You’d be hard-pressed to find a knitter today who hasn’t heard of Debbie Stoller. Editor of Bust Magazine, Stoller achieved major success with her 2003 release, Stitch 'N Bitch. According to Wikipedia, SnB sold over 200,000 copies in its first six months; the book has already spawned two sequels (Stitch 'n Bitch Nation and The Happy Hooker) and more are in the works. The book also gave rise to trademark litigation over who, if anyone, owns the trademark rights to the phrase "Stitch N Bitch." (The litigation -- which Jenna admirably keeps us informed about -- remains unresolved.) Love Stoller or not – and there are plenty on both sides – you have to give her credit for writing a book that struck a chord with so many knitters out there. Stoller got a lot of people excited about knitting (for some, excited about knitting again), and also reminded a lot of knitters why the crafty klatsch has been an important part of women’s lives for generations -- regardless what you call it, and whether the name is trademarked or not.
Stoller’s new book is called Son of Stitch 'n Bitch: 45 Projects to Knit and Crochet for Men (Workman Publishing 2007). As the name suggests, it is not only another sequel to SnB but it is a sequel that focuses on garments to be worn by men.SOSnB looks much like its predecessors: paperback, about 8 inches square, same color scheme and typefaces, same almost-self-consciously-droll tone (e.g., a section on measurements and fit is called "Size Matters"). One improvement over the first SnB: you’ll find more color -- photographs, color drawings and color charts -- and no doubt Stoller’s track record for selling books is partly the reason. SOSnB is approximately 216 pages long, and retails for $15.95 US/19.95 CAN but by clicking on the link above, you’ll find it for just under eleven bucks. That's quite reasonable for a book containing over 40 patterns.
Part I of SOSnB is coyly titled “I Know What Boys Like” and begins with a thoughtful discussion of why knitting for men can go so wrong. Stoller cautions the well-intentioned knitter to figure out what the recipient wants to wear instead of making what the knitter wants to knit, and discusses how the two are not always the same:
[Of] the patterns [for men] that are available, many are overwrought with bobbles and cables or too many color panels or are just plain wrong in some way. That’s often because these projects have been designed from the perspective of the knitter or crocheter rather than that of the wearer: They may be satisfying and fun to make because of their intricate cabling or challenging color work, but unfortunately, they are not necessarily what most men are willing to wear.
Stoller gives good, if seemingly obvious advice to this dilemma (look at what he likes to wear, make sure you knit the right size). She gives helpful advice on sweater measurements and what they mean, and discusses how to select colors and fibers. She includes a text box (directed at the wearers of the garments) on how to wash hand-knit items. One of my favorite parts was a four-page inset containing a brief history of men and knitting, including some interesting historical photos. (I will let the knitting historians pass on the historical accuracy of the summary: I had thought that the notion that fisherman's motifs were intended to help identify drowned sailors had been debunked as myth, but I'm sure my erudite readers will be able to chime in on that.) Sprinkled throughout this section are anecdotes from real knitters, telling success and failure stories about knitting for the men in their lives. So far, so good.This is primarily a pattern book, however. And that means it’s the pattern section that will make or break this book for most knitters. So let's look closely at each of the three pattern chapters:
This section contains twelve patterns, broken down as follows:
- one hat and mittens set;
- four hats;
- six scarves; and
- 1 pair fingerless gloves.
from the hipster, like this crocheted newsboy's cap,
to the eclectic, like the Brooklyn Bridge scarf.
The second section is devoted mainly to pullovers (I counted 12), along with three vests and four cardigans. Again, the patterns range from the basic, like this smoking jacket (knit in Rowan Scottish Tweed Chunky, mmmm):
to the more intricately patterned, like this sailboat vest;
to the eclectic, the "Ernie" sweater.*
3. Socks and Accessories
The Socks and Accessories section contains four sock patterns, again ranging from the simple, like the 70s-style "tube" sock (they are not knitted as plain tubes, however, but have a turned heel and shaped toe)
to the more elegant and patterned, like these cable mid-calf socks,
to the, um, eclectic:
Even my verbose self cannot find a catchall term to describe the wide range of items that round out this section, so I'll just recite them: pillows shaped like bottles of booze; a messenger bag with a cassette tape motif; a steering wheel cover; ties with intarsia motifs (a robot and a skull); a Nacho Libre-like balaclava; and the ultimate bizzarity, a dead teddy bear with a bee in a pool of blood on its stomach.
