Books with Franklin: Martin Storey and Nancy Marchant
For the Boys
As a guy who knits, and who on occasion designs stuff for other people to knit, I am sometimes asked why I don’t often design patterns for men. Shouldn’t I be rooting, as it were, for the home team?
I reply without hesitation that designing knitting patterns for men is a task so thankless that it would make Sisyphus hug his boulder.
(Most) knitters want interesting things to knit. (Many) men want uninteresting things to wear, because they have been brought up to believe that shapeless bags are the only option unless one is a pimp, circus clown, or drag queen. And yet, paradoxically, (many) men are extremely particular about their shapeless bags.
Design a man’s sweater, and you risk putting blood, swatch, and tears into a pattern that is unveiled to a rousing chorus of “I’d love to knit that but he’d never wear it,” from the sopranos, sung in counterpoint with “He’d wear that but I’d hate to knit it,” from the altos, with an ostinato of, “I’d maybe knit that, maybe, but first I’d change the neckline, collar, cuffs, length, fit, shoulders, structure, yarn, and color; and make it a zip-front cardigan,” from the tenors and basses.
It’s a tough game, but the redoubtable Martin Storey has been in there pitching since the 1990s. His new men’s collection for Rowan, Journeyman, serves up twelve designs (eight sweaters, two scarves, a slouch hat, and a pair of thick socks) showing off the company’s Hemp Tweed, Felted Tweed, and Felted Tweed Aran yarns. (As gauges are given for all patterns, yarn substitution is simple.)
Nothing here is going to frighten a man with timid tastes. The colors are quiet, rising from cream and beige to a crescendo of pale grey-green on page twelve. The fit is classic. The motifs (checks, cables) are out of the approved masculine playbook.
Storey keeps things interesting with a masterful handling of details.
Some are bold. The vigorous cables of Heston (the cover pullover) grow right out of the ribbing at the hem, then break away from the vertical, creating an energetic tracery of oblique lines across the torso.
Some are whisper-quiet. The minimalist McQueen cardigan is spare as an Amish barn–stockinette and stockinette and more stockinette for miles; but there’s a smartly engineered rolled collar in garter stitch, and details picked out in garter stitch, that make it eye-catching instead of ho-hum.
Some are frankly just perfectly perfect like the Mitchum cardigan which is sexy and cuddly and fun and modern and butch and gorgeous and sharp yet casual and I have to knit it NOW so I’m typing this review faster and faster because I need to get back to knitting it.
Brando, a hooded pullover that is also very nice.
As to the physical book itself, of course nobody sells the fantasy of the handknit lifestyle quite like Rowan. The art direction by Sarah Hatton and photography by Moy Williams are faultless. This book suggests, seductively, that if only I will knit and wear these things, I will become a dashingly handsome, guitar-playing urban poet/philosopher with great shoes who always knows where to find exquisite light and the perfect cup of coffee. The downside, judging from the utterly baffled look on the model’s face as he contemplates a book in a café, is that I will forget how to read.
Go Tuck, Yourself
If you are unfamiliar with tuck stitches (not to be confused, oh dear, with Tracey Purtscher’s Dimensional Tuck Knitting, reviewed in a recent column), it may help to say that they are a further development of two-color brioche. There, that’s most of you sorted out.
For the remaining twelve knitters in the world who have yet to try two-color brioche: these are hand knit fabrics created by systematically adding and subsequently gathering together yarn overs (in the case of tuck stitches, sometimes quite a few yarn overs) to certain stitch motifs. Brioche is, in fact, a tuck stitch–the first one in the eye-popping stitch dictionary at the the heart of the book.
From there, Marchant pumps up the volume by stacking additional yarn overs, changing the ground from ribbing to stockinette to broken rib and other rib variations, mixing plain stitches among the fancy, and playing thoughtfully with the amount of each color used. (Brilliantly, she includes information about the relative amounts of the two colors used in each stitch pattern.)
So, what does all this manipulation get you? The answer, simply put, is fetching fabrics you haven’t knit before. Fabrics you haven’t even seen before. Most of them look well, often equally so, on both sides; and many (the author helpfully notes which) lie flat. (The breeze you just felt was caused by ten million bored scarf knitters saying, “Oooooooooooooh!”)
The stitch dictionary is preceded by a thorough description (with clear step-by-step photographs) of how the maneuvers for tuck stitches work, how they are abbreviated and charted, and how to perform them in an efficient manner (including fixing mistakes). I fear knitters may look at this section first, go cross-eyed, and set the book down again. That would be great pity. This isn’t a technique you can twig by just reading about it; pick up your needles and two balls of scrap yarn, and do what Marchant tells you. The doing is, I find, easier than the describing. And awfully fun.
If you catch the fever and want to go further, the Appendix has information about converting flat patterns (the book’s instructions are all for flat knitting) to circular, converting motifs from two colors to one, and…hoo boy…designing your own new tuck stitches.
By way of encouragement, there are patterns for accessories and an absolute knockout of a blanket (in the 1960s revivial colors that everyone hated two years ago, and now everyone is buying) to round things out. The novelty of the tuck stitch technique and Alexandra Feo’s lickable photography got to me. I have already cast on an Aimée cowl for myself.
Two books, two new projects cast on. This, my friends, has been a very good month.