Weekly topic #9

As men who knit, that are disatisfied with the availability of patterns available to us; how can we go about changing that?

The magazines & online sites have 90% of content devoted to women.

Where are the designers for men? 

drmel94's picture

Both QueerJoe and Marilyn, The Knitting Curmudgeon, have recently written about the lack of decent designs in knitting mags in general, so on top of the general lack of men's patterns, it seems we're doubly disadvantaged. Their take on it is that the 'Net is where most of the original and decent designs seem to be popping up these days, though even in this medium men's designs continue to be underrepresented. I think that they're right, though, and I think that if we want to see more decent designs out there we're mostly going to have to do it ourselves. Forums like this site are great for allowing some creative exchange, and I think that 'zines like knitty offer great potential for rank and file creative knitters to put their designs out there. We just have to make use of what the 'Net has to offer. That said, it also wouldn't hurt if knitting magazines started hearing more from their male readers about what they want to see.

"Hatred does not end by hatred; hatred ends by love. This is the eternal law." - Buddha

JPaul's picture

I'm going to start right out by apologizing, in advance, for my comments, which I'm guessing are going to be a little snarky, and I may swear....Read on and let's see, shall we?  (My comments aren't a reply to Weekly topic #9, so much as a response to an on-going theme that seems to be developing on MenWhoKnit.com)

I am SOOO tired of hearing about the lack of patterns for men.  I am particularly tired of hearing about it on this website.  It's over-reported.  It's blown out of proportion.  Just how many "designers for men" do we expect there should be?  And why do you think these poor bastards should be working for free?

Let's talk about numbers and economics.  What percentage of knitters do you suppose are men?  Do you think it's 10%?  I'm pretty confident that it's less.  So, if you were a magazine devoted to knitters, why should you be expected to write for anyone outside of your audience demographic?  There is such a huge disparity in the amount of online knitting content devoted to women vs men because it is a reflection of the huge disparity in the actual numbers of men vs women who knit.  If you were a designer of handknits and your success depended on selling patterns, who would you design for?  The overwhelming majority, of course.

I think you just need to look.  There are many great patterns for men out there!  There is an abundance!  Look for them.  What do you want to knit?  Something clean and simple?  Look for Rowan or Debbie Bliss's designs for men.  Want something more challenging and colorful.  Kaffe Fassett's designs are a riot of color, but classic designs that endure.  Or Dale of Norway.  They design loads of men's sweaters.  Brandon Mabley, Classic Elite...there is a great book (by Beth Brown Reinsel) that walks you step-by-step through designing and knittng your own gansey.  Do a google search.  There ARE designs out there, great designs.  (About those magazines, look at some of the crap that's getting published.  Why do we want our share of that?  If they're serving poop on a platter, I don't want my portion.)

Now to answer the question: how to create change?  Awareness.  If you want patterns for men, teach a man to knit.  Create a viable market.  Be visible to other men who might be interested in knitting.  Knit in public.  Let me say that again.  KNIT IN PUBLIC.  Come out of your knitting closet.  Tell people you knit.  What's the big deal?  Seriously.  Until people (who publish magazines and books or own yarn stores or design sweaters) KNOW that men are knitting and see that there is a market, we won't see a huge increase in the number of patterns being produced for us.  I'm not saying you have to carry on knitting everywhere you go, but if nobody knows you knit...tell someone.  Knit at work on your break.  Knit at a coffee shop or on the bus or join a knitting group.  Stereotypes don't go away if our actions (or lack of action) continually suggest to others that they might be accurate.

I agree with John absolutely!  I have more patterns than I could possibly knit and I have no problem adapting them to create other styles.  Much of the styling is in the use of colour and texture anyway.  All sweaters have two arms, a neck and a body so it's not difficult to play around with these.  I've never had any problem with knitting in public or people knowing I knit.  No-one seems to be bothered; interested yes but never bothered.  Mind you, I haven't yet tried it over a pint in the pub but that's because you go to pubs to get bladdered - I like to keep my pleasures separate!  There is a huge amount of material available in the UK and a lot of patterns are equally wearable on men as women.  Much of that material is aimed at the women's market but then so are cookery, gardening and the like. No big deal.

kiwiknitter's picture

Here in New Zealand, we have both the awful patterns for both genders (just bad designing) and great patterns and that includes knitwear for guys.  Styles and fashions here are different from the US and other places, probably because we are so isolated and trends take a while to reach us down here.  In addition, because the population of the entire country is only 4.14 million people, the consumer demand is less than in countries whose any one  city (eg London) has more inhabitants than we do in all of NZ.  Until only recently, people grew up with a home-made and make-do attitude just because imported goods were (and in many cases still are) so expensive.  People here are used to home knitted garments.  Because of our common link with the UK, we have a long history with Paton Wools which still produces good patterns for men.

