Grit Blogs > Rural Legend

The Manly Art of Knitting

Brent and LeAnna Alderman StersteAs I believe I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve always been a bit of an odd duck. While my hobbies are arguably charming in an adult, they are undeniably quirky in a child. From teaching myself to bake bread in 4th grade to getting a pasta roller for my 12th birthday, I was a collector of unusual hobbies. The winner in this string of strangeness, however, was the fact that I, as a grade-school boy, learned to knit.

vintage proof that I’m not the only man who knits.I grew up in a house full of women. And perhaps even more formatively, I grew up in a church full of old ladies. While my high school peers were out partying in the woods, I was sipping soup at luncheons. The fact that the gang I ran with couldn’t run anymore never really fazed me. So I adapted to their culture – meaning I brought my knitting along to meetings, cranking out lopsided scarves for family members who graciously accepted – and even occasionally wore – them.

Eventually, in a desire to masculinize my hobbies, I gave up knitting and tried my hand at whittling and at wiring oil lamps for electricity. I had very moderate success at both of these, but found that wood shavings and metal shards were not as welcome on the living room rug as were the tufts of fluff left behind after a long night of knitting.

A few years later, however, when my wife was pregnant with our first child, I felt this need to knit. I don’t know if it was some kind of weird, empathetic nesting instinct, but I wanted to create for my child – crafting with my own hands something that would warm and comfort her. As an aside: I did, somewhere along the line, decide that at the very least, I needed a more manly knitting bag – and I picked up a Sears Craftsman tool bag – very manly and durable, if perhaps a bit at odds with its original purpose.

Ella in her homemade blanket and hat, ready to come home from the hospital.

My wife, LeAnna and I have been thinking a lot lately about work. We’ve been wondering if perhaps we’ve been mis-educated to believe that avoidance of manual labor is the pinnacle of education and evolution – that to prove that we’ve arrived in the world, we should work with our heads and not our hands.  What we’re wondering is whether that system has steered us wrong, disconnecting us not even so much from our heritage, but from some essential part of who we are as people. That as people, we were made to create. That on some level people were meant to work for their food. And that, similarly, part of our care not just for ourselves but for each other involves a physical act of creating. In my Eastern European family, that often involves cooking food for each other – and, of course, applying a liberal dose of guilt until the person eats it.

Similarly, I think my experience with the baby blanket was about that same impulse – the need to use my hands to physically contribute to the well-being of my unborn child. And for me, that had to be more than simply bringing home a paycheck that pays the mortgage. So when we found out we were expecting our second daughter, I was not at all surprised to find myself at the craft store, picking out the perfect yarn for the blanket in which we’d take her home from the hospital. Into that blanket, I knit more than a cabled pattern of blended angora – instead, it was knit with hope, and love, and just a fair dose of hard work.

Mabel in her homemade blanket and hat.