brown is the colour

I’ve been reading lots of knitting / textile-related tomes recently, and thought I’d write about them over the next few posts. First up is a book I had few expectations of: Bruce Weinstein’s Knits Men Want. Weinstein set himself a difficult task here — designs for men are notoriously hard to get right, not to mention tricky to market. And when I read that the book also purported to offer a fool-proof guide for any woman knitting for her man, I confess that I was ever-so-slightly wary. As someone interested in the representation of gender difference, I am suspicious of any of that “men are from mars” gumph, and so many things written about knitting “for him” seem to me to be a bit weird and, indeed, sometimes just a little bit offensive, in what’s said about men’s tastes and preferences. I found Debbie Stoller’s Son of Stitch n Bitch troubling in this regard. I was also quite astounded by some of the designs Stoller selected in terms of the assumptions they were implicitly making about masculinity. If one were to believe the patterns in her book, men are beer-swilling pirates with a penchant for pole dancing, and want to display their love of these activities in knitwear.

(no pirate-themed garments here, thank gawd)

But I sort of trusted that Weinstein’s book would be different. For a start, the author is an experienced knitting instructor with long-standing knowledge of what works in men’s knitwear, and had got Jared Flood – a model of masculine good taste if ever there was one – to do the photography. So I expected the book to to be carefully put together and to look nice to boot – but what surprised me was that it was also witty. I found the observations Weinstein made about women knitting for men, masculine tastes, and the relationship of wearers of both sexes to their sweaters, to be moot and pointed and not at all presumptous. His writing, in fact, is refreshingly dry. The book includes 10 ‘rules’ of knitting for men, comparative lists of gendered behaviour and suchlike — formats we are all very familiar with from a host of women’s magazines — yet the approach to these popular genres in Knits Men Want seems happily slightly tongue-in-cheek. I had warmed to Weinstein by page 10, on which I was instructed to ‘nix the knitted iPod, golf club and beer cosies’ (sorry, Debbie).

Flood’s photography, with it’s characteristic quietness, works perfectly with the designs in this book, which are classic go-to garments for men of all tastes and ages. Each pattern is usefully written for multiple gauges, so one could actually make the hoodie pictured above in five different weights of yarn. This is a great touch. In my experience, a bloke quite likes to pick out the yarn for his sweater himself, but does not necessarily understand the importance of gauge. Using this book, you could stop worrying about stitches per inch, and knit the sweater with the Chosen Yarn, whatever tension it worked at. The multiple-gauge instructions are also put together well. Since I’ve started producing designs myself, I look at layout and pattern writing with quite a critical eye, and the patterns here seemed to be really well written, laid out, and edited.

But what of the designs themselves? I was taken with most of the sweaters, in particular the Basic Cardigan with it’s neat, unfussy panels of reverse stockinette, and this Baseball Jersey, which features a two-tone saddle shoulder (in my opinion, a saddle-shouldered sweater looks good on any man). In fact, the only sweater I wasn’t too keen on was the button-up Henley — merely a personal preference, as I’m frankly not keen on any sweater in that style. But then, this book is not really for me – it’s true test is whether or not men actually want the knits in Knits Men Want. Tom really liked Weinstein’s designs, and perhaps more tellingly, so did our friend The Mule, who was visiting last weekend. While Tom’s response to garment design has inevitably been tempered by years of cohabiting with an obsessive knitter and her mountains of yarn, Mule has no such bias. He is a sort of blind taster where knitting patterns are concerned – as well as a nattily turned-out male individual – and his view should therefore be respected. He liked the Basic Cardigan and Ski Sweater because they “looked hand-knitted,” and thought the hat and gloves were great. The only garment he wasn’t overly keen on was the hoodie, which he felt was too much an “imitation of generic high-street style.” Overall, Mule thought that Weinstein’s designs were very pleasing, and found them all to be simple, understated and masculine. And these are, as Weinstein repeatedly points out in his accompanying essays, the qualities most blokes really want to find in a knitted thing.

