Men bringing a new face

Written by New York Times | Updated: Jun 28 2009, 06:35am hrs
Elana Ashanti

Jefferson Dads are used to daughters baking cakes or knitting them scarves or socks on holidays like Fathers Day. But lately, more and more boys are needling their way into the female-dominated craft world.

Crafting is so ubiquitous now that its hard to put it into one demographic, says Victor Domine, spokesman for the Craft and Hobby Association. Were seeing more men participating with a lot of pride. The craft business has benefited from a perfect pop-culture storm. As recycling became popular more people began looking to re-purpose what previously might have ended up in a landfill. And then, the economy tanked, and style trendsetters regardless of gender needed to fashion new looks inexpensively. Others simply wanted a new way to fill time after losing a job. Stereotypes are less important than what crafting empowers, Domine says. It provides a sense of individual style and personality.

From 2006 to 2008, the number of American households that included at least one crafter held steady at just over 50%. But crafting is not recession proof as it requires some discretionary income. The fact that the industry is weathering the recession well means new hobbyists, including men, are coming into the fold, Domine says.

Women at the forefront of crafting have noticed the gender shift. Filmmaker Faythe Levines recent documentary, Handmade Nation, about the new faces of crafting, showcases the way men are getting more involved in that culture.

Over the past five years, I think a lot of us noticed more men getting involved, says the Milwaukee artist, particularly in screen printing. Craft magazine senior editor Natalie Zee Drieu has noticed an uptick in the number of men who attend San Franciscos annual Maker Faire. The fourth installment of this crafting-meets-invention convention in May and attracted 78,000 attendees.

Its amazing to see men and women sit together and learn how to crochet at the festival, she says. Male crafters do skew more heavily toward woodwork, leatherwork, painting, fine arts and design crafts. But Domine ticks off examples of the way traditionally feminine crafts now appeal to even the most manly of men.

The E! Television reality show Girls Next Door, for instance, spotlighted Hugh Hefners extensive scrapbook collection.

Writer and director Wes Thomsen knew nothing about scrapbooking before filming the documentary Scrapped. Now the filmmaker fancies himself a scrapbooker.

Phoenix musician and fine artist Patrick Murillo coined the term mantastic crafts and is coming out with a book of the same name. Not to mention the grassroots guys nationwide who are crafting and making a living at it. There are scads of them on etsy.com, a site that in the past few years has made a multimillion-dollar business out of selling finished crafts. There have always been craftsmen and men have always had hobbies.

Crafts and men definitely go together, says Harry Sawyers, an associate editor at Popular Mechanics magazine who helped compile the new book Man Crafts (Hearst). It showcases rough-hewn skills like leather tooling and ax whittling. All of the projects come from what Sawyers considers Popular Mechanics golden age the years during and following World War II.

Many male crafters point out that soldiers have long considered sewing and knitting to be valuable skills. But it took a modern tool to unite todays male crafters: the internet. Frank Wilmot is a Denver librarian and avid knitter who blogs about the subject at menwhoknit.com. He has found, among other things, Depression-era newspaper articles about male knitters.

Todays crafting men also are passing on their knowledge to tomorrows male crafters. Like avid knitter Jon Thumim, who once taught a group of fifth-grade boys how to knit. When he was a lad, Thumim, 39, asked his mother to show him how to use knitting needles. She said, Oh no, knitting is not for boys, recalls the Denver actor and teacher. Now Thumims mother asks him to knit things for her. Three years ago, Rob Czar and his partner, Corrine Leigh, started the Internet sewing show Threadbanger. Today their Brooklyn, NY-based web site, threadbanger.com, gets roughly one million hits a month. Czar had to learn the ins and outs of a sewing machine after he started Threadbanger. He quickly realised that men who sew do well with ladies.

If a girl sees you sewing a button or hemming your own pants, thats a turn-on, Czar says. And if a girl tells her mom that you know how to sew, its a definite in with the parental units.

That, he says, is why I do it.