EXCHANGE: Man defies stereotypes 1 stitch at a time

Posted10/5/2019 7:00 AM

PEORIA, Ill. -- Knitting is commonly viewed as a grandmother's pastime or a symbol of charming domesticity, but the hobby that was once a necessity was actually dominated by men for many centuries.

Following the patterns set before him, a young Havana man is defying modern day stereotypes one stitch at a time.


Harley DeFord, 23, has been fascinated by the craft of knitting for as long as he can remember. He grew up watching the Addams Family and remembers being particularly intrigued when the character Morticia would knit things for baby Pubert.

But his mother would not allow him to pick up a set of needles for fear that he would "poke his eye out." It wasn't until he was about 14-years-old that he was truly able to explore his curiosity.

One day his mother came home with a knitting book and supplies. The self-taught DeFord has been knitting sweaters, scarves and hats ever since.

When DeFord joined the Heartis Village Peoria team as a housekeeper over a year ago, he also decided to join some fellow knitting lovers. The Heartis Village knitting group is comprised of about five women that all reside at the assisted living center and was started by Sue Ellis, 94.

The women in the group were initially surprised when they learned that a young man would be joining their circle.

"He what?" Ellis exclaimed, reenacting her shocked response.

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Ellis said DeFord is definitely a conversation piece for the group, but has become so much more to them. She described him as a friend, mentor and handy man.

"He does it all. There isn't anything he can't do," said Ellis.

"And he is probably the best knitters out of the whole group," Jan Larash, another member of the group, added. "It's nice to have him around."

While DeFord's personal knitting timeline is clear, the history of knitting as a whole is a little tangled and has not been traced back to a sole set of needles.

Some of the first knitted pieces were socks found in Egypt around 1000 AD., but most people associate the start of knitting with the invention of fishing nets. These were created by Arabian fishers as a tool to help fishing become more efficient. Flash forward to the Middle Ages around the time that the guild was invented and men spent six years training to become "Master Knitters."


More recently, during both World Wars, school boys were taught to knit things like fingerless gloves, helmet liners and bandages for soldiers. Even injured soldiers took up the hobby during recovery as a form of therapy, which still remains one of the biggest appeals of the craft to this day, especially for the Heartis Village knitters.

"It's relaxing and mindless," said Larash.

"Sometimes, if the pattern isn't too complicated, it even involves some wine," DeFord added with a chuckle.

With practice the hobby can become second nature, he said, but it does require basic math skills and more importantly, patience.

"It's like riding a bike," said DeFord. "It's all about muscle memory."

Knitting can be therapeutic for the mind, but it also has some physical benefits too, such as improving finger dexterity. But DeFord mostly does it simply out of enjoyment. He is currently working on knitting a baby blanket for his soon-to-be nephew that is expected this fall.

Ellis believes the beauty of the craft is that it is something that everyone can do no matter how young or old.

"It's a novelty for a young man to knit, but what he creates is a work of art," said Ellis.


Source: (Peoria) Journal Star,


Information from: Journal Star,

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