I would do well to take Weinstein’s words on board, as I frequently fall into the knitterly traps that he writes about, ignoring masculine tastes and working to my own. For example, I am currently knitting a pair of socks with this lovely skein (kindly gifted to me by Heather during my last trip to the US). Now, Tom is strangely drawn to brown yarn in the manner of a bee, and, upon seeing the socks that rock, immediately bagsed it for himself. I then made the foolish mistake of sitting him down in front of ravelry, and showing him several patterns. I first suggested Nancy Bush’s Gentleman’s Sock with Lozenge Pattern to which his response was “those bobbly bits (translation: purl stitches) look a bit uncomfortable.” We then moved on to Gentleman’s Fancy Sock which drew an immediate “I’m not sure about this ‘fancy’ business.” Several other sock patterns were proffered and immediately vetoed. While I felt these designs were simple and unfussy, this clearly wasn’t how Tom saw them. What he really liked, he said, was the chocolatey colour of the yarn: “can’t you just make me some nice, plain brown socks with it?” Now, if you want to knit for a bloke, says Weinstein, you should respect their tastes, rather than your own knitterly predilections. The simple, understated and carefully thought-through designs in his book clearly speak to those tastes. Written in multiple gauges, they give the knitter many options for producing things that their blokes might actually want to wear, rather than wear grudgingly, or not at all. This is a very useful book, then. My only criticisms are that Weinstein might have included a few pointers about custom shaping (while men, as he says, don’t enjoy fittings, most appreciate a sweater that fits well) and begun his size range at a 38 rather than a 40 (some men are wee). Meanwhile, I am knitting some nice, plain, brown socks.

42 responses

  1. Thanks for that review, Kate – it’s definitely going on the book wish list! And Stevan is with Tom …. simple, plain socks – but in his case it’s “in any colour as long as it’s grey”. Which, for a dyer who loves a range of colours, is frustrating at times!

  2. Thanks for the review, but for the opposite reason – even though it does sound like a great book. I’ve read other reviews of this book with a similar amount of wariness – especially the advice on colour choices. My feller is quite adventurous in his colour tastes, and the see of blue and brown worried me a bit. Colour choices are always down to the knitter in the end, but what seals my non-purchase is that he’s very much a 38/small, so sizes starting at 40 are not going to help! I’m just going to have to get on a design the fair-isle jumper (and/or vest) he asked for myself….

  3. I bought the book a few weeks ago, and I completely agree with you. Knitting for men is really challenging, and I have not yet accomplished any. Everytime I try to start a project, I cannot overcome a fear of creating something that are doomed to go straight to the bottom of a closet. Anyway, I think the book looks pretty great and I will definitely be making something!
    Glad you are feeling better :)

  4. I like this post. I can really see your point, I never understood the fuss about “Knitting for a man” until I tried it and we ended up in long discussions about colours, patterns,… As a knitter you want a bit of a challenge with every pattern you knit, but my guy just want plain stockinette, no fuss. Though I discovered it is very hard for him to picture a sweater just by seeing the yarn or the picture with the pattern. Impossible to change the colour or ad some extra because I already lost him

  5. Thanks for the review, Kate. I have to say I was rather put off this book by the extract in the latest Twist Collective – what you’ve categorised as ‘tongue-in-cheek’ came across as patronising there and my impression was that the book was peddling the Mars-and-Venus line which I really, really hate. I’m still not sure I’ll buy it (apart from anything I find knitting jumpers and cardigans for myself a challenge, and I’m not sure I’m prepared to attempt it for my husband) but I might take a closer look next time I’m browsing knitting books.

    On the subject of socks for men, my husband and I have found that the Yarn Harlot’s Earl Grey socks are the perfect compromise; the mock cable down the side adds knitting interest, while the socks are plain and well-fitting and my husband loves wearing them. I think he would like a whole rainbow of them!

  6. I felt the same as Sadie when reading the excerpt in Twist, so I’m glad to hear that the book doesn’t have a flavor of offensive condescension.

    Then again, even though I know men may prefer brown and can generally share similar tastes, and that we all want to give gifts that please, there’s still a part of me that reacts so negatively to the monolithic category of “men” and the “women” who knit for them. Then again, it just struck me that the title is a tongue-in-cheek allusion to Freud’s “What do women want?”

    Anyway, I like and don’t like. My general feeling is, borrowing from Christopher Fry’s The Dark is Light Enough:

    “I know the true world, and you know I do,
    But we needn’t let it think we all bow down.”

  7. I have read this post out to Mark over our Sunday morning coffee and we are both laughing at the familiar Ravelry pattern proffering/vetoing process and the complexities of female knitter/male recipient relations.

    I have asked Mark for a comment to your post and he has this to add to the debate on masculine knitwear:

    ‘I like the simple and masculine idea of a jumper and hat. I’m not convinced about socks. I just don’t understand why anyone spends so much time knitting something that nobody sees and which will meet the ultimate demise in the washing machine.’

