Monday, October 08, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Knitting for Him, by Martin Storey and Wendy Baker

Knitting for guys is always a challenge, and for a variety of reasons. First of all, there’s the fun factor: it seems like most of the stuff Tom wants me to knit for him is really plain, and I have to be in exactly the right frame of mind to begin a guy-sized sweater in a neutral color in stockinette stitch. (Believe me, that frame of mind comes around all too rarely.) Yet the patterns with some interest, be it stitchwork or colorwork or a less neutral color or yarn, often are a little too much for his taste. The second factor seems to be that relatively few men design handknitting patterns. Now don’t jump to take offense. It’s just that the kind of patterns that women think men will like aren’t always the same patterns that Tom wants me to knit for him.

Enter Knitting for Him: 27 Classic Projects to Keep Him Warm, by Martin Storey (Taunton 2007) (MSRP $24.95; available for $16.47 by clicking the link at the time of this writing) (oh how I love thy designs, Martin) and Wendy Baker. In their introduction, they put their finger on exactly this dilemma:

When we were asked to design a collection of hand knits for men for Rowan,we realized that most men prefer garments that are comfortable, above all, andprefer colors that are not too “gaudy.” However, in the main, it will be their womenfolk who will knit the patterns in this book, and knitters like interesting stitch and color combinations to work with.

And better yet, they manage to solve the dilemma by stylishly bridging the gap between what men want to wear and what knitters want to knit.

Okay, you know the drill: let’s start with the basics. Knitting for Him is a paperback, 136 pages, full color, with those fold-out inside covers that I like – they don’t get bent as easily as those without the fold-in. The book is packed with luscious photography of hot dudes artfully taken by John Heseltine. There are 27 projects, mainly sweaters, along with a pair of mittens, three scarves, a beanie, and a pair of socks. The sweaters include vests, pullovers and cardigans/jackets.

I like the book's no-nonsense approach: it simply presents these gorgeous patterns, followed by a very brief section of background information (e.g. notes on sizing, how to use the charts, fair isle techniques and abbreviations). No how-to-knit section eating up precious pages. I especially want to give kudos to Rowan/Taunton for including a page with detailed information about each yarn used, including fiber content, stitch and row gauge, and yardage. If money were not an issue, there’d be no reason why you wouldn’t want to use the gorgeous Rowan and RYC yarns specified in the book (e.g. Scottish Tweed, Wool-Cotton, Cashsoft Aran), but including that information is especially helpful if you’ll need to make substitutions. (And given that even great yarns get discontinued by the makers, this information may be helpful in a few years if, God forbid, any of these yarns are no longer produced.) It's nice not to have to do a separate search to find the yarn requirements.

The breakdown of patterns is as follows:
  • 2 vests
  • 2 cardigans
  • 6 jackets (not sure exactly what the distinction is, except that the jackets seem to be heavier, perhaps for outside wear?)
  • 8 pullovers
  • 3 gansey-style pullovers
  • 3 scarves
  • 1 pair of mittens and 1 pair of socks

Which brings me to another point: I'm really, really glad that Storey and Baker didn't include silly items like I-pod covers or condom cozies or whatever else passes for whimsical accessories these days. Nope, they keep it straightforward and to-the-point: sweaters, lots of sweaters, with a handful of accessories. Well done.

Another way to look at the patterns is by knitting technique or style -- and Storey/Baker manage to cover the territory thoroughly. The projects break down as follows:

  • Cablework: 7 projects
  • Stranded colorwork: 4 projects plus cuffs of socks
  • Texture (knit/purl stitch patterns): 3 projects
  • Intarsia: 3 projects
  • Nonstranded, nonintarsia colorwork (e.g. slipped stitches, stripes): 5 projects\Predominantly stockinette st: 4 projects (2 of which have bands in contrasting colors)

You can see that this presents the knitter with a nice variety of techniques and difficulty levels. Even a relatively inexperienced knitter wouldn’t have trouble with the stockinette projects, while the cablework and colorwork provide more challenging projects for those who are up for them. Hurrah for Rowan for giving us these lovely, not-dumbed-down patterns.

Looking at yarn gauge, you’ll see that the majority of the designs (16) are knit in versatile DK-weight yarns; 2 in fingering weight; 7 in aran weight; and 2 in chunky weight yarns. Again, a nice variety that should enable those in different climates and with different tastes in yarns to find something they’ll like.

