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Every once in a while, as happens in a gay man's life, a straight friend or acquaintance or boyfriend's cousin will come to me and complain that they haven't had a date since practically puberty, and what does a guy have to do anyway to make a girl notice him?

Since this isn't an online magazine about making your own chocolate truffles, you can already guess my suggestion: why not try knitting? As knitters of every gender and persuasion know, it's creative, meditative, relatively inexpensive, portable, practical, easy to learn and difficult to master. You can happily make the same three items over and over your whole life long, or you can develop new skills and meet new challenges in your quest to become a knitting sensei. Plus, you can sit on the couch and do it while listening to music, avoiding household chores or watching the game (though, truthfully, it's probably better suited to football and baseball than hockey or basketball).

And I can tell you from my own experience -- a halfway decent looking man knitting alone in a public place for any length of time will attract any number of curious women who all want to know: What are you making? How far along are you? Where did you get your pattern? What kind of yarn are you using? Who taught you know to knit? (and, with surprising frequency) Can you teach me?

When it comes to attracting female attention, knitting far surpasses both the adorable baby and the cute fluffy puppy: no poo, no feeding, no high-pitched whining, no awkward or complicated questions about what kind of breed or where is his mommy. And while it's always impressive to be juggling bobbins of colour on a merino fair isle sweater, you can even get a few ooohs and aaahs from a well-crafted hemp facecloth.

At first I used to think that this was the gender-reversed equivalent of those men who see a woman changing a flat and goo-goo, "Isn't that cute?" But I quickly came to realize that the vast majority of the women who stop by to watch or comment are genuinely curious, supportive and respectful. Let me tell you, if I were straight, my dating possibilities would be going through the roof.

While there is a great deal of historical uncertainty about when and where knitting was invented, and by whom, there is a general consensus that many -- if not all -- of the early knitters were male. Countries and cultures around the world have varying traditions around knitting and textile arts -- in South and Central America, in Asia and the Middle East. In Western Europe, however, where modern knitting as we know it first took hold, it emerged as a fine needlecraft exclusively practiced by men.

At that time, in and around the 12th century, knitting needles were expensive and difficult to manufacture. Hand-knitted items, garments and fabrics were luxurious alternatives to woven cloth, and knitters were regarded as masters of textile arts. With the arrival of the Renaissance came advances in metalworking -- which led to the first mass-production of knitting needles, and then the formation of all-male knitting guilds. Soon after, however, came the invention of knitting machines, which led to knitting mills and the decline of the guild hand-knitter. Supplanted by other forms of fine needlework that could not yet be reproduced by machine, fine hand-knitting was rendered obsolete. By the Victorian era, hand-knitting found its way into the home as one of the domestic arts, practiced primarily by the poor, the rural, and the female.

Skip ahead to the 21st century, and knitting has transformed into a largely recreational activity, rediscovered by a new generation. And while men have continued to knit in greater and smaller numbers over the last hundred years (particularly in wartime, making their own socks, mittens, hats and scarves), this new wave of knitting has brought guys back to the craft in droves.

I myself was first taught by my mother more than thirty years ago, and then learned it all over again in the last year of high school from a group of female friends who used to sit and knit in the cafeteria. A few years later, this time with the support of some stitching'n'bitching co-workers, I knit my first sweater (black mohair, red and yellow stripes, don't ask) over a long series of lunch hours at my very first job in Toronto. Then we all found ourselves trapped in the thick of the '80s and '90s -- a time of ugly patterns, ugly yarns and ugly colours. Those few people who kept hand-knitting alive seemed as hopelessly retro as the Phentex slippers and the Mary Maxim cottage sweaters on their needles.

So what's happened to return knitting to the forefront of creative activities? For some people, it was Martha Stewart, Debbie Stoller and Lily Chin. For others it was Russell Crowe and Julia Roberts and other celebrity knitters. Still others discovered a new local yarn store around the corner from home or work, or stumbled across a previously unseen yarn section in Walmart or Zellers or Michaels.

For me, it was the Internet. A check-out-the-new-trend news article on a newspaper site led to Google and Amazon searches, to crafty weblogs, zines and online stores with more innovative and appealing yarns and patterns than we've seen in quite some time. Men with an itch to stitch should check out what their compadres are up to on sites like When Knitting Was a Manly Art, KnitDad's Blog, Men Who Knit and Queer Joe's blog. These are just the tip of the iceberg -- there's plenty of online support out there for guys who are just starting out, who have made a few simple items and want to try something new, or who have decades of experience behind them.

All this to say it hasn't been a better time to be a knitting guy for more than 500 years. So call up your local yarn store and ask about knitting lessons, or drop by to pick up a book or two and some needles and yarn, and take the plunge. If you're not sure how easy or difficult (or gorgeous or hideous) a pattern will be, ask the sales staff...or, failing that, the other customers! If you need a little help at the start -- try getting your mom or a friend or a co-worker to help you cast on. With a little time and patience behind you, you'll be out there knitting in public, posting pictures of your works-in-progress on your very own knitblog -- and maybe even showing our crafty sisters a thing or two along the way.



David lives, works, writes and knits (not necessarily in that order) in beautiful, nerve-wracking downtown Toronto.