Posted in Knitting
August 2, 2007

Twisted Sisters and Knitting Men

First off, I cannot possibly be anything but completely biased in my reviews of these two books, and here’s why: they’re just that good.

Lynne Vogel has done it again — an instant classic. And not only that, but it’s designed to give you the freedom to knit what you really want to knit, using a base pattern as a jumping-off point. From the introduction:

I’ve knitted hundreds of sweaters but have never knitted the same one twice. Most of them sprang from the same roots, but something always changed: the yarn, the size, the shape; usually all three. As I spoke with other twisted sisters, I found that, as handspinners, most of us had to adapt either our yarn to fit a pattern or the pattern to fit our yarn.

This is one of the more frustrating parts of knitting with handspun yarn if you’re just getting your feet wet. I attempted to solve some of that frustration in Spin to Knit, particularly in the Faux Fair Isle sweater pattern — by making just the yoke in handspun, for example, you know you’re not going to run out halfway through the sweater and be stuck without more of the same “dyelot” — or “spinlot,” if you prefer. But Lynne and her Twisted Sisters take it a step farther, brilliantly.

A sidenote: Some of the sweaters in the book were on exhibit at a gallery when I was down to take pictures of Lynne’s dyeing class for Spin to Knit, and I can attest that photos don’t (cannot) do them justice.

There’s valuable sections on knitting with handpainted yarns and calculating how much yarn you’ll actually need. But the cornerstone of the book is the Knitter Fitter system, comprising the Fitter List and the Sweater Map. The List is measurements you need to know to get started, and the sweater map, not surprisingly, shows you where you’re going with those measurements.

If you like using noncommercial yarns, if you’re a spinner or just a fan of handspun, you will adore this book. If you’ve got a massive stash that varies in yarn shape and style? You can use this book to help create some truly one of a kind stashbusting sweaters. No matter what your personal knitting style and yarn preferences, The Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters will give you both great information and inspiration to use. Order it now.

Kristin Spurkland’s The Knitting Man(ual): 20+ Projects for Guys is my new best friend and here’s why — page 33. The British Checks Sweater. By golly, I’ve finally got the perfect background pattern for my Kauni cardigan! The Fassettish flowers I had in mind were not doing the trick for anything other than a border, due to the annoying amounts of blank space between them even after fiddling around. Thanks, Kristin. You rock. Now for the whole-book review:

As they say in the infomercials — but wait! there’s more! And I’m not just talking about the photo of Jesse Sternberg, owner of the original “Born to Knit” tattoo, pictured on page 2, although that is pretty cool. All the patterns are gorgeous (I want to make the Modern Fana hat for myself) and for the most part, very masculine.

Sometimes I consult my boyfriend on these things; sometimes he just blurts them out — the one problematic pattern, in his opinion, is the sleeveless hoodie on the cover. I won’t tell you what he actually said, but suffice it to say, he thought it perhaps suited for a particular male demographic to which he does not belong as someone dating a woman. Capiche? Yeah. Personally, I think it’s cute, although I’d do it with 3/4 sleeves, because short sleeves on a sweater like that would look dumb on me. So — a recommendation, if you also have a mouthy boyfriend. Take the dustjacket off (the actual hard cover is manly, manly shades of grey and black), then consult him on what you should knit first.

Mid-review update: My shop partner’s husband, Dave, just walked in right now, spotted the book, and yelled something remarkably similar to my boyfriend. The only quotable thing he said? “I hate the cover.” But he did admit that it’s a cool book otherwise, and that he think the sweater on page 66 should be the cover shot instead. He liked a lot of the projects, particularly the seaweed blanket and the hats. (Dave should seriously do market research for publishers, his unvarnished review was hilarious. I wish you could have been here to experience it).

The Heirloom Sweater is just that — Kristin’s interpretation of a sweater her aunt knit for her dad. It’s adorable, and presently residing some years in the future on my to-knit list. The tasty Rowan yarns she used are on the stash-acquisition list, too. There’s hats, mittens, socks, scarves… a little something for everyone, and different techniques, too. So whether you like to do colorwork, or stitch patterns, or plain ol’ stockinette, you’ll no doubt find something to love.

