Friday, April 16, 2010

Blog Tour: Knits Men Want, by Bruce Weinstein

Knitting for men is a proposition fraught with peril. Sometimes it seems as though the kinds of things the knitter wants to make for a man in her life are completely different from what that man wants to wear. Add to that the varying styles that men can have (compare a hipster working in a creative field in Soho to a suburban guy with an office job to a man who lives in a rural area spending a lot of time outdoors) and although a knitter may badly want to make something for her guy, she may not know exactly what.

Enter Bruce Weinstein. Fresh from our friends at Stewart Tabori & Chang comes Knits Men Want: The 10 Rules Every Woman Should Know Before Knitting for a Man~ Plus the Only 10 Patterns She'll Ever Need (2010; MSRP $18.95, available for $12.89 at the time of this writing through the link). Weinstein is ably assisted in his venture by Jared Flood, a.k.a. "Brooklyn Tweed," who took the beautiful photographs that fill the book.

Raglan-Sleeved Henley

Knits Men Want is a somewhat untraditional knitting book. It begins with an introduction explaining Weinstein's philosophy, and then is organized into ten chapters. Each chapter begins with one of Weinstein's "rules" for knitting for men, backed up by a few paragraphs of personal anecdote (my least favorite part, actually, since I thought that it veered into stereotype a bit too much), and is accompanied by one master pattern. The master pattern is a kind of template or table, giving the knitter different sizes to pick from and different gauge choices, enabling her to select the type of yarn she (or her man) prefers, determine its gauge, and then go right to the numbers that correspond to yarn gauge and size.

Because this is a book that is premised on the opinion that men and women think very differently about knitting, I've decided to do something a little different for this post. You may be aware that I am not a man, nor do I play a man on teevee. Therefore, I have enlisted the help of a real, live, 100% certified man to proffer his opinion on Knits Men Want: Mr. Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat himself, my beloved husband.

First though, I will run through the mechanics of the book for you. Knits Men Want is a paperback with fold-in covers, approx. 128 pages long. I know I've already mentioned that Brooklyn Tweed did the photography, but it bears repeating because the photographs (and the styling) are so beautiful. The book contains a total of ten patterns, but as noted above, these are more in the nature of templates, since they provide instructions for multiple gauges. The ten patterns consist of the following: six sweaters (one contains a vest variation, too), fingerless mitts, thick socks, a cabled scarf and a watch cap. The sweater sizes range from 40" to 60" finished chest, going by four-inch increments. Even the mitts, hat and socks come in varying circumferences, a nice touch that recognizes that men come in different sizes too. (The scarf is, obviously, presented in only one size/gauge, but features an inset box with tips for changing gauge.) Schematics are provided for the sweaters (note that some of the tech editing was done by the eagle-eyed Robin Melanson) and the cable pattern for the scarf is charted. There's a page of special techniques in the back, but the book wisely assumes that the reader already knows the basics of knitting.

One final note: if you have a knitting-for-a-guy story, check out STC's Knits Men Want sweepstakes here. There are all sorts of prizes available, including some of the sample items from the book.

Without further ado, to give you the man's opinion on the patterns and advice, I now present a Very Special Guest Contributor:

Mr. Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat's Book Review

As a non-knitter, but someone who isn't clueless about clothes (unlike the standard-issue guy described by Weinstein), I had a mainly positive reaction to Knits Men Want. Weinstein gives some solid recommendations about what men look for in a knitted garment -- muted colors, subtle styling (e.g. no big shawl collars), finer gauge fabric, small plain buttons, non-shiny zippers, and so on. On the other hand, he frames his advice in too many Mars-Venus stereotypes (women love to shop; men wear the same thing for 20 years; women are verbal; men just buy 10 copies of the same sweater in different dark colors; men use their sweaters to clean up spills and can't be trusted with nice fabric; women love cute bright stuff; men are big babies who only want to wear oversized soft clothing).

I used to think that Italian-American stereotypes were the last socially-acceptable prejudice (see, for example, commercials for jarred pasta sauce; commercials for The Olive Garden; Tony Danza's entire career; Joey from Friends) but I think the stereotype of the always-befuddled, helpless, meathead guy/dad/husband/boyfriend may have the guido thing beat. (Could you imagine the uproar if women were routinely portrayed in the media as being unable to dress or groom themselves, make decorating decisions, operate household appliances, or follow instructions on over-the-counter medicine labels without assistance from their smarter, savvier spouse, fiancé, children or sassy gay sidekick?)

But now I'll climb down from my soapbox and talk about the garments in the book.A couple of the sweaters in the book are great and go right to the top of my maybe-a-certain-someone-could-knit-that-for-me list. The Baseball Jersey with the saddle shoulder (rather than the traditional raglan sleeves) is a definite keeper -- deceptively simple looking but with an unexpected design element that keeps it from being boring.

Baseball Jersey

The Zipper Cardigan manages to avoid the Mr. Rogers look with a nicely proportioned collar and some subtle stripes created with different stitch patterns -- not colors.

Basic Cardigan

The Hooded Sweatshirt seems like a great weekend pullover that you could wear most of the year (I might suggest a slightly less elfin shape to the hood, but that's a minor quibble).

Hooded Sweatshirt

On the accessories side, the Thick and Warm Socks are simple-looking but helpfully designed to not fall down (one of my pet peeves with socks).

Thick & Warm Socks

The Reversible Cable Scarf is a handy wardrobe staple and would work with both a casual jacket or a longer topcoat you would wear to work.

