Knits for Men by Margaret Hubert, Creative Publishing International: 2008, 112 pages. Spiral bound. Grade: A
Son of Stitch ‘n Bitch by Debbie Stoller, Workman: 2007, 215 pages. Paperback and digital formats available. Grade: A
Knits Men Want by Bruce Weinstein, Stewart, Tabori and Chang: 2010, 128 pages. Paper back and digital formats available. Grade: C
A while ago the knitwear pattern market went on a long bender about knitting for men. Lore was created, duly published, and the authors made their pittance. Marketing is such a cold-hearted business, isn’t it? Anyway, one of the things that cropped up in all these publications about knitting for men was the dreaded “boyfriend sweater” that precipitated the boyfriend leaving the poor, love-stricken female knitter. I’m sure plenty of women knitters have told each other stories about their successes and failures in knitting for their boyfriends and husbands, but the whole drama spun up in print about how knitting for your boyfriend dooms your relationship was just too much for me. It’s sort of a sarcastic joke when telling the story orally because really the breakup wasn’t over a sweater, but it’s a funny coincidence.
Given the oral nature of this urban legend, with its folktale mystique, turning it into written media would have been great literary fodder for the age of Romantic literature. In a hyper post-modern age – in which the Author, the Artist, et. al. have been confirmed dead – it just makes me twitch a little to see this kind of literature. I suspect that this sudden fever of publishing books devoted to advice and patterns about knitting for men stemmed from a marketing research agenda. The algorithms no doubt discovered that a lot of women who knit also like reading Jane Austen, buying expensive tea, shopping for pricey organic foods, love a fairy tale British Royal Wedding, believe in a couple of conspiracy theories (Princess Di, anyone?), and have banished gluten from their diets because it’s in style. Stories of angst, budding love relationships cut off before reaching their full potential, and sensations of under-appreciation, either perceived due to fits of paranoia or very real, were the target “pressure points” that publishers wished to play with and extract cash from. Find a sore spot in a female knitter’s heart-of-gold, discover a pot of gold. A small pot of gold. This stuff doesn’t generate a whole lot of capital.
The truly sad thing about this fad: it sucked in a lot of talented designers and placed a terrible responsibility on their shoulders. Just imagine all the points of discomfort we could talk about, especially when a feminist knitter (Debbie Stoller) all of a sudden starts making generalizations about men, women, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives. A few of my peeves are: 1) this trend in publishing once again reinforced the idea that women are just expected to please men somehow with their labor, masked underneath the idea that “well, you really want him to wear it, so you should make it ‘just so'”; 2) presented women with a whole mythology about how they must follow a fixed set of rules to live a happy relationship with a man, resting it all on their success or failure in knitting; 3) told women that men are basically all the same and interchangeable in terms of clothing preferences; 4) painted women as unique because their clothes are flamboyant, eccentric, unnecessary, uniquely fun, THE TOTAL BEST, SO MUCH FUN TO SHOP FOR, KNIT, AND WEAR; 5) and insisted that they just had to understand that this represents their condition as opposed to that of the men in their lives, who are so much more practical and don’t like frills or frivolity. I’m pretty sure that the designers who authored these books went about their writing projects with good intentions and did not realize that they were sort of puppets on a sexist, marketing stage. We have a victim-less crime. Audience and author were feeding into and being fed off of thanks to the rules of consumerism and its desire to fool around with cultural, social, and psychological concepts of gender, love, and fashion with the ultimate goal of stimulating retail activity. The intended main message on the part of the authors was: here are some things you can knit for a man.
I think overall the good intentions are appreciated and emerge in spite of the gross generalizations about gender some of these books make. I can attest to the fact that there doesn’t seem to be enough patterns available for menswear, either knit or crochet. As a male knitter and crocheter who likes to make clothing for himself, it’s very difficult for me to “change it up” with patterns. However, we must understand a fact that the marketing gurus exploited, exaggerated by publicity or not: men’s clothing is generally boring because fashion conventions dictate that males are only allowed to wear a limited set of things. Unless you’re a famous rock star, as a man you don’t have a lot of options for clothing if you wish to have a job and “make something of yourself.” Nobody, in any of the publications reviewed here, pondered this reality, which fascinates me. There have been times when “wild” colors have come in and out of men’s fashion. For example, recently there was a phase when heterosexual men were wearing pink shirts. Did you notice during this fad that the pink shirts, no matter what label they carried, were pretty much the same cut? Even “men wearing pink” found a way to be run-of-the-mill, and to my knowledge mostly on the weekend or on days off from work. The same goes for pants, tees, jackets, etc. There are a set number of constructions and shapes of clothing that are considered acceptable for men to wear, working or not. We’re not allowed to wear anything outside of these limits if we want to get on in life. Men are sort of obliged to wear a uniform and they have been trained to believe in these standard outfit clones, which in turn reflects an education that began at a very young age. Personally, I don’t really believe in the uniform, but I wear it, because if I didn’t I wouldn’t have a roof over my head, food to eat, and heat in the winter. No one will respect me in my profession if I go to work in a neon pink and green sweater with black flowers embroidered on it.
