(The bear that saved Gregory Patrick. Credit: Gregory Patrick)
Like many knitters, Gregory Patrick taught himself to knit because he admired a sweater in an upscale shop and wanted to see if he could make it for less money. Little did he know that picking up the hobby would ultimately save his life.
In 2010, Patrick walked out of a restaurant job after a disagreement with the owners, assuming that he’d easily be able to find work elsewhere. As it turned out, finding a new job was harder than he thought, and it sent him on a downward spiral that left him penniless and homeless.
“I was living in the woods. I had no money, no nothing,” he recalls.
A friend who knew how adept Patrick was at knitting suggested maybe he could sell his work online. His family helped him get a computer and a phone line and he knitted a bear and put it on Etsy. Within half an hour, the little teddy bear was sold and Patrick made enough money to buy some much-needed groceries.
Credit: Gregory Patrick
Over the coming months, Patrick continued knitting and selling bears online, using the money he made to buy more materials to knit more (using coupons and sales at stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics and Michael’s so the yarn and materials were more affordable). It takes about four to five hours to knit a bear, and he says that they typically sell within an hour or two of being posted on Etsy.
Why knitted animals? “People love the teddy bears,” says Patrick. “It’s something to hold onto and clutch in a time of fear and loneliness. It moved itself from my world into yours, something you could hold and go, ‘OK, we’re all going to make it.’”
Indeed we are, if Patrick is any indication: Within two years he had earned and saved enough money to get back on his feet and rent a room in Orlando. Throughout the time, he kept a blog, Mad Man Knitting, to document his journey and to help garner support and exposure for his Etsy shop. He still sells his knitted bears and other items on his website (a recent project for sale was a cute knitted elephant), and fellow knitters can buy patterns on Ravelry, including a pattern for “the teddy bear that saved me,” as it’s called – the very first bear he sold.
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He’s also written several works of fiction and two memoirs about his experience: His latest book, Will Knit for Food, combines both memoirs. The latter, which documents his journey out of homelessness, is available only on his website, where he has signed every copy and mails them out himself to buyers. He’s hoping to sell about 5,000 books by the end of the year. “Then I’ll be OK on all my rent and expenses for one more year,” says Patrick.
The cover of Patrick’s book. Credit: Gregory Patrick.
Ultimately, though, Patrick’s dream is to have a home of his own, where he’d finally feel completely secure. It’s taken awhile for him to stop sleeping with his boots on in case he needed to flee, or to unpack the bag of supplies that he used to keep by the door. “But we don’t worry so much these days,” he says.
“I don’t eat extravagantly but I make sure I have steak about once a month. And I don’t have to fear walking into my apartment and being told it’s time to go or I’ve overstayed my welcome.” He’s got a partner and a loyal following on the blog that he still uses to tout his books, his knitting projects, and update readers on his journey.
“I don’t think it will ever happen again,” says Patrick confidently. “I feel like I have 15,000 friends who would be at the ready to help me.”
Credit: Gregory Patrick
Patrick hopes that he will inspire other men to take up knitting, and ultimately wants to create an online magazine about men who knit and the women who love them. “I think it would be really great to start a knitting group with guys,” he says. “We could have it in a pub, and you could take a break from knitting to drink a pint or throw some darts!”
And what of the coveted sweater that was his very first project? Many knitters can relate to its story of woe: he accidentally threw it in the washing machine with a load of laundry. “Of course it felted, and now it fits a Barbie doll.” Or perhaps one of Patrick’s knitted bears.
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