(Don't you hate when your teddy bear goes to the park without his Epi-pen?)
You can probably now see why I am ambivalent about this book. While Stoller says all the right things in the beginning, the patterns make clear that she -- a forty-something urban hipster magazine editor in New York City-- and I -- a forty-something suburban soccer mom living outside of Philadelphia -- have completely different kinds of men in their lives. The men in my life would find the majority of patterns in this book to be at best, not their taste, and at worst, hideous and unwearable. But maybe my circle of friends and family are simply a minority. Maybe there are lots of knitters out there whose male intimates consist solely of frat boys who'd like nothing better than a handknit throw pillow in the shape of a beer bottle.
If I'm starting to slip over into the snide, it's because I can't help but feel frustrated that the view of men in SOSnB is so narrow. Either a man is a slave to technology (steering wheel cover anyone?) and bordering on the geeky, or he is full of stereotypically-macho male-vice, like gambling or likker or wrestling
or nekkid girlz.
Yes, that is a shadow-knitting scarf of a naked women dancing around a pole.** (Or as my husband said after flipping through this section, "What? No bong cozy?") The guys I know simply aren't so one-dimensional or stereotypic.
Looking at the other criteria that I usually consider in my book reviews, you'll find a generous 45 patterns in the book. The breakdown of knit to crochet patterns falls heavily on the side of knitting: all but four of the projects are knit (a hat, a scarf, a vest and a sweater are crocheted). Sizing is generous but limited to adult sizes (an older kid or teen who wears a small adult size could wear some, but not all of the garments; younger boys are out of luck). Accessories are one-size-fits-most, and look pretty typical in size (e.g., head circumference of 20-22 inches finished size for a hat, sock circumference of 8 to 9 inches). For sweaters, there doesn't seem to be a consistent size range, as each pattern starts and ends at a different measurement, but the range is impressive. Most have four or five sizes, with the finished chest size starting anywhere from 38 to 44 inches (one starts at 35 inches), and the largest falling anywhere from 50 to 58 inches (the largest size I saw was a 61-inch finished chest). Gauges seem to hover in the chunky to DK-weight range, and the yarns include luxurious (Alchemy Synchronicity, for one of the scarves) to the more economical (like KnitPicks).
As I mentioned before, production values are similar to those in the earlier SnB books, with the addition of much more color throughout (the first SnB had a color insert in the center and the remainder was black and white) and slightly more glossy and substantial paper for the pages. Each garment is shown several times, from different views and angles, and the photography is clear and no-nonsense (if not terribly well lit). You can tell that effort was made to include close-ups of some of the colorwork motifs and/or stitch patterns, too, which is always helpful. You'll find color charts and schematics for the patterns that require them -- including a six-page whopper of a chart for that lervely pole dancer.
Whenever a book as popular as Stitch N Bitch is published, the author immediately becomes the center of a lot of debate. You’ll find many knitters who adore Stoller and her urban-funkster sensibility; and that means you’ll also find knitters who actively dislike them, too. Me, I fall into a third category. Neither devotee nor hater, I sometimes find a pattern in a SnB book that I like, but most of the time I’m not tempted. No big deal: it’s a big knitting world and there’s plenty of room for me to admire someone’s accomplishments even if I rarely make one of her patterns.That about sums up my reaction to SoSnB. Stoller correctly perceives that there aren’t enough good patterns for men out there, and has some insightful ideas about why knitting for men can be so fraught with disappointment. However, I have serious doubts that I will make more than one or two patterns from Son of SnB, if that. They just aren’t to my taste or the taste of the men I know. I’m okay with that: tastes differ and everybody doesn’t have to like everything. For purposes of the knitter considering whether to buy this book, though, I’d say this is especially a case where you’ll want to flip through the book rather than ordering sight unseen unless you are such a devoted fan of Stoller that you just don’t care what the patterns inside look like.
*Rumor has it that Ernie is seeking legal representation to investigate the possibility of a lawsuit for trademark infringement of his sweater.
**And reflect: isn't there something bizarre about knitting a scarf for someone that includes a prominent motif that encapsulates the oppression of the knitter by the wearer? Is there a significant difference between a woman knitting a man a scarf with a naked pole dancer on it and an African-American knitting a scarf with a confederate flag on it for a white friend, or a Jew knitting a hat with a swastika on it for an Aryan friend? Just sayin', dudes.