Knitting for Men?

Last night at the DKC (Glenna C. was the featured speaker) Patrick Madden wore a new FO for Show and Tell. So refreshing to see a man proudly modeling a knit sweater!

While growing up, a huge amount of the knitting I witnessed come off the needles of my mother, aunt and grandmother was for men...socks, vests, gloves, fine gauge cardigans and of course Mary Maxim curling/hockey themed sweaters! Ditto vests and cardis, hats and mittens and bulky zipped jackets for boys.

These pieces were worn a lot and darned for greater longevity.

Now, however my knitting world seems almost exclusively female. Last night in her talk on the internet/social media and knitting Glenna C. cited more than one definition of some aspect of knit culture (Stitch and Bitch for example) as being of female constitution. I get that, but I'm not referring to knitters, rather to knitting - the products of the process. Sure enough a Ravelry pattern search for adult females yields almost 66,000 results, a search for adult male patterns gave me just over 8,300. That's only 13% of the number of options for females.

All this is a bit top of mind for me right now as Ranger's going well and Number One Son is wearing his headband and mittens daily and so I'm wont to dream big about doing more knitting for the guys. I've even fantasized about the DKC Fashion Show next Christmas with My Beloved modelling multiple great sweaters I've whipped up for him between now and then. (Fat chance of that kind of productivity but like I said, its fantasy!)

Anyway looking through those eight thousand men's patterns, the featured photos are generally professionally modelled so I check out the "projects" to see real life knitters working the patterns and real life men modelling them.

If you've ever done such a search you may have noticed men who knit for themselves (like Patrick) have pictures of themselves in those knits that like Patrick last night convey happiness and comfort and satisfaction with their garment.  The men and boys of my childhood similarly beamed comfortable, unselfconcious smiles in family photos while wearing the knits of their wive's and mother's hands.

Contrast this with many photos of men on Ravelry wearing contemporary knits others (females?) have made for them. Pained, Awkward, Stunned. You can almost hear the instructions from the other side of the camera..."do something!"..."move your arms!"..."why do you look so weird - just smile!" I wonder whether some of the more crazed looking gents are suffering from the trauma of photographing the FO or being expected to wear it? (There is, after all, the well documented phenomenon of the "Boyfriend Sweater"!)

Why is this the case? What's happened? Knitting has exploded, it would seem more and more men are knitting and designing (Jared Flood #1 designer on Ravelry, Stephen West, #4!) I don't get it!

Its not photography related - I think that's just a symptom. I'm pretty sure it has to do with the knits themselves. And maybe just a wee bit about the knitter too? I know I want a certain amount of entertainment value out of my knitting efforts. Not so the knitters that came before me. It was much more pragmatic then and they were not trying to "style" anyone, just working basic, comfortable, well fitting and warm garments.

I have to admit an interest in pattern, texture and colour for male knits. I should recognize though, the males for whom I want to knit, don't share this view. In fact Number One Son asked me a couple of years ago why everything I knit for myself had to be so bright? He pointed out my choice of yarns actually competed with the knits themselves. 'Wondered why I didn't prefer to show off my stitches rather than the yarn somebody else made.

The lure of bulkier yarns to accomplish bigger sizes in less time might also be a mistake.  "Its just too hot" was a frequent complaint I heard from My Beloved early in our years together when I was cranking out pullovers for him.

So maybe I'd better take it easy on the gauge, high style and colour. If I want to knit stuff for my "men" I'd better find entertainment in the "done" and the "often donned" rather than the "doing".

Would it still be worth it then? Well I have to admit I am tickled to watch my son hunt around the house for the mittens I made before he heads out the door into the cold. It also feels pretty good to have My Beloved asking about the progress of knitting on his Cardi. If the odd man-knit could appear in a family photo not because I need a modeled shot of it but because its just being worn I think it would be pretty great. The intensely boring  basic socks I've knit up for both my guys do get worn almost constantly all winter and its great to find them in the laundry week after week.

Its something to ponder as I finish up Ranger.  Thanks for nudging me into thinking about all this stuff Patrick!
And thank you for dropping by to ponder it with me!


Brendaknits said...

Maybe men just dislike having their picture taken. It is often the boys that are sticking out their tongues or making faces when photographed.

LaurieM said...

I asked my husband and he reports that he likes the patterns in his sweaters. They're mostly cables, but we are currently planning a Norwegian sweater for him, http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/saint-olav-and-his-men

I've thinks its cool and I think it's an exciting project. I guess I just lucked out. He even takes good pictures!

ron huber said...

I think you you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned bulky yarn. Even here in Mexico, the hand made knits that men wear are so thick because, IMHO, the wife who knit it could make it in a week. Because men are usually much bigger than women, it takes a lot longer to knit a man's sweater. I tend to use only Shetland jumper weight and am now knitting one in Jamieson and Smith lace weight. Style is another factor and many hand made sweaters I see on men are those that involve no shaping such as drop shoulder sweaters. In order to accomodate their bellies, some shoulder seams reach nearly to the elbow. However, as you mentioned you would have to travel quite a distance to find a man or boy who did not appreciate a pair of hand knit socks, a pair of mittens, or a touque.
Ron in Mexico

Lorraine said...

Men tend to wear more conservative itmes, and women like brighter colours. Not true for everyone, but on the whole.

My dh has several Fair Isles, one designed for him, and he wears the Dr. Who hat I made. He even has a gansey that took me a year- hardly worn.

That said, men are much bolder and confident in their approach to knitting. That has been my observation.

juicyknits said...

I knit my hb a plain sweater, he's happy about it, but the first thing he asks me is why I don't knit anything colourful for him. Something Norwegian style? He'd love to choose colours himself. Well, thank you, can we please go buy some yarn now? ;-)

Steven said...

Knitting for men is a tricky thing -- even if you are a man knitting for yourself. I've knitted two sweaters for my partner. He even asked me to knit one of them. But he doesn't wear them often -- says they're too scratchy. He now wants me to knit him an all-cotton sweater, which will weigh a ton. We'll see...

Mary said...

I really enjoyed following your musings in this post. Also on my mind now, though not so analytically, as I'm knitting a sweater for a beloved. I was thinking about how to get the good, happy photos (loved your line "The men and boys of my childhood similarly beamed comfortable, unselfconcious smiles in family photos while wearing the knits of their wive's and mother's hands"). and "...I'd better find entertainment in the "done" and the "often donned" rather than the "doing" - definitely something I think about as well, for myself. Sometimes the "best" knits may be best not because of the clearly evident knitting innovations and dramatic techniques, but in its wearability... suitable colours, proper material choices, perfect fit, and Function! Hmmm... I think your post would be food for more conversation next month!

I'm really looking forward to seeing Ranger completed and how your happy recipient will look and feel in it!

- Another MH