While showing off their fashionable wardrobe to their peers, some men might point out an expensive suit or a rack of power ties. Michael del Vecchio likes to boast about his handmade sock collection.
Del Vecchio, who co-founded MenKnit.net and currently teaches classes at Knit Happens in Alexandria, is taking his sock-making skills one step further. In the wake of books such as Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ’N Bitch—which gave a hip and feminist edge to what many saw as Granny’s hobby—the 28-year-old Logan Circle resident lends a male voice to the craft with Knitting With Balls: A Hands-On Guide to Knitting for the Modern Man. The book’s patterns, which del Vecchio designed himself, include a beer cozy, utility cloths, a laptop cover, and hiking-boot socks.
“There have been a few forays into men’s knitting publishing,” del Vecchio says. “A couple of books, a couple of prominent male designers—but there’s never been a book that’s designed for a beginner man.”
Del Vecchio, who by day is a grant-processing project coordinator at Americans for the Arts, says he first discovered knitting through a friend in 2001. “I pretty much learned everything else on my own from there,” he says. “I went to what was then Ames and got a bunch of Red Heart acrylic [yarn] and some needles and did a scarf, and then I did another scarf.”
Chief among the book’s goals is letting men to know that knitting isn’t “a women’s-only thing,” del Vecchio says. In the book’s “Brief History of Men in Knitting,” he cites how sailors used to knit their own sweaters, as well as the existence of male-only knitting guilds during the Renaissance. “I hear stories when I get on the plane and I’m knitting. This woman told me…that her father was a surgeon and he knit to keep his fingers limber or, you know, that some woman’s husband was a cowboy and he would knit when they were corralling cattle.”
In writing the book, del Vecchio says that he wanted to keep it as focused and as accessible for male readers as possible. He points out, for example, “Men typically have larger hands than women, and so there are some things that need to be taken into consideration when you learn to knit, which I address.”
Though the book is catered to beginner knitters, del Vecchio says he still wants to challenge his readers. “I didn’t choose typical beginner patterns—you know, a garter-stitch scarf or a stockinette-stitch hat,” he says. Instead, he opted for projects that are “a little more advanced—still playing off this Knitting With Balls title, that it takes a little bit of balls to take on some of the projects in the book.”
Del Vecchio credits his experience at knitting-supply shops and editing MenKnit.net with preparing him to write for his audience. “If I hadn’t had the experience teaching, I wouldn’t have known the kinds of questions that a beginner would ask,” he says. “A lot of the stuff that I’ve done for classes has been preparing materials, to write out really crisp and strong directions.”
Thanks in part to this focus and clarity, the book has been well-received by its intended audience since its release last month—including during a recent promotional tour through Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. Del Vecchio says crowds at early events, however, differed from what he expected—they were predominantly female.
“[My friends] said that the title is ambiguous…I think I’d always anticipated that the title would be ‘a knitting guide for men,’ as in men would use this guide,” he says. “But then someone pointed out that it might be perceived as in ‘what do I knit for my modern man?’ So I think that a lot of the women who are coming are reading it that way.”—Kim Rinehimer
Del Vecchio discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.