Framing Ourselves by Ethan Barclay-Ennew

Our world often exists in an imposed expression of a binary, so many binaries that create artificial boundaries for all individuals. Humans have imposed the idea of a strict binary of gender to different degrees at different times throughout history; however, gender is a spectrum. A vast array of different facets of humanity all expressed through the ideals and experiences of each of us, with so much in common and so many beautiful differences. Often those who seek to exist in a space without the constraints of gender binary struggle to express and create their identity because the tools of the oppressor rarely serve those seeking liberation*, but creating our own tools and visual vocabulary frees us to show the world our truest selves.


A white man with short dark hair wears a red handknit wool cardigan with cables as he playfully hides his face in the high collar

[Belfast by Véronik Avery]

Knitting, crocheting, weaving, and sewing our own clothes allows people to create the pieces of clothing missing from our world of expression, and having spaces that allow for the free exploration of gender in our making allow for further growth and celebration of the genders we are blessed to experience. Knitting especially allows for such freedom when one has access to the knowledge of how to create clothes that follow one's own ideas of gender instead of social norms and mores. The act of knitting is a foundational way of creating a connection between one's intellect, body, and self expression, stitch by stitch one invests in the idea of a future in which a new garment exists. Time and energy are broken into their smallest increments when we knit, one is truly present with the act and investment of making. We are investing in ourselves and the future we wish to see, creating a new pedagogy and way of interacting with the larger world and as we free ourselves we create new tools for the liberation of others.


A long red cabled handknit cardigan is worn by a white man with his back turned to the camera, looking over his shoulder

[Belfast by Véronik Avery]

A lifetime of learning occurs as a knitter, new techniques are a constant companion, but they are built upon familiar pathways and the surest of foundations: the humble knit and purl. At the root of all knitting is my personal adage, it is all just knits and purls, but we combine them in an unending iterative dance of specificity which creates garments for every single person who can knit. As we make more patterns and push the boundaries of gender norms with our creating while not sacrificing the foundation and excellence of the historical value of our craft we practice a generous orthodoxy that invites more people to the table and allows them to further distance themselves from harmful ideas of gender and to a place where dysphoria can be replaced by euphoria.

Truly each stitch I make feels like an anchor in a moment, a tie to the time I have and a way to show the world who I am: neither a man nor a woman but wonderfully both, genderfull. I started a journey of making my garments over ten years ago and was instantly drawn to patterns largely intended for the female body according to the words on a page, but when I asked for help to reshape those garments so I could truly see myself in them I received more than advice — I received freedom. A future in which I was not limited and hemmed in by the terms of gender was given to me, a form of radical love and acceptance that was quiet and assured, replete with liberation but understood by many. The advice was grounded in the historical roots of shaping clothing for a body instead of for a gender and the advice came from Brooklyn Tweed, the fibre community helped me towards my liberation.


A dark teal handknit sweater with a lace yoke is worn by a white man with dark hair against a background of large plants

[Adelaide by Isabel Kraemer]

These acts of love, acceptance, and education that we perform are the root of our future liberation, when we give others the tools, time, and space to be most fully themselves we make our world a more beautiful place. Liberation through creation of identity in the fibre community is one of the greatest contributions to our world that we can make. We are graced by the chance to see every expression of personhood in the things they make, from colour choice, pattern, texture, fit, and cut they choose themselves over and over again in each project. What I want is to continue our liberation by giving every knitter patterns, yarns, and images that make them feel seen. As more inclusive descriptions of garments and colours are used over time we demonstrate solidarity with one another, describing garments by function and form we free ourselves and others from the constraints of society while not detracting from how one wishes to be seen.


A white man with short dark hair smiles while wearing a light blue handknit wool sweater composed of dramatic angles

[Chainlink by Norah Gaughan]

Everyone is welcome in our knitting family, everyone is valued, and I want everyone to be seen. When we invest in each other, free each other, accept each other we affirm a future in which we are liberated and in which the world is a better place. A sweater is never just a garment, it is a story we tell ourselves, a poem made physical for the world to see.

Please note, if you have enjoyed what I have written I would recommend the works of Brené Brown, Susan Sontag, Hannah Arendt, and Bell Hooks.


By Ethan Barclay-Ennew, queer knitter, technical editor, and writer
Photographer: Nicola Thorne - IG @YZ
Model & Stylist: Ethan Barclay-Ennew - IG @ebeforever


*Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” 1984. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press. 110- 114. 2007. Print. 


  • I love the description of sweater as poem made manifest. Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking blog, and thank you for bringing Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Hannah Arendt and the others to this too. Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin are additional favorites.

    Leanna on

  • An inspiring and humbling verse Ethan. So loved by your knitting family here in Otautahi, Aotearoa.

    Lisa Morse on

  • Thank you Ethan. In Anam Cara John O’Donnell writes ‘real growth is experienced when you…walk around the inner tower of the soul and see all the different windows that await your gaze. Through these different windows, you can see new vistas of possibility, presence and creativity’. Your insightful words and beautiful artisanship with needles and yarn show just how powerful that multi-faceted inclusive gaze can be.

    Sue Copas on

  • A very thoughtful and considered piece, and beautifully written.

    Lisa Vermey on

  • Yes. Yes. More yes. You are breaking the binary in such a profound, personal, beautiful way — thank you!

    Robin on

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