I happen to own three of the books that followed this publishing trend. I got them because I was curious about the patterns. For each I will tell you my opinion about the pros and cons of each. Well, not really. The last one has no list of pros and cons. Anyway, my grades are at the top of this post. Yes, that’s right, this is a review. It’s all about my subjectivity. Feel free to agree or disagree.
Knits for Men by Margaret Hubert is my favorite of these three. Comparing it with the other two it is the most rebellious with its lack of heavy-handed marketing spin. First of all, a whole book with many different sweaters for men! Whoot! I like all of the sweaters presented here. Another thing I enjoy is that the author didn’t blather on about how knitting for men can be a nightmare and make you single with a thousand cats to keep you company that will eventually eat your cadaver when you are all dead and forgotten. Her Introduction is brief and to the point. She talked to some men and asked them how they liked their sweaters. Their answers varied in terms of color and texture but they all said they wanted to feel comfortable wearing their hand knits. That’s it. Here’s the good and the bad:
- designs are fun to knit
- variety of sweaters, from more neutral and plain to colorful or textured
- no sob stories, no fears of becoming a crazy cat lady
- no generalizations about men and their tastes
- no sexism or treatises on gender
- aimed at appealing to different style preferences men might have
- there are some accessories here, too, but the sweaters are more numerous
- shaping isn’t too varied
Son of Stitch ‘n Bitch by Debbie Stoller is a great collection of patterns, especially for accessories. Unfortunately, it tries to generalize about what men want and tries to get you to “soldier up” with knitting a male uniform, but then the patterns reflect the contrary. Some of them are bold and others aren’t, reflecting a wide range of male preferences. I’m pretty certain that knitters craving patterns for men will find more than a few appropriate things to make.
- a variety of things to knit: accessories, etc.
- different designs to appeal to different individual styles
- lots of patterns to choose from
- everything looks fun to make
- generalizations about men that actually could be true for some women I know
Knits Men Want by Bruce Weinstein is too pretentious. The cover actually tells women that if they buy this book they will never need another pattern to successfully knit for men. That’s it, ladies! If you want to knit a sweater for your man, you have to knit one from this book or your dead body will be devoured by your thousand cats. You have choices in life. If you die alone, it’s your fault for not buying this book. If you don’t believe me, check out the cover. The rest of the title says: “The Ten Rules Every Woman Should Know Before Knitting for a Man Plus the Only Ten Patterns She’ll Ever Need.” I’m sorry, but that’s obnoxious. The patterns aren’t at all very difficult to design or write. Don’t buy this book unless you want to read all the anecdotes of horror about how some men disrespected their girlfriends’ or wives’ craftiness. Get a book from The Knitter’s Handy Book of… series edited by Ann Budd and follow the directions there for some stockinette stitch in a variety of shapes. One positive aspect to mention: the patterns deserve praise because their constructions are interesting with some very innovative shaping. If you get a book like one from the Handy series, however, you will eventually come up with similar sweaters all on your lonesome. In my first draft of this review I gave this title a grade of “F+” to be sarcastic, but then I edited the text and decided it should at least deserve a “C” because the patterns are interesting experiments in form and the sweaters are nice even though they’re dull. I really dislike smarmy marketing ploys, and the cover for this text is one of the most self-aggrandizing I have ever seen in my life. Here’s the truth: You don’t need this book to successfully knit a sweater for a man. So, the low grade also reflects how the book promises and does not really deliver.
If you’re truly afraid that your boyfriend or husband won’t appreciate what you knit for him, don’t knit for him. There is no mystery to be solved, even though marketing tries to convince you that there is one. If, by chance, a man wants you to knit something for him, look at photos from patterns together and let him tell you what he’d like. It might not hurt to get to know him a little and observe what he wears most often, what he does for casual dress on the weekends, what he wears to work. Knit him something that fits into his style and way of moving through his life. If he dumps you just after you knit him something he didn’t like, this is the cold hard truth: he didn’t care about you anyway, so good riddance to bad rubbish! Just make sure you get the sweater back before you slam the door on his ungrateful backside.