Reversible Cable Scarf

The book had a couple of "Huh?" moments for me as well. After all of the advice about understated color and subtle design, the book has some items that made me raise my manly eyebrows -- fingerless mitts in traffic pylon orange (might work in Park Slope, but I'm not expecting to see them in suburbia any time soon);

Fingerless Mitts

and the mock turtleneck, all-over-ribbed Ski Sweater in, um, heathered teal ('nuff said).

Ski Sweater

If I had one major complaint, it's that a book that purports to be a selection of knits for men ignores some major categories of traditional men's designs that I would place under the admittedly imprecise heading "preppy basics" -- for example, there's no argyle, no fair isle, no aran/fisherman sweater, no Norwegian or Lopi-style motifs. Given the aesthetic sensibility that runs through this book, a Weinstein take on one or more of these design traditions could be very interesting.

Overall I liked Knits Men Want for its nicely done patterns for wearable wardrobe basics presented with attractive graphic design and excellent photography. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to watching the game in my undershirt while sitting in my recliner with a beer in my hand.

Mr. Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat is an attorney, raconteur, lagomorph-lover and occasional spokesmodel for Black Bunny Fibers.
He is rarely befuddled or helpless and never a meathead.

All photos c.2010 by Jared Flood.


Unknown said...

Wow...a Carol AND Tom post...that's amazing...I can't even imagine getting Thaddeus to do something similar.

So, will we get to see a picture of Tom wearing the Baseball Jersey sweater anytime soon?

Tabitha said...

You people are too funny. "My manly eyebrows" - priceless. An insightful review with a delightful point of view. Thanks!

Carol said...

@Joe -- you'll have to ask Tom. I hear he is looking for a special someone to knit it for him. Interested?

Anonymous said...

After that review, I imagine a bzillion someones will be offering to knit it for him... Awesome review from both of you.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Carol, I'll pay
good money to see Tom sporting the Baseball Jersey in traffic pylon orange!

Kathy said...

I've seen this book on several posts but you have convinced me that I need to buy it!

JelliDonut said...

Would love to see more contributions from Mr. Go Knit in Your Hat. I loved his review. But that 'non-knitter' thing? You gotta work on that!

Enjoyed this so much. Thanks!

Ali P said...

Loved the review, sugarbooger. Tom is very nice to read!!! His bio, fabulous! "rarely a meathead"..heeheeheeeeee

When will you and Miss Laura come to Montreal!!?? Come on! We need a knit weekend at Veve's new house!!!!

Clea Stagnitti said...

I just saw that book in a store recently and loved it! Best men's knitting book I've seen in ages. It's on my list to buy.

Bridget said...

Excellent comments about this book. I'm just surprised he could take the time out of his typical schedule of chopping wood so you could use the new cookstove ...

I may have to give this book a look. Though since I have a lesbian husband, I don't have any idea if he'll like the book ..

Carol said...

But Bridget, he should LOVE the elfin hood, no?

anne marie in philly said...

"Mr. Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat is an attorney, raconteur, lagomorph-lover and occasional spokesmodel for Black Bunny Fibers. He is rarely befuddled or helpless and never a meathead."

and he's cute too! woof!

Crazy Colorado Knitter said...

I was worried about the Men-Don't-Know-How-To-Dress stereotypes. I know this is probably more helpful to women who don't have husbands/boyfriends/whatevers who know how to knit and have definite taste in yarn, color, fiber, and pattern.

I'm of the opinion that if you make something simple, in a neutral color, for *any* person on your gift list, you're bound to get more oohs and aahs than if you make something more complex or in more colors.

But maybe I'm just weird that way.

Kathleen Dames said...

Thanks for the great review, Tom. On a recent visit my dad pointed out the befuddled male stereotypes everywhere while watching TV (I usually fast-forward through commercials at home). It is kind of shocking "in this day and age" to find such an attitude towards men; similar stereotypical representation of women would be met with howls of rage.

Colleen said...

Great review, and good work bringing in your husband for his point of view. But considering this book is written by a male knitter and photographed by a male knitter, we can't assume that any knitter checking out this book would be a woman knitting for "her guy" :-)

Carol said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol said...

@Colleen -- well, the whole point of the book is that it's directed at women knitting for their boyfriends and husbands, the "boyfriend curse" and all that. I think if you read it, you will see that the author is clearly directing it toward a female audience knitting for a male partner; otherwise the subtitle "The 10 Rules Every Woman Should know before knitting for a man"; much of the text, which focuses on the differences between men and women, and gives suggestions like "ask him after he's forgotten your anniversary"; and the anecdotes (involving women knitting for boyfriends or husbands) wouldn't make any sense. That's not to say it couldn't be helpful for anyone knitting for a man, but clearly the author himself is intending his audience to be a woman knitting for "her man."

Cat Herself said...

An excellent and VERY helpful review! I absolutely agree that we have allowed such stereotypes of our men go on for too long. Afterall, it's just for cheap laughs anyway, right? How am I supposed to raise my son to believe he is strong, smart, talented and caring if he's constantly face with such drivel?

Thank goodness we talk about what we view all the time!

I do appreciate male perspectives on knitted things, though. I sometimes get carried away with color and creativity and end up with things that my son and/or husband never wear. That was the old me, though. Now, I go to my male knitting friends for advice.

Virginia G said...

Agreed ten thousand times over about the meathead thing. In fact, I was excited about this book until I saw and got completely offended by the "rules" in the book. I agree. I think man bashing may be one of the last socially acceptable stereotypes. Unfortunately.

I did like some of the designs and the photography was of course, beautiful.

Kate said...

Thanks for this really excellent review. I am very tired of the Mars & Venus stereotypes and would love to see someone write a really great "knitting for men" book that really explains how to fit different male body types (they do exist) and explores all the great "preppy basic" traditions mentioned in your review. I think I'll try the new Brioche knitting book for its men's patterns instead of this one.