    I think his views are coloured by the fact that he has spent the last 3 days bearing witness to my cursing at the second pair of sonic swaledale socks.

    I think he is a tiny bit jealous of the nice brown socks as he is also drawn – bee-like – to fine brown, bear-like shades of yarn.

    x

  8. I completely agree with Sadie about the tone in the Twist review. As most, I was wary of the book from its very title, and the review I read in Twist really didn’t help, though I liked the designs. I haven’t yet attempted to knit for a man, especially since I already have an aversion to black and I suspect that is what they would want. I might start with my Dad, though, he doesn’t mind clothes that are *slightly* whacky, i.e. not necessarily black. Thank you for a great review!

  9. Great review! I saw it came into the shop friday but I didn’t get a chance to look at it, now I shall for sure!
    Something satisfying about a pair of plain brown socks knit with nice yarn. :)

  10. what a nice review, thank you so much for your thorough and helpful suggestions. other than alice starmore’s, which still sets on the shelf, i have yet to find a sweater pattern my husband would wear. can’t wait to order this one on your learned suggestion! i am new to your blog and am wholeheartedly cheering you on!

  11. Mine is the same.
    His Bloke Sweaters need to be plain stocking stitch with tweedy yarn texture.
    I have finally learned that socks need to be top down and have 2×2 rib to the ankles (yes, I know…) or at a pinch 3×1, followed by simple heel flap. Brown, grey, taupe, pewter – that’s about it.

    Just as well I’m partial to a bit of brown, really.

  12. I agree with Sadie and the like: reading the excerpt in Twist really made me cringe, with its trite gender cliches. It’s nice to know that the writing is actually more subtle and tongue in cheek than that, as I was rather put off buy my husband really likes the patterns in the book. So far as knitting for men goes, I’ve had mixed results. My husband picked out Jared from “Vintage Knits” for his engagement sweater, and he loves it. It was, however, a bit of a trial for me at all stockinette in DK gauge. We’ve had the exact same conversation as you and Tom, ironically about the same exact sock patterns. Our winner? Plain with a bit of ribbing.

  13. I very much enjoy your varied posts and learn a great deal on a variety of subjects (I’m just sorry you have to experience physio first-hand). This is a thoughtful, articulate review of Knits Men Want, and I look forward to more in the future. Not only is “understated” the look most men want, they really look better in it (as boring as it may be to knit plain for days on end).

  14. There is something very therapeutic about knitting a plain sock, I think. I always have a pair on needles. That brown is very brown-bear-ish. :)

  15. Thanks for your perspective on this book. I think a request for brown socks would be quite refreshing – my husband seems to have a penchant for blue and green variegated yarns. I do find myself making him plain socks much of the time, but for selfish reasons – I like to be able to read a book at the same time, and it can get quite boring knitting such a large sock!

  16. there was a huge uproar on twitter after the article in Twist but I looked at this book in a store yesterday and I thought “despite the patronizing ‘knit for your man’ message that he put out in Twist, my dad would actually wear the sweaters in this book!” so, you know, if I had a man to knit for, I would likely buy it. despite any “woman, knit for me” qualms raised by the weird tone of the article (which sounds a bit more over the top than the book itself seems).

  17. I’ve been eyeing that book up but wasn’t sure, so I was pleased to read your thoughts on it. My other half’s always hinting that he wants me to make him something plain.. I might just do that.

    Loved seeing all the lovely things you received in the post too.

  18. I have knitted my guy several sweaters over the years – always a classic shape and he likes cables :) The last one I did was Innishmore by Alice Starmore. But he is picky about fit especially around the neck. The picture above shows a larger neck opening than my guy would like so I compromise and make the neck smaller. This book may be worth browsing – thanks for the review.

  19. Thanks for the review. I’ve made one or two things for my man and they languish in the closet. It’s frustrating. I’ve come to realize the plainer the garment, the greater likelihood it will be worn.

  20. I’m excited to have found your blog through a link on Jude Hill’s blog, Spirit Cloth. As something of a simple knitter, reading your entries is a call to challenge myself further and tackle something new. I’m sure, with more exposure, something is going to draw me in. Many thanks for sharing your passion with us – it’s more than enjoyable reading you and seeing what you’re up to. Oh – and loved the little guy you used to illustrate your ‘rant’ the other day…though not sure it actually was a rant, more of a ‘ this is me, on this day’ kind of thing. In other words, still great to read and inspiring in another way. cheers, Louise

  21. Yep – I’ve got a ‘plain/maybe a WEE bit rib – nothing fancy – brown, taupe, grey or ‘heaven forfend’ a bit of green’ type man so this book sounds like the one for us – especially if I can choose the pattern and put it to the weight – ‘never chunky, always fine gauge'(sigh). i sometimes wonder if it is really worth the time and trouble – however when Roger puts on his hand knitted socks he is always very pleased and proud – bless him- and he says they are ‘very comfy’.