I have a number of vintage patterns for men's clothing but guys in that era were much smaller than we are today!  As I learn to adapt patterns, I'll be able to knit them or at least take the various styles I like and meld them into a suitable piece of knitwear.  A few months earlier we had a topic about copyrighted knitting patterns.  But, what new item of knitting can there possibly be when it all comes down to just one stitch?  A jersey is a jersey; the same can be said of a hat, a scarf, mittens and the like.  If we can subdue the left side of our brain for just a wee while, we could adapt and blend stitch patterns, colours and style into knitwear of our own design.

Here I must stand up and be counted as a supporter of JPaul's strong words on being a visible knitter.  I knit in public whenever and wherever I have the opportunity.  Now that I know I can leave-off in mid-row (thanks to the advice offered here at MWK), I am knitting even more frequently in public.  I am not ashamed of the fact that I can make beautiful and useful things.  It has been my experience that people, if they even notice, don't seem to care one way or another.  I don't live in a liberal environment like NYC, San Francisco or London but New Zealand has a strong streak of being independent and allowing others to do their own thing.  [For the gay guys here, NZ added full civil rights for gay folk into the national constitution in 1986; what's the current state of gay civil rights in the US 20 years later?]   The men who see me knit don't appear to be fussed over another male knitting and the only odd looks I get have been from women (which is a whole other story).  Just in case I have to defend myself as a knitter, I am armed with the story of men's involvement with knitting in history but I almost never have to use it.  The final justification for me knitting: I like to do it - get over it.  Our non-gay knitting brothers need to join publicly every other male knitter to break the cultural taboo and negative stereotypes that may or may not exist.  I've pondered long and hard over why we males are so reluctant to knit in public and I believe it comes down to quite simply: homophobia - we (straight and gay guys alike) don't want anyone to think we're a unmanly or a queer or worst of all - an unmanly queer (you know, not "straight acting"). 

 Let me go on the record right now that for me the very best part of beloning to MWK is that it is a mix of straight and gay guys who find a commonality in the craft of knitting.  I love the male energy that we create around our knitting and the community that results from it.   The success of any pattern/design is if it is worn after being knitted.  We can be the catalyst for change and the development of knitwear for men by being out-there visibly knitting, designing, being creative and letting the professionals know what we want and expect for men's knitwear. 

Thanks, Martin, for this thought-provoking topic!

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on.  ~Billy Connolly

technocowboy's picture

I understand the frustration that JPaul feels, even though I can contribute to it and have.  He has some great ideas, and at the Monday night knitting group in SF (Yay us!), we get more and more people stopping by and telling us that they knit or crochet.  It's fun to watch the people walking by (the cafe is below street level, but there are big windows so people can watch) who stop and smile and wave when they see us.

In regards to the men's patterns, one of the biggest problems is sheer apathy.  For the Man Issue of knitty last year, there were only 5 patterns submitted by men.  FIVE.  Of those five, only four got published.  Men will complain about there not being any patterns out there for us, but how many people actually do anything about it?  Not very many.  I think if we want the problem fixed, we have to do it ourselves.  However, until this society sees men who knit as something other than less than male, it's going to be hard to get that changed, because if you are ashamed to let the world know you knit, you're going to suffer with the lack of good patterns.

The average sweater requires approximately 40 hours of of my knitting time. If I don't plan the sweater carefully (gauge, stitch count, etc.), I might expend as much as 80 or 100 hours in the knitting and reknitting. Once I realized how many hours I would be spending in making a sweater, my enthusiasim for designing my own sweaters increased greatly.

If knitting is important to you, learn to design your own patterns. Anything you see knitted should cause you to ask yourself, "How was that design created? What would I do to create that garment? What would I do to improve the design?" A few hours expended with pencil and paper gives one the freedom to knit with confidence. Besides which, the exercise is fun.

Have fun,