Bryant Park

Video: Crafty Men Unwind With Knitting

August 25, 2014
Jennifer Weiss, Wall Street Journal

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From left to right, Ed Rodriguez, Wallace Bass Boyd and Mark Ludwig at Bryant Park on Aug. 5.
Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

Three-quarters of the way through his project, Mark Ludwig realized he had a problem.

The former restaurant manager picked up the six-inch pea-green blanket square he had been knitting and got up from his chair to look for help.

“It’s just a little dropped stitch, but we’re in the perfection business here, you’re trying to make a perfect square,” he explained.

Mr. Ludwig was one of some 70 people attending a Tuesday afternoon knitting session in Bryant Park, most of them women. But he is one of a small number of men who come out regularly, taking part in what has been viewed, at least in the modern era, as a mostly female pursuit.

The group, which is making blanket squares for charity and has its last session of the season on Tuesday, is presented by Knitty City, a yarn shop on the Upper West Side. The store hosts a weekly gathering of its own for men who knit and crochet.

Knitty City’s owner, Pearl Chin, started the men’s group because she saw women knitting whenever and wherever they wanted, while men seemed to knit on their own.

“This is something that we really encouraged and nurtured,” she said.

The Craft Yarn Council estimates that out of more than 30 million people who knit or crochet in the U.S., about 2 million are men and boys. Mary Colucci, the group’s executive director, said she believes the number of male knitters is growing.

“I think the meeting up in bars and bookstores and wherever has really opened it up, because it’s become so much more visible,” she said.

A male knitter works on his project at a class in Bryant Park.
Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

One regular at Knitty City’s men’s night is Wallace Bass Boyd, 48, who said he believes knitting makes him more patient and helps him focus in a different way. His fascination with color and fashion began when his mother, a seamstress, took him to a fabric store as a boy.

Mr. Boyd knits at home and in public spaces like the subway, where he said it is always a conversation-starter, as well as with groups.

“Men who knit need community, and in that group it’s nothing special to be a man knitting,” he said.

Mr. Boyd also attends a coed group at Riverside Library and a men-only group at Lion Brand Yarn Studio, which meets monthly at its store near Union Square.

Darrin Morris taught himself how to knit and now is an instructor at Lion Brand and the leader of the store’s men’s night, which is scheduled to meet next on Sept. 11. He said the attendees range in age from early 20s to 60s, and as many as two dozen have attended.

“People are surprised that so many men do fiber crafts, but they are out there,” said Claire Cromwell, a store manager.

Jersey City knitting shop 2 Stix & A String has mostly female customers but a handful of male regulars, according to owner Karen Garrity. The knitting men in her life include a friend who is making a vest for his son and her boyfriend. She taught both of them.

“He’ll sit there with a Harley-Davidson shirt on and he knits,” she said of her boyfriend.

“It’s sort of a therapy for people,” Ms. Garrity said. “Women and men, we talk about everything in here.”

But for many, men and women alike, knitting is a more solitary pursuit. Jared Flood, 32, turned his love of knitting into a business—he founded and owns the yarn and knitwear design company Brooklyn Tweed—but said he isn’t a particularly “social knitter,” in part because he doesn’t like the attention that knitting in public can bring.

“I think for men who are knitting, there’s such a stigma with it still,” he said.

While the company’s primary market is women, Brooklyn Tweed is working on its second men’s collection, due out next year. Mr. Flood said he wanted to provide stylish patterns for men, and women who knit for men, because he came across so few on his own.

Terry Sullivan knits during the class.
Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

“There’s so much less quality, fashionable stuff in that industry for guys, it’s even more of a need, even more of a hole to fill,” he said. “That’s one of the things that really excites me.”

The weekly gatherings at Bryant Park, part class and part hangout, reintroduced Mr. Ludwig to knitting this summer. He had learned to knit as a boy, taught by a baby sitter, but hadn’t been back to it in decades.

Now, Mr. Ludwig finds himself chastising friends who invite him to play Candy Crush Saga on Facebook: Better they learn how to knit.

“There’s no accomplishment,” he said of the puzzle video game. “This at least you have to pay some attention, it’s great dexterity for your fingers.”