All in all, a wonderful book, full of ideas for the men in your life (and for you!) Order it now.

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  • Ann

    Hi there,

    Sorry this is off-topic, couldn’t find the “contact me” button :). I found your site via a back-road tour of knitting stuff. GREAT site, btw! I read about your Nov 06 Knit a sweater in November thingie – have you (would you) consider a KAL with handspun? …puh-leeeeese?…

    As Arnie says, “I’ll be bahck…”

    Knittingly, Ann.

  • Ingrid

    Thanks for the review! I’m glad you like the Knitting Man(ual) so much. I’m sorry about your boyfriend and partner’s husband, though. The book was intended for different kinds of men: gay & straight, black & white, old & young, etc. We considered the cover very carefully, and hoped that men who were confident enough to buck the gender stereotypes and knit would not have a problem seeing a variety of patterns and models on the cover.



    Reply to Ingrid
  • Post authorShannon

    I am, too, Ingrid! I thought the cover was really pretty. So many knitting books have such *dull* covers, and this one really caught my eye.

    I guess our beloveds are just slightly Neanderthal-ish… 😉

    Reply to Shannon
  • Lynne

    I also thank you for the review, Shannon. But enough about me, I want to hear more GOOD stuff about the Knitting Man(ual).

    Reply to Lynne
  • Post authorShannon

    And there’s so much to tell, Lynne. I’m increasingly picky about what gets added to my “to knit” list, given a distinct lack of time, yet I found at least 4 garments (3 sweaters, 1 hat) that I WANT WANT WANT now. Not to mention inspiration for a project already in progress, and an appreciation for what good graphic design can do for a knitting book, and and and…

    The Knitting Man(ual) so easy to read and just… well, WELL DONE. I’m sorry that I let the cover impressions get in the way but with so many knitting books on the market I’m afraid it will cause people to pass it by, and they very much shouldn’t, ’cause it’s a fantastic book!

    Reply to Shannon
  • Robin

    Thanks for keeping up the great blog. It is a joy to read all of the book reviews. Out here in Los Angeles it would be perfectly OK to say that cover seemed designed to appeal to gay men. It is an education for me to surmise from your review that this is not true across the country.

    Reply to Robin
  • Post authorShannon

    Not so much that, Robin, as the way in which they said it which was a bit more offensive than I’d be comfortable printing. Had they said “This really looks like it’s designed to appeal to gay men,” that would have been fine and I would have said it. But they were a little more… umm… hmmm… “earthy,” shall we say?

    Seriously, though, not judging a book by its cover is highly recommended here. The Knitting Man(ual) is fantastic, the patterns are great and I think that, if knitted for one’s significant other, they’d be well-received. I just know that there are a lot of men out there like our SOs who are overly sensitive to something as unimportant as the cover, and I don’t want that alone turning them off from the book.

    Spurkland did a beautiful job of covering a wide range of styles and projects, and (knowing, as I do, that authors rarely have input into their covers), I don’t want her potential buyers to think the cover says it all. Even Amazon’s “Inside the Book” doesn’t always show every pattern page, and so many people buy their books online that I want them to know the book is awesome, the cover…not so much.

    Reply to Shannon
  • Eve

    Is there a place where you can “look inside” the book? I’d like to see pictures of the ones you mentioned on pages 33 and 66 of the man book.

  • Bob T

    As a knitting man, I’ll check it out (from the library).

    I usually find that after looking at patterns designed for men,
    I prefer to design my own. I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

    BTW, I’m straight, but if I had arms like that I might consider a
    sleeveless hoodie.

    Reply to Bob T
  • Dan

    Just checked the calendar and it really is 2007 [I wasn’t sure after reading Shannon’s comments about the cover of The Knitting Man(ual)]. It’s sad that her boyfriend has a probem with it, perhaps he has “issues” to work through.

