The Men Reimagining Craft in 2021
It has been 7 years since Brendan Girak saw his mum knitting and decided he wanted to give it a go, a craft which has recently gaining him a lot of attention on social media. Brendan started sharing his ‘knitting addiction’ on Instagram in 2017 which bloomed during Covid-19 to a following of over 64,000 as more of us began to take up the craft in lockdown and look for project inspiration.
We asked if Brendan thinks that he has managed to inspire anyone with his enthusiasm for the craft; “I assume I have. I get a lot of messages and comments saying that I have inspired them to knit again…I don’t strive to be inspiring but it’s a nice by-product of me knitting…I think that’s what I really enjoy about it now. I can knit and the rest follows”. Whether intentional or not, Brendan has undoubtedly inspired countless people to pick up their knitting needles again, or for the first time.
We have all been spending a lot more time around our houses lately, so unsurprisingly, many of us are looking to take up new, creative hobbies. But certain crafts, such as knitting, have long been viewed in a gender-specific way, with knitting and sewing typically viewed as domestic chores rather than artforms. Tragically, the persistence of out-dated, chauvinistic attitudes still discourage some men from considering having a go themselves.
There is plenty of evidence that it hasn’t always been this way – men have enjoyed and participated in such crafts throughout history. Both men and women were involved in the expanding textiles trade in the Middle Ages but it was mainly men who were involved in making extravagantly embroidered garments for the royalty during the Middle Ages.
You may also have seen photos of men knitting in hospitals and trenches in the world wars.
Knitting and sewing has been used by military men for centuries to improve their kits, and knitting in particular as a form of therapy for recovering soldiers restricted to hospital beds.
Men have been innovators within the textiles and fashion industry and have been sewing and working as tailors for hundreds of years.
Today, craft has never been a more widespread trend in Menswear fashion, from the famous knitted JW Anderson cardigan worn by Harry Styles, replicated by knitters worldwide, to the patchwork and embroidered fabrics used by menswear brands Bode and Story MFG. Look on the Story MFG website and you will find their products categorised under the handmade processes and natural dyes used to make the clothes. Their S/S21 collection is full of garments accented with crochet and hand-printed details. There is also an intentionally handmade feel to many of the accessories on the virtual catwalks at the moment, including Nicholas Daley’s crochet bags and Fendi’s knitted crochet beanie hat. During lockdown 1 designer Reese Cooper released several craft kits and YouTube tutorials for making his chore jacket design*, perhaps inspired by the success of the JW Anderson pattern which empowered potential customers to make the design themselves. A chore jacket made by a fan was even featured in the brand’s Spring 2021 show.
Crafting communities developing on social platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have created an accessible and largely inclusive space for projects to be shared by new and experienced makers alike. Often viewed as a negative space, social media has in fact been a supportive place for makers to post their work and inspire others to do the same.
The bright knits and Brendan Girak’s skill for knitting stand out but we couldn’t help but notice that he is one of very few male knitters on the platform, and presumably elsewhere too. “It’s not easy being a minority in any industry or walk of life” Brendan agrees “but I definitely feel it provides you with more opportunities to stand out. I was extremely nervous being a male knitter at the start”. Despite the trepidation he had for posting, as a self-professed introvert, Brendan says he has “received much more support from other people” which has helped him develop his confidence in sharing his work. Brendan also highlights that knitting can cater for men’s many different style preferences. Looking at Brendan’s Instagram, it is clear that, in creating for himself, the finished products have real meaning and add value to his wardrobe. The clothes he creates aren’t just for fun, but a reflection of his style. Brendan is confident in his fashion sense, something which his knitwear reflects.
When asked by a follower to suggest ways that men can be made to feel more welcome to try knitting, Girak advised that they be treated like any other knitter and also suggested to the knitting shop owner that fashionable patterns are key. The appearance of the kit or project matters as much of the appeal of knitting or making something arises from an interest in using the end product. It is much more exciting to be making something which has relevance in your day to day life.
And what has Girak gained himself from learning the craft himself? “I think I've gained a hell of a lot of confidence that I never had. I've found a passion and an outlet to express myself…it has given me a direction for my life”.
Another avid maker sharing his crafted projects on Instagram is world champion diver Tom Daley. Looking at the extent and range of his projects, from jumpers for himself and family, to accessories for his boys, and even releasing his own patterns, it’s hard to think that Tom only started knitting and crochet at the start of lockdown! His enthusiasm for both knitting and crochet is seriously contagious.
Music producer and multi-instrumentalist, Henri Purnell, similarly started embroidery to customise his own clothes during the first lockdown of 2020. Henri took to social media and YouTube to share his new love of the craft, featuring tutorials on crochet and jewellery making, to knitting and embroidery, growing his following to over 73k on Instagram and an even bigger 531.8k on Tiktok (@henripurnell). Like Brendan Girak, Purnell has adapted the craft to fit his personal style in such a seamless and natural way, that it seems perfectly right, and effortlessly transcends any gender stereotyping. That gender should be mentioned at all underlines that there is still a conversation to be had and work to be done.
Crafts shouldn’t be constrained to the boundaries of traditional design, nor the expectations of a society still falling short on gender equality. All crafts should be accessible to everyone who wants to give them a try. What we make can be adapted to our own personal style. Craft is ultimately just the means for creating something beautiful and functional, but the method and purpose is, of course, a matter of personal choice.