Manly Hands at Home

Don stitch-4To read my blog, and much of what is written about the handmade and hand crafted, one might reach the conclusion that the only “loving hands at home” are female hands.

It’s time to challenge that thinking and start talking about the men who make beautiful things as well. While crafting often seems to be associated with women, we can find lots of examples of beautiful work, in many different media, done by men. And we should encourage it—why should women have all the fun and satisfaction?

It’s not surprising or unusual to find men working in wood and metal and clay. A museum of folk art, like the Shelburne Museum that I’ve mentioned elsewhere, has many examples of furniture and metalware, like weathervanes and hardware, made by men.

It’s less expected to see men’s work in the textile arts. The weaver’s trade was historically a male-oriented art, at least in some cultures, but work with textiles seems, now, to be heavily associated with women. And yet men are just as capable of beautiful, expressive hand-wrought work as women—so why don’t we talk about it more?

I’m going to and I’ll start at home! My husband has been making beautiful cross-stitch samplers for almost 25 years.

It all began in the early 1990s, when I started to make quilts. My husband, Don, was drawn to the craft, the colors and patterns, and wanted to jump right in and work with me.

What he found was that, with his big guy hands, he had trouble making the tiny stitches needed for piecing the patches and for hand quilting. But he wanted something creative to do while I quilted.

A trip to Colonial Williamsburg found him pondering old stitch samplers. The gift shop sold cross-stitch kits and, on a whim, he picked one up. And the rest, as they say, is history!

When he finished that design, he went looking for a new pattern. We went to an embroidery and quilting shop, where he picked out a pattern that looked more advanced. All the women in the store gathered around this guy who was, of course, the only man in the shop. “Oh, you’re going to make that one! How much cross-stitch have you done?” they asked.  “One project,” he answered.

Stunned silence. And a dozen women’s voices, all at once, trying to talk him out of it. To talk some reason into him. They said he should choose a different pattern and go slower and work his way up to the pattern he chose.

But we’re talking about a man, here! A former Marine, with two tours of duty in Vietnam. A college professor who doesn’t know the meaning of self doubt. A guy who, just like all of us, hates to be told he can’t do something and wants to prove he can!

So, of course he started that project and slogged through it. He pulled out a lot of stitches (and swore like a Marine every time!) but he finished that sampler, perfectly, and has gone on to make many more.

Our house is full of these beautiful creations, and other equally beautiful ones live in the homes of our family members. He has done marriage samplers and Christmas stockings for babies, all the kinds of projects one would expect from a pair of loving hands at home.

Don stitch-6 Don stitch-3 Don stitch-2And he gets such a kick out of it! Autumn weekends find him parked, with his enormous stitching stand, in front of the TV. He watches hours of college and pro football, while cheering on his teams and making teeny-tiny stitches on linen in a rainbow of beautiful colors. I’ve never quite figured out where he gets the patience (or why his big guy hands have adapted to this precise craft when they couldn’t adapt to quilting!)

I’d love to hear more about the men who make. Was your grandfather a furniture maker? Does your Dad have a craft? Does your significant other ever join in when you’re making something? Or are you a guy, yourself, who can tell us about what you make? Let’s hear it for manly, and loving, hands at home!Don stitch-7Don stitch-1