What men want
In this first bloke focussed knitting show I wanted to answer a question that has come up in a number of emails that have been sent. Kimberly summed it up in her message after show 2 “I would love to be able to design patterns for men that they would wear! I’ve surveyed the guys I work with as well as my husband but they can’t or won’t give me a concrete answer. How about you?”
Well, I’ll give it a go. When I started knitting it was with the thought that I could make myself some nice jumpers, after all I live in the mountains and have ample opportunity to wear warm clothes. I picked up a Paton’s pattern book that had a variety of jumpers in 8 ply yarn, all single colour and mostly plain, although there are some Aran designs towards the back, all of them I would wear. A few weeks later I picked up the Paton’s book for their chunkier Inca yarn, again simple single colour designs – and again, I’d be happy to wear any of them. Paton’s aren’t silly, they are a huge yarn and pattern manufacturer and they’ve been in business for over a hundred years, so they must be doing something right.
This got me thinking, as did some comments by other men at the knitting group; so I went and did some informal research. I went into one of the large, up market, department stores and found the jumpers – not an easy job in Sydney at the moment due to the 30+ Celsius temperatures. All of the jumpers were either plain in one colour, or plain in 2 colours (the second colour as a band across the chest). I’m going to give the department store the benefit of the doubt and assume that their buyers know what they are doing and they buy what actually sells – so what do men want to wear in knitting? Plain, single colour boring jumpers. This is not that surprising really, when was the last time you saw a suit in anything but a plain style (unless it was being worn by an Elvis impersonator).
Of course this refers to business wear, but 5 days a week people work, for just 2 days (maybe 1½ if time is taken out for religious observances) a man is free to wear more casual stuff. Now, as a man, if someone I care about were to take the time to make me something knitted, I’d want to get as much use out of it as possible, I’d want to wear it to work. A plain, boring jumper I can wear and not look out of place at work, I might get away with something more interesting occasionally, but not most of the time.
Now that’s not something most knitters want to hear. 50,000 stitches in plain stocking stitch for a jumper, in a nice neutral colour is not something that is going to get the creative juices flowing. So here’s the conflict, the difference between what you’d like to knit and what he’d like to wear. How do you resolve it? Well, when it comes to jumpers, I don’t think you can. For knitting satisfaction, you want to knit something with a bit of colour, or texture, something with a pattern that will keep you interested, not 50,000 knit stitches in the round. For wearing satisfaction, he wants a jumper knitted in mid grey in plain wool, and 50,000 knit stitches.
So what’s the ultimate solution? Don’t knit him a jumper. I think this also explains, to some extent, those stories we’ve heard of people knitting jumpers for their new boyfriends and then losing the boyfriend. Could it be that the boyfriend has watched the jumper taking shape and then found it easier to leave than to wear the finished item? Some people will do anything to avoid a conflict. If you must knit a jumper for a bloke, sneak a peek at the jumpers and jackets he has bought for himself, and then knit something in the same style and colour range. He’ll wear it proudly, love the fact that you’ve made it, and that will more than make up for the tedium of making it.
“But”, I hear you cry, “I want to make something more interesting.” All is not lost, there are two or three ways you can be colourful and inventive and still make things your man will want to wear every day. As part of work and study, I have had to sit at the back of courts and observe proceedings, now you don’t get more conservative dressers than lawyers, yet for all the black, and dark blue suits, light coloured shirts, there is one item of attire that is individual, their ties. Their ties are colourful, patterned, textured and pretty much the only thing that sets their “uniforms’ apart. While writing this I did a quick internet search for “knitted tie pattern” and found half a dozen free patterns, one dating back to 1914. These could be knitted in plenty of exotic colours, with interesting yarns and with patterning. There’s also a tie pattern in Knit 2 Together that’s done in Koigu.
And ties are quick. A tie would be a perfect gift, much less work than even a pair of socks. And if you don’t think that a tie is enough, there are five days in the working week, why not one for each day?
The other place a bloke can be a bit individual is socks, especially if he wears a suit. Because no one can see them, socks can be colourful, patterned, interesting. A quick look at the business socks in a department store will show a huge range of Snoopy, Garfield, Star Trek themed socks, in a wide variety of colours. If it’s interesting colours and patterns you want to work with, socks are ideal. Ok, you’re limited a little with the yarn you can use, but that’s a small price to pay for getting to use the colours. Socks take longer to knit (at the rate I knit, about 40 hours for a pair), and they don’t last as long, so choose your recipient carefully, make sure they know these are slightly more special than the 5 pairs for $10 socks you can get at the supermarket.
Away from business, there are all sorts of other knitted items that men need. In Kniting with balls Micheal del Vecchio has a design for a hooded jacket in alpaca that would be a perfect gift. And there are plenty of other designs around that most men would be proud to wear, provided they are in sensible colours.
There is nothing more disappointing than working for tens or even hundreds of hours on a knitted gift, and then have the recipient make all the right noises upon receiving it, but then you never see them wearing it again. Chances are that they’d love to wear it, but it just doesn’t fit with their style, or with what they’re expected to wear at work. So stick to ties and socks make them as distinctive as you want, but unless you want to work the words “I know this doesn’t match expectations, but it was knitted by someone I love” in duplicate stitch into the back of that intarsia jumper, it’s probably best to stick to ‘boring’.