    I really like the cover, particularly the fact that it has a beefy guy on it; it helps break the stereotype of little old ladies knitting doilies. I don’t think it is targeted at gay men (nope, checked the index and no chaps), but even if it were I can’t imagine that sales would suffer. Perhaps I have greater faith that the world is not full of close-minded bigots.

    Enough about the cover, however. I have seen an advance copy of the book and it really is stunning. The instructions are clear and the photos are wonderful. I want to make every pattern in there. Well done Kristin!

  • Tamas

    Last time I checked my calendar, it was 2007, and one could be gay without wearing chaps. And yes, I’m the boyfriend who purportedly has “issues.” I have lots of them, but homophobia is not one of them. My immediate first impression from the cover was the book was aimed more at a gay demographic. I have not read the book, I merely saw the cover and made an observation. That’s all.

    Reply to Tamas
  • Post authorShannon

    I’m saddened by the fact that my discussion of the cover has devolved into a distraction from the fact that The Knitting Man(ual) is very, VERY kickass.

    Let’s face it — the center of the country is not like the edges, as Robin pointed out, but saying the cover seems designed to appeal to a particular demographic does not in fact make a value judgment about that demographic. I did not say it is a bad thing to be gay. Nor did Tamas or Dave, for that matter. And their cover commentary was directed at ONE particular pattern, not knitting’s suitability for men or however else you may care to frame it.

    (Bob, I ditto you — if I had the arms, I’d knit it, too, but since it wouldn’t flatter me, I’d have to do at least 3/4 sleeves! I’m nothing if not realistic!)

    Dave was so intrigued by the rest of the book that he actually grabbed it out of my hands while I was trying to write the original review (causing the “mid-review interruption”), and started making really interesting comments about each pattern — most were of the “I’d actually wear THAT!” variety. Which is damn fine praise if you’ve ever knitted something for your male SO only to have it neglected in a closet — *cough cough*.

    I was taking notes on his stream-of-consciousness commentary because, as a designer, I think it’s really good to know where a man who’s interested in knitted items is coming from. It helps me make better choices when I do design work. I said his unvarnished review was hilarious because it was so out there in the open. We don’t often get to hear what the targets for our designs think of them — and even if it isn’t our design, we can get tips by learning what they do and don’t like about others.

    And as much as we might like to think that books are not judged by their covers — I don’t mean that in the metaphorical sense, I mean that actual, physical books are OFTEN judged by their covers (especially since so many people buy their books via Amazon or other non-flip-through-able shopping options) — they are.

    I also made note of the cover not being representative of the contents for a reason. For every enlightened male who knits and who has no problem with the cover, there are 5 or 10 women looking for good patterns to knit for the men in their life (it’s a publishing truism that more women buy books than men do) — I’d hoped to give them a heads up in case they’ve got a NO, DON’T KNIT ME ANYTHING dude at home. That this was taken as me or my boyfriend having a problem with the LGBT community is patently offensive, given the amount of time and money I’ve donated to related causes over the years.

    And Bob — seriously, this is the only mens’ knitting book that I would wholeheartedly recommend outright purchasing instead of checking out from the library. If you can’t find at least 3 patterns you adore straightaway, I’LL refund the purchase price. I’m dead serious, I think it’s that good.

    Reply to Shannon
  • Bob T

    That’s a strong endorsement! It just works better for me to preview it first. Most of the books in my personal craft library were borrows before they were purchases. Most of the others rarely get opened.

    Reply to Bob T
  • v.j. kohout

    I feel that the cover will discourage some potential buyers. Unfortunately. I said, elsewhere, this about the book:

    “I think I will buy The Knitting Man(ual) for my boyfriend who is a novice knitter. At 64.
    The only thing is, the nice picture on the cover, the way the two guys are almost intimately entwinned gives an impression of gay material. And while this in no way bothers me (or him) he would, probably, not carry it around.”
    Glad to read favorable reviews from you all. vj

    Reply to v.j. kohout

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