Designing for men? Is there any point to it? That was the nub of Ilga Leja’s recent post on her blog: Designing for Men. Is it possible to combine interesting design with something men would actually wear? She said:
As I work on new designs, I am tempted to consider including more designs specifically for men. I have made a couple of forays already, with Balsam and Along the Boulevard scarf version for a man. But I have been recently challenged with the Along the Boulevard scarf by someone on one of the Ravelry forums who claimed that no man (unless gay) would choose to knit–or wear a scarf like that. When I asked him why, he answered by saying that men don’t tend to like anything made “with holes” and prefer garments worked in a dark or otherwise neutral colour.
He also went on to say that he could always tell when a woman had designed something, because it was often an adaptation of something originally designed for a woman. Guilty as charged.
We had an interesting discussion about this and it has made me think. I suspect he is voicing an opinion held by many male knitters as well as male recipients of knitted gifts. And as a designer trying to make a living at this work, I don’t want to produce a design that won’t be welcomed by male, as well as female, knitters.
And yet I can’t see myself designing a grey, cabled V-necked, cardigan vest for men, for example, especially since there are so many good designs like that available already. So the question for me is, “How to keep things interesting and challenging for me as a designer, while at the same time, acquiescing to the more conservative expectations of male dress?”
It is bad enough to be faced with the prospect of knitting for men, but having to design for them too, well, one can only sympathise at the plight in which Ilga finds herself.
Jared, aka brooklyntweed, seems to be able to design ‘new’ things for men which are interesting to knit whilst remaining utterly conventional. Most obviously ‘Cobblestone‘. Having said that, for a designer of Ilga’s incredible talents, designing a Cobblestone is hardly going to be satisfactory creative process.
I’ve just bought In the Piazza, half thinking ‘yeah, ok, a couple of oblongs, a few buttons, do I NEED the pattern to do that?’…but the pattern – wow! An amazing amount of thought has gone into making that ‘too-easy’ design work.
I am simply overwhelmed by the exquisiteness of EVERY Ilga Lega design. They don’t beg to be bought, it is more imperious than that, it is a demand. Will I have regrets on my death bed? I dare say so. But missing Ilga Leja patterns will not be one of them.
That’s the trouble, though, isn’t it? Nothing that is good about Ilga Lega’s knitting translates into a man’s wardrobe. NOT ONE THING. She could not bring herself to make something which is not beautiful and well, that will be her failure right there.
The only thing I can think of for Ilga is an alter ego. She needs to be like one of those writers who has two distinct styles under two names – Ruth Rendell vs Barbara Vine, or some such.
As far as I can tell there are two ways to knit for a man which are bearable. The first is to be happy to knit classic, plain, conservative styles in conservative colours but in the best wool. At the moment I ‘m knitting a chunky men’s sweater in pure cashmere and the yarn is quite sufficient to make the entire experience pleasurable.
The second is to trick them. I don’t know about the US, but in Australia you can do that by knitting them football socks, ie socks in the colours of their football team. I’ve just finished a pair in a nice slipstitch houndstooth pattern. I suspect that if they were in other colours he wouldn’t wear them, but in the RIGHT colours, well, he doesn’t even know he’s wearing a slightly interesting pattern.
Maybe you should think about knitting socks for men, Ilga???? There is just the teensiest chance you could make something – well, not beautiful, but handsome, at least – without them noticing….