”

“It’s like LEGO,” Harrison chimes in.

And it’s easy, Hurwitz points out: “It’s written down! I’m doing what I’m told, like any smart man does.”

More information about Brown Eyed Girl’s knitting nights can be found at _www.browneyedgirlyarn.com_ or by calling 847-1545.