    We aim to please………….

  22. Saw a man in toffee leather jacket, grey smedley jersey and light sandy trousers with tan loafers recently and didn’t think “brown”, which always reminds of Ingersol watches with tobacco-stained beige faces and feces-coloured nylon trousers from M&S. But what about cream? In Aran sweaters, Orkney knits? Maybe with a fleck of toffee, and not too “fat-yarn”, yet baggy-gauge enough to cover the slight paunch. A sort of Karsh/Hemingway/Captain Cat look I guess…

  23. Thanks for that lovely post! It was such a delightful read. Feels like you are getting more and more back to being your old self.

    On the book: it is tingling more and more in my fingertips… it seams to be a nice read and there are men to knit for/knitting in my life.

    I totally second the preferrence of plain patterns(not only for men). “Son of Stich and Bitch” was a little disappointing in this respect.

    Liebe Grüße
    Christina

  24. I once thought to knit my guy an Aran sweater. I showed him the pattern photo, and he remarked that the cables looked “frilly.”

  25. I have been unimpressed with other books in this genre, but this sounds worth looking at. My husband LOVES his handknit socks. As long as they are plain and black. (No tweed, no semi solids.) So I knit plain black socks a few times a year. I ventured into grey but they way down on the list. Oh well, I figure one of the reasons we make custom products is to have exactly what the recipient wants.

  26. I was wary about this book too, so thank you for the wonderful review! The two men in my life for whom I knit socks have very, very different tastes. One wants very plain socks with nothing more than a simple ribbing, and only a little bit of variegation in the colour. The other wants me to make him socks with cables, or even better, socks with Opal Tiger yarn that have white toes and duplicate-stitch claws. Given that, I always sort of look askance at “what men want” statements…

  27. Thanks for your very interesting and useful review. I am always wary of “men’s tastes” in knits style of books, as I have no time at all for that Mars and Venus b*llocks(and no man I know would have contananced anything Stoller-like). I have yet to knit a jumper for my beloved as (after picking out a very plain pattern)the shade of wool chosen (Noro Kureyon)was discontinued. And wool socks have been declared “too hot”: we live in a Victorian flat in Edinburgh. I suppose I should be grateful. He has huge feet.
    Hope your patience, and therefore, recovery is improving, and you are not too frustrated.It’s always so hard to go slow and steady.

  28. Thanks for the review! I have spent plenty of time pondering the perfect masculine knits as well. I have knit many hats, socks and mittens for my bf and a couple for my dad and brother and have definitely learned a lot.

    Since I have knit so many things for Lou (my bf) I have gradually narrowed down his preferences for more success. He definitely likes picking out the yarn himself but hates looking at patterns. Instead I ask him questions about what he likes about (for example) previous socks I have knit for him, which are his favorites, why? etc. The main reason that Lou likes handknit socks so much is that they fit his feet and narrow ankles well and do not slouch. Therefore I stick to rib based patterns for him.

    When I asked my dad these same questions his response was that they were warm and made by me. I feel like with my dad I have more room to choose a complicated pattern but I try to stick to thicker yarns unless he is doing the choosing.

    Maybe it’s just my family but they seem to really enjoy being part of the process unless it involves looking at patterns for more than a few minutes.

  29. as my knitting skills have advanced, so have my husband’s willingness to wear knitted socks with more detail and more color. that may be because he senses that i would be resistant to knitting plain ribbed socks (and he does love his hand knitted socks.) the last pair i knitted for him was lau, which are mirrored.

  30. Thanks for your words on this book. I too found the Twist Collective excerpt quite cringe-inducing and I’m fortunate that my husband actually likes the “fancy” patterned socks ;-) I guess the key is really to respect the tastes of the individual for whom you are knitting and not your own, no matter the sex.

  31. Guy knitters of my acquaintance have given this book mixed reviews, but then I’ve also seen them bookmark certain pages. You (and several commenters) make an excellent side point, Kate. Simple conversation can close the gap between what men and women want in a knit.

  32. I am so happy to hear that thebook is more tongue-in-cheek than it came across in Twist and on the publisher’s blog. According to the chart, I am most definitely a man, which is news to me.

