Friday, September 13, 2013

You want gifties? We've got gifties!

Have you ever experienced the phenomenon of not seeing a certain car much until you buy one, or are thinking of buying one, and suddenly they’re everywhere? That’s been happening to me recently, except the cars are crafters, the crafters are men, and the crafts are all over the board.

I’m a sucker for craft shows. Fiber festivals, too (think craft shows but a lot more yarn and a certain amount of fuzzy animals). I love going to them. Unlike a lot of the guys I see wandering around, I am not dragged, coerced, cajoled, bribed, or begged to do so. More than once, I’ve left my partner sitting somewhere with his knitting while I continue to wander.

Oh, I get some looks and a few comments, mostly along the lines of, “Is your wife with you/where’s your wife?” or “You’re here by yourself?” or “Can I help you with something?” in the poor-man-you-must-be-lost-voice. (The answers, in order: “My partner is over _____.”, “Yes I am/No I’m not he’s ____”, “Nope, just looking, thanks.”) I’m accustomed to this. Men flying solo at craft shows down here, not real common.
What is becoming more common, though, is men behind the tables, and not just doing crafts you’d think, like woodworking or pottery or metalwork.

Some of my recent finds: a man who makes lovely plantscapes under glass with herbs and leaves and tiny flowers, a hand quilter, a scented/decorative soap-and-candle maker (age 18), a stained glass painter, a guy who makes jewelry out of old telephone wire, a PVC pipe toymaker, two chainmaille jewelers, a guy who makes handsewn upcycled ball-caps, an ex-cop who does needlepoint, a handful of knitters, art-quilters, a tie-dye artist, a bead weaver, and a gent who can make just about anything from wire and old bullets—I have a Teddy Roosevelt with a guitar.

I love every time I find another guy crafting, especially a young one, or one working in a medium not traditionally masculine. Nothing at all wrong with the other ones. But I know from talking to some older guys, those 65+, that they got started on their crafting later in life, when they were less concerned about what people thought about them and when society became a little more open to what men should and should not do. And some of the younger ones, they’ve seen enough men crafting now that they know they are not alone.

We non-traditional male crafters still share some experiences when vending at craft shows. The assumptions that someone else made it—we don’t often hear women behind a craft table being asked, “Did you make this?”. The surprise in people’s voices when we assure them that yes, we did. The compliments on our good work that I sometimes think might be taken for granted if the crafter were a woman. The quizzing we get about how we do what we do, as if we are lying about making these things. The looks of distain? irritation? distaste? we get from some men while the woman with them is talking to us and going through our stuff. Trust me, guys. We are not flirting. We are too concerned with trying to make sure we helping everyone as much as we can.

But there is definitely a greater recognition that men—including straight men—can make pretty things, can work with fine items and lovely colors, can have an eye for design and know what people will like, can innovate and remake and restructure. Guys are showing up across the craft spectrum, to the point that tools, bags, books, etc are being made in “colors for men”, with an emphasis on blues and greens and browns rather than pinks and lavenders. A 20-something going into a craft store for 20 pounds of soy candle wax, a pair of fine beading tweezers, or a couple of packs of new sewing needles is not a complete novelty (although there are a few stores where we are distinctly unwelcome). Their friends may not get it, but when it gets cold, they’ll be asking for crocheted beanies; when they need a last minute anniversary present, they’ll be hoping you have some potholders or homemade lotion handy.

Because not only are men capable of being crafty—we are great first responders in a Gifting Emergency.

(Note: JJ is a multi-crafter who sews, weaves, knits, does papercraft, and makes side trips into whatever else looks like fun. He participates in a weekly artists’ market and stores his finished objects in his car).

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