Wednesday, December 13, 2006



My Grandmother, may she rest in peace, always said, "If you can'’t say anything nice, don'’t say anything at all."”

Alice Roosevelt Longworth said, "If you haven't got anything nice to say, come sit by me."

I try to live somewhere in the middle, leaning --– when I can --– to saying nice things.

When I received a pre-publication copy of Michael del Vecchio'’s Knitting With Balls: a hands-on guide to knitting for the Modern Man, I was prepared to love it. I'’m a guy, I'm (fairly) modern, and I live to knit. So I fixed a tea tray, changed into my comfy jammies, and plopped myself in an overstuffed chair to read.

After three months of looking for good things to say, I still haven'’t come up with one. So I'’m just going to have to go with the truth.

First, there i’s the title. I'm not a prude, but I think the title is course. Yes, it i’s clever -- hands-on balls and all -- but it is also vulgar.

Next, the cover illustration has to be addressed. The well-composed photo of a man'’s torso in a crew-neck sweater, needles and yarn clenched in each manly hand. The problem? The crew-necked sweater on the cover is not in the book! Really! Well, ok, it is, but for the cover photo the model is wearing it backwards. BACKWARDS! I couldn't make this up! The pattern in the book [With the manly name of Bootcut Sweater] has a plunging neckline that would make Elvira blush.

And once you open the cover, it's straight downhill.

I really don'’t have the patience to outline every ill-conceived or poorly-written pattern -- there are just too many of them -- so I'm just going to give you the highlights.

The first pattern in the book is for a Knit Wallet & Business Card Holder knit in bulky chenille yarn. I'’ve had backpacks that weren'’t this thick. I don't want to think how it would feel in my back pocket. I'’m pretty sure it would leave a divot in my ass.

The Chu'llu Hat and Scarf. An attractive green diamond brocade patterned scarf with coordinating hat (with an unfortunate long flap in the back), both with an absolutely awful key motif in white and black which has absolutely no relationship to the rest of the pattern and looks like an afterthought. The result is abysmal.

Medallion Mitts. Cabled fingerless gauntlets knit in variegated merino in shades of electric blue, lime green, and chartreuse. I a’m not a fan of variegated yarns, even when they are used well. And it seems like Mr. del Vecchio has never met a variegated yarn he didn'’t try to wrestle into submission. He is not, for the most part, successful.

The Casual Fridays Vest is actually attractive. I would have knit it in black instead of slate blue, but that is a matter of taste. The proportions are nice, the stitch pattern gives interest without being fussy. But there is absolutely nothing casual about this vest. It is the most formal piece in the book.

Now we come to one of the most problematic patterns in the book.
The Hooded Alpaca Parka. Notice the light shining through the hood. Oh, and the thumb-ie things, which I am sure are very athletic and butch. Honestly -- I can'’t for the life of me, imagine who would wear a gold lacy hoody.

Oh, wait.
I know:

Just when I thought things couldn'’t get any worse, I turned the page to see the Knee-Length Coat.

As advertised, it is a knee-length car-coat, the body of which is knit in four panels with an all-over cable pattern knit in Noro Ino. Had this been knit in a solid color, this would have been an entirely different sweater -- not necessarilly attractive, mind you, but different. As it is, it looks like the Noro rep gacked up a giant hairball.

I'm too tired to write about the Home Accessories chapter of the book. Suffice it to say I a’m not going to be knitting any beer bottle cozies. I also can't comment on the Utility Cloth... this is a family blog, for Dog's sake. You'’ll have to look through the book and see it for yourself.

I guess my deepest disappointment about this book is that it wastes the opportunity to discuss the differences between designing knitwear for men and to seriously set forth designs that were both tasteful and wearable. This is a pity. I hope that there is someone out there who can write such a book, because there are men and women would benefit from reading it.

It is possible to write both "cool" books about knitting that are both tasteful and attract the younger generation. Debbie Stoller and Stephanie Pearl McPhee have managed more than one each.


Kate A. said...