    I know they have to go for the obvious, but it seems to me a better book would be ‘Knitting for People Other than Yourself’ with reminders to notice what people already wear, what flatters them, and what colors they may gravitate toward – basically, pay attention to their likes for a while and not through your personal preference lenses. From the preview, my multiple-sweater-recipient would maybe wear one of the sweaters in the book (if he could choose a different color yarn), and I most likely would (after I altered the size). I may check it out if they are making fun. I had a very bad reaction to the preview.

  33. Oh, it looks like i’d have to adjust the sizing for my multiple-sweater-recipient as well as for me. 40 as the smallest size? I know a lot of skinny, lanky guys I guess. Some of the details look nice, though.

  34. Thanks for this review. It pretty much confirmed my reasons for not puchasing the book. My fellow is a little wild in his color choices (favorite color: purple), and making matters worse, he knits (though he’s not on Ravelry).
    His winter scarf is a candleflame pattern in red-orange-yellow varegaited yarn that he knit himself before I met him. I find it a bit garish, but he loves it. If I get better about finishing projects, maybe this book will be good for basic understated designs, but until then, I really will be better served by dragging him through the Ravelry dance however painful it may be.

  35. In nearly 20 years together and, despite a big knitting habit, I have only recently knitted something for my partner and that was a hat so simple (from Tracey Ullman’s knitting book) that I had it almost completed by the end of watching Dr Zhivago one Sunday afternoon. It was, of course, a browny oatmeal colour (a Rowan tweed). What really puts me off is that any jumper would have to be plain and the number of rows required for someone 6 ft 4 inches are just too depressing. Only if I could guarantee that the end result would be something he’d like would that be fine!

  36. Hi Kate, I am so happy that you are better and are In-Charge of your life, once again. I have been following your progress, as I had a surgical procedure to straighten my leg about the same time you had your stroke. I am such a weenie, and found inspiration to get up off my butt when I’d read your blog. Thank you.
    Now, to tell you what I’m up to: knitting a sweater for my husband’s birthday (We are Harry Potter fans). The yarn is Dream In Color Starry and StitchJones GlamSock—SPARKLES!!! I first trialed a hat. He thought that he would hate it. Turns out, he loves it! Celestial stars, Cresent moon over waves, phases of the Moon, etc. His sweater is “Davildore” set with the sign of the Deathly Hallows, a 3D spider, Fawkes, the Phoenix sitting with spread wings on the Elder wand and Honka Whimsical Swirls up both arms and shoulder straps. I am finishing the neck at this time, but so far he loves it and sees it as a special occasion sweater. Hmmm, I wonder what that means… We shall see, but plain old brown( which is wonderful ) it is not.
    We, as females, are lucky feel able to express ourselves in color and texture.
    Best wishes for continued progress in regards to the physio.
    Susan

  37. Oh yes. FL’s imminent Birthday Socks are covered in cables and lace – so he has no idea I am knitting them for him. I can sit knitting beside him for hour after hour, safe in the knowledge that he would never expect such “fussy” socks! But as the knitter, I reserve the right to make life interesting for myself! They are currently dark green (so not far from brown!) but I suspect the heels and toes are going to be purple… just because!

  38. This book review and your thoughts on knitting for men was really helpful and timely for me. I have recently been going back and forth with my husband on just this question and this has helped me realize I just need to step back. Thanks again

  39. Hi,

    I did pick up this book as I wanted to have the patterns for my husband in multiple gauges as he will pick out the yarn if I bring home some skeins as a sample. I will knit a gauge swatch so he can see the true color and softness and whatever else is the requirements. He is a plain brown, black, navy blue darker color guy as he has to wear really nice clothes to work for his business. I did leave the book on the coffee table and he picked it up to make fun of it and got into the book and has made me several notes as for what he wants. So all in all it was a great buy for me.

  40. My better half was inspired by a sweater his colleague had…20 years ago. As for a description: like “Bagpuss”. But the real shock for me was to what extent gravity acts upon a (44 inch chest) sweater. And my swatch was 12″ x 36″!
    He was very kind about about the whole business.

    There is also the issue of expectation vs ability. Would that I could knit a sweater-set the equal of the one Yves Montand wears in Le cercle rouge (the target-shooting scene in the woods). Alas, I suspect I cannot.

  41. Thank you for clearing this up Kate. I was really confused
    when I read the patterns at first, but Bruce seems a little bit
    pernickety when it comes to the multiple gauges. I think I’m just
    going to stick tot he top line!

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