Last, looking at sleeve styles, you’ll find 3 raglan style, 2 drop shoulder, 5 modified drop shoulder, and an impressive 9 using set-in sleeves (some have shallower sleeve caps than others but I've lumped all the ones with caps together). Another hurrah for recognizing that men don’t always want drop shouldered sweaters, even if they have nice broad shoulders and muscular chests. And mad props to the designers for the sheer number of choices with set-in sleeves, which you don’t necessarily find in a men’s pattern book.

Sizing for the sweaters is generous: the sizes go by two-inch increments from 40 through 48 inches actual chest size, with the finished garment sizes going from around 48 or so inches to 56 or so inches (lots of ease and lots of choices). All the accessories are one size fits most.

From a sensibility standpoint, this is classic Rowan style: beautiful shots of the green countryside and misty ocean views, handsome men, a lovely palette, high-quality natural fiber yarns, a nice mix of artsy shots, close-ups of garment details, and larger views that show the entire garment. The paper is high quality, too. There are schematics for all the garments, and plenty of charts (the charts are black-and-white, unlike the charts in the Rowan magazine).

Well, either the knitting books are getting way better, or I’m getting way less cranky in my old age, because this is yet another book I absolutely love. I am going to have Tom pick out his favorites and add them to my Ravelry queue. In the meantime, let’s reward Rowan and Taunton for giving the discerning knitter what (s)he wants in a men’s pattern book, and add this title to your bookshelf. If there’s a man you’d love to knit for, or if you're a male knitter looking to knit some beautiful sweaters for yourself, you won’t be sorry.


Unknown said...

Martin Storey is a brilliant designer and one of my favorites. Thanks for your always valuable and incisive review. I think this is a must-have. Knitting options for your husband, partner or, in my case, the Squeeze, shouldn't be relegated to socks alone.

Or dorky, fugly sweaters.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great review and beautiful good size picture. I am ordering the book right now.

Anonymous said...

I am lucky that my spouse will let me experiment with different colors/stitch patterns for his sweaters.

I made him 3 sweaters within the past year (pullovers) and none of them had cables (overused in guy's sweaters IMHO). his WIP cardigan has stripes and 2 different stitch patterns.

so, girls, get yourself a man that will consent to be your artist's canvas (wink wink).

ex-cell-ent book review as always, carol.

CPAKnit said...

Just a note on something funny- Barnes and Noble (where I buy books for the member discount) has it listed as "30 Classic Projects to Keep Him Warm" - When you look closely at the cover page, it does say "30". Maybe you should let Amazon know their error, since they are getting a free plug on your blog.

subliminalrabbit said...

thank you so much for this review! we need more books like this!

Carol said...

What's even weirder is that my copy of the book says "27" on the cover...

I think what happened is that they produce a prototype of the cover way before the entire book is finished and goes to the printer. Amazon and other big web sellers get the prototype so they can put it in their catalogue and take preorders (and build up buzz?). Perhaps at the time the prototype cover was distributed, they anticipated including three more projects in the book, but by the time it went to print, they pared it down to 27.

Elizabeth said...

Well, the sweaters are nice and all, but I really like the model in the cabled blue cardigan. Where can I order one of those?

Carol said...

The one guy reminds of of Richard Lewis (I think it's the nose). A way younger, way handsomer Richard Lewis.

Anonymous said...

Well, other than the fact I want him to tuck in his plaid shirt, I'd take the guy in the cabled vest. 8-) Love the green pullover. I'll just stuff this into my Amazon cart and buy it the next time I get an order in.

Carol said...

Just saw the book in Liberty's today and loved the patterns. Gorgeous. Unfortunately, I don't have a man that wears 40 and up. Even a 38 is pushing it. Oh well, back to socks...

Carol said...

Buy the book -- and a set of barbells?

Bridget said...

Thanks for this, now I know for sure that I'll be getting this one!

Carrie said...

Okay, I'm sold. The pictures are great, and I saw at least three patterns my husband would be thrilled to have me make for him. Thanks for the review!

CPAKnit said...

I bought a copy of the book today- and the cover showed "27 Projects". I had posted the previous comment about the pics on Amazon. It looks like Carol knows her stuff!

Unknown said...

Unlike Marilyn, I've never been overly thrilled with Martin Storey's designs, as they're usually less manly (believe it or not) than I like. But these designs look very nice. Can't wait to see this book myself.

Kathleen said...

Thanks for the detailed review, it has given me food for thought, thanks,
Kathleen. x

Franklin said...

Must have a look at this one. You do the bestest reviews on the whole Internets.

Meredith said...

I just found your blog and will definitely keep up with the reading. Love the book reviews! The one detail I wanted to know - how many projects have set in sleeves (my husband is very athletic and cannot do the drop shoulder, oversized men's look) - you included. Thanks!