Wow, that's really too bad. There's such an obviously huge market for knitting books for men, it's a shame that one of the first is so flawed. I hadn't yet had a chance to look through it, but was hoping it would have patterns in it that I could knit for my husband. The pictures you show here, though, are laugh-out-loud funny, and highly suitable for the You-Knit-What?!-2 blog, but I wouldn't knit them for my husband. For me, maybe, but not any male that I know. Out of curiosity, I went from your post to the Amazon reviews to see an array of responses, since I've seen other bloggers mention the book in a positive (though brief) way. Funnily enough, it looks to me like the female reviewers on Amazon love it, and the male reviewers hated it. A self-selected group post reviews at all, of course, but is says something. Sad though - there are *lots* of knitting books that women love and feel comfortable leaving laying around the house. Is it too much to ask to have just one for men? I'm also getting a little tired of the long how-to sections and i-Pod cover patterns in *every* book. It's time for the market to mature. There are now dozens and dozens of books that examine every minute aspect of learning the basic stitches and making rectangles. Surely a new knitter will, in any case, if they are going to buy a book, get one of the many that are primarily aimed at new knitters, in order to get their money's worth. I would love to see more of the other kind of book, which devotes every single page to its theme - in this case, knitting for men. And I would like to be done with rectangles and the basic raglan plain stockinette sweater (as the one on the cover of Knitting with Balls, and apparently the only one many men want to knit from the book), which as anyone who's made one before knows can best be made using Elizabeth Zimmermann's EPS system or Barbara Walker's top-down plan. You don't need a pattern to knit a plain raglan pullover, even the very first time! All you need is EZ, two hands, and a below-average brain. When experienced knitters who write books pretend to novice knitters that it's more complicated than that, they are doing them a real disservice.

How about a discussion of color schemes and stitch patterns that men can wear without feeling silly, and how to plug them into all kinds of basic shapes for sweaters, socks, etc? How to alter 'girly' patterns to make them your own? How to size-up all those hundreds of sock patterns for "the average woman's foot"? How about at least 50 solid pages of good, original patterns that *only* a man would want to wear? (think broader shoulders, slight narrowing from the shoulders down, short rows over the back shoulders, low-key, subtle colorways, absolutely no poofiness anywhere, including the hems and cuffs. And you don't have to avoid color, but there should be less contrasty colorschemes and more earth tones, more tweedy neutrals or very light touches of color on a plain ground, etc.) Has the world ever seen more than 5 really solid, wearable-even-in-the-midwest men's patterns? Even *masculine* patterns? I can think of some great men's patterns - leo, from Knitty, Leigh Radford's Echo Lake Cardigan from IK, any number of planed, flat, yet fitted arans and ganseys by the classic designers - which could be very valuably compiled into a book of Best Men's Designs so that male knitters wouldn't be insulted by the pattern industry's apparent expectation that they should buy dozens and dozens of books just to get a respectable handful of designs for themselves.

Well, thank Dog for the internet. There's more and more available here everyday.

mk said...

One of the problems I have with the book is that it has the "modern man" as a target market...but "modern" is a bit too subjective for me and I find most of the designs to be a bit too trendy and difficult for the average man (the ones I know, anyway) to use or wear. I had been hoping for a book similar to Big Girl Knits, in which good, solid explanations of different body types and the styles and features of knitwear that looks good on those body types are given and discussed. Men in Knits (by Tara Jon Manning) does have a good discussion of how to select styles that are comfortable, flattering, and to the taste of the wearer, and tips on how to choose yarns, but the book is clearly written for a female knitter making a sweater for a man, not for a man knitting a sweater for himself. It's still early on as far as the publishing world goes, so there's still hope (I recall many of the books being pitched to young, "hip" knitters fell short of the mark too). I will also add that the most frequent query I get from men who find out that I knit is if they can get a sweater that will fit over their gut without riding up: designers take note.
(by the way, I'm female)

Diane said...

Obviously they didn't as much time into the patterns as they did with that "catchy book title" So few really good patterns for guys that it's a shame someone isn't cornering the market on it.

Anonymous said...

I saw this book as I was, um, shopping for others. I had heard good things so I paged through. It was laughable; I was so disappointed. He had some balls (heheh) publishing this nonsense and a very poor opinion of modern man.

Anonymous said...

I saw this book as I was, um, shopping for others. I had heard good things so I paged through. It was laughable; I was so disappointed. He had some balls (heheh) publishing this nonsense and a very poor opinion of modern man.