Walking down Market Street on a Sunday, you may have noticed a group of men in the window of Espressamente Illy who are doing something a bit out of the ordinary: knitting.
SF Men Knit, a men's knitting group, has been meeting at the brightly-lit and comfortable coffee shop since it first opened back in 2013. The group received a little added notoriety last December, when they were the subjects of a photo shoot in an issue of San Francisco Magazine.
The group was founded by Lakegan Harris in 2011, when he first moved to San Francisco from Washington, D.C. He saw it as a way to socialize and do something that he loves, while dispelling the notion that knitting is only something that older women do. Prior to the Illy meetup, some of the members met on Mondays in a mixed group of men and women.
SF Men Knit founder Lakegan Harris.
Harris, who's a librarian for the US Geological Survey, enjoys knitting both with the group and on his daily commute to work on Muni and Caltrain. He says he likes the opportunity to make something with his hands and be creative. "No idle hands" is a mantra he lives by.
Currently, the group has a little over 100 members on Facebook. On any given Sunday, you can find somewhere between 15 and 20 men knitting at the cafe.
On the Sunday we dropped by, the men were more than happy to talk about their passion for knitting. They prefer to sit at the front of the cafe, both for the plentiful natural light and the steady "parade of men" going by on Market, Harris says.
Throughout the morning, the men keep themselves busy with a variety of different projects, chatting amongst themselves and enjoying one another's company. Though yarn-bombing has become popular around the city, none of them are involved. For them, knitting is about making things for themselves and their family members.
Charles Ford, who's been knitting for three years, was working on a section of an orange-and-black blanket. When we asked him how long it would take to complete, he chuckled and said "about three months." Apparently, the group can be a little distracting, slowing down the process of completing a project. Ford originally picked up knitting "as a stress relief from work, or else I would have killed my boss," he laughs.
Knitters, from left: Patrick Fitzgerald, Eddie Hosey, and Charles Ford.
Another member of the group, Eddie Hosey, has been knitting since 2003. He taught himself how to knit while he was supporting a friend who was in the hospital, battling cancer. "It was during March Madness, and I can't stand basketball."
Hosey didn't want his friend to pass away alone, so in order to have something to do while he kept his friend company, he decided to teach himself how to knit. His goal was to knit his friend a blanket, but unfortunately was unable to finish it before his friend succumbed to the disease. Hosey now finds himself knitting all the time, most often to pass the time while flying or traveling.
Another member, Kyle Kunnecke, is also passionate about giving back to those with cancer. Kunnecke, who picked up knitting from a female housemate in 2003 and currently teaches seminars around the country, told us about SF Men Knit's support of the group Bay Area Cancer Connections.
Instead of just knitting items for people battling cancer, Kunnecke says they teach patients how to knit for themselves. It provides them a space to talk about what they're going through, and a little bit of an escape from their current reality. Knitting can also help reduce stress and anxiety from the daily dose of treatments and prescription drugs.
Kunnecke is also launching a new knitting-related fundraising campaign, starting October 1st. Called "75 Squares," the campaign will sell handmade scarves, shawls or cowls for $150 each, with proceeds benefiting Project Open Hand. A variety of local knitters contributed work, and Kunnecke told us that "each purchase creates a donation large enough to serve 75 nutritious meals to those in need."
SF Men Knit isn't only for experienced knitters. The group welcomes men at all different levels, and even encourages people new to the craft to stop by and give it a try. Patrick Fitzgerald, another group member, originally started knitting back in the '80s, but had given up on it until three or four months ago, when he stumbled upon the Facebook group and decided to pick it back up again. He says he's had nothing but fun, and learned many tips from the group.
Throughout the morning, plenty of passers-by stopped in to enjoy the sight of the men knitting away, with some even taking photos. Member Tom Harte tells us that "women from other countries are the ones who are especially delighted to see such a large group of men knitting."
The friendships that the knitters develop go far beyond the Sunday meetup. After they finish knitting, they often head out to lunch or to nearby 440 for the beer bust. They also celebrate birthdays together, go hiking, and even have the occasional potluck dinner.
SF Men Knit meets on Sundays at Espressamente Illy from 10am-3pm, and on Wednesdays at Church Street Cafe from 5-9pm. New participants, including those new to knitting, are always welcome.