Knitting is for old ladies

Why does knitting get more ridicule and derision than other crafts? It’s an art form that requires creativity, dexterity, an eye for color, patience, and serious math skills. It’s been embraced by men and woman alike, by traditional artists as well as those who like to take tradition and turn it on its ear. It’s a skill used by people of all ages, including children as young as 5. Historically, it’s a skill that was taught to most young kids. It’s a craft that has followers of all ages, races and genders. We have grandmas and teenagers. We have soccer moms and hipsters. We have all kinds of guys who have discovered the joy of yarn crafting.

So why does the notion of “knitting is for old ladies” persist? We don’t tell young men to stop building furniture, that woodworking is for old men. We don’t tell teenagers that painting is only for adults. We don’t tell girls that photography is only for boys. We don’t stifle the creative urges for any other art form (that I can think of or have experienced).    

I finished a new book last night, “On The Rocks” by Erin Duffy. It was a fun read about a thirtyish woman who had gotten dumped and was trying to find her way back to the dating world. She had a guy friend “helping” her, and when she mentioned she had a weekly group, she was embarrassed to admit that it was a knitting group. Of course he immediately told her she had to stop knitting if she hoped to get a man. She liked knitting. Why in the world would she want a guy so narrow-minded as to reject her for a hobby she enjoyed?

Maybe you think I’m being too sensitive, too picky. That doesn’t really happen…right? My daughter learned to crochet shortly after I did. She found that she enjoyed taking a project on the school bus with her. The kids asked questions, some of them stupid (“What are you knitting?” Her: “I’m not knitting, I’m crocheting”) but mostly it was no big deal. The only one who made fun of her was one of her best friends. She consistently razzed Katie about bringing yarn to school. She actually told Katie that she would never get a boyfriend if kept doing that.

When I started to crochet, most of my friends and family were supportive. A few joked about my new housewife tendencies, since I had recently started cooking too. But I also had the one friend who ribbed me about being old, who told me to “put away [my] knitting, Grandma”.

(Now that I’m writing this, I’m realizing that maybe my daughter and I are not focusing on the right friends!)

There’s also the idea that yarn crafts are a mindless hobby, something that people just pick up and do without any thought or skill. The author Jane Green, whose books I typically enjoy, wrote a Facebook post about how she was insulted when people asked if she was still writing. Here’s an excerpt:

“Have to agree with Ms Steele: it is bizarrely patronizing to be asked, ‘are you still writing?’, as if it is, indeed, a hobby that you pick up and put down, like knitting. Never mind the fact that yes, I am still writing because a) it is my job, b) I love what I do, and c) someone has to pay for four children to go through college..”

I understand her basic point. Yes, it’s an insulting question. But she just did the same thing to knitters (and crocheters). I have found so many yarn crafters who are making a living from their ‘hobby’. There’s Marly Bird and Vickie Howell and Drew Emborsky and Gregory Patrick and Moogly and so many more. And what about Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and Clara Parkes and others who make a living from knitting AND writing about it??

Of course there are many, many others who do support knitting as a hobby, something to supplement the joy in their daily life. Knitting is profoundly relaxing and has actually been suggested as one small part of a treatment plan for depression. Creating something yourself, with just a bit of string and a stick or two, is so rewarding. There’s a lot more math in knitting than I realized at first, and working through the number problems of altering a pattern has forced me to use parts of my brain I haven’t used in quite a while. It’s hard sometimes, but man, does it feel good when I do it!

We have come a long way. Yarn crafts are hugely popular and the art of knitting and crochet is growing in unexpected, joyful ways as a result of all the wonderful, different people who have come to embrace it. There is yarnbombing now. There are calls to Knit in Public (which I do proudly without needing a nudge). There are books with new and unusual slants to reflect the changing styles of knitting, books like Goth Knits, Bags that Rock, Vampire Knits and Charmed Knits.

But still. There are those sad, unenlightened people who are afraid to open their minds. Those people who still look at someone knitting and think (or say), “Why are you doing THAT? Only old ladies do that!”

What’s the best answer for that question? How do you respond to someone belittling your craft?

3 thoughts on “Knitting is for old ladies

  1. LoL … my hubby’s guilty of most of that – in good fun. He tells everybody I knit when I’m crocheting, and when I’m not paying him enough attention he calls me a grandma; or that only grandmas knit. He doesn’t say it that often any more, since I never paid any attention to what he was telling me, anyway. His sister is also in the crafts – she knits, crochets, sews, quilts, etc. So I think he knows that we’re too far gone into the crafts for him to make any difference when he says anything.
    As to your question on responding to anybody belittling the craft – I counter with asking them what their hobby is or something that they really like doing, then ask them why they do it. In essence, turning their questions back on them. Then I tell them that maybe they should stop working on their hobby, because nobody thinks it’s a worthwhile effort (or something to that effect). If it even gets them to stop and think for a minute, or to argue back at me, then I know that I’ve made a point that will hopefully stay with them. It’s worked with my boys – I told them that when they stop buying or playing video games, then I will stop buying yarn!

    • I like your response–turning the question back on them. It hasn’t happened too much to me yet since I’m relatively new to knitting. But when it does, I hope to be able to reply like you, in a way that at least makes them think. Thankfully my husband is a woodworker, so he understands the many benefits of crafting. But he also understands the joy of stashing! He can’t say a thing about my yarn stash because I know how much wood & how many tools he has! 🙂

      • Guilty as charged! 🙂

        There’s a perception among woodworkers that it’s an old man’s pursuit, something to do in retirement, but it seems to be a notion perpetuated by men of a certain age who don’t really want to include younger people for fear of falling behind in some other part of life.

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