Vintage men’s patterns? Hilarious!

Many knitting magazines send out their calls for designs with “inspiration boards” or “mood boards.” (For example, you can see the inspiration board for the spring 2011 issue of Interweave Knits here.) These documents give designers some themes, images, and other gentle shoves to get the creative juices flowing — and to ensure that many of the submitted designs will work together.

As a college instructor, I can appreciate the wisdom in this. If you give a student this as a writing assignment — “Write a paper about anything under the sun.” — most of the time you’re going to get a whole lotta crapola on a stick. Give students a starting line and a direction and they can run a lot farther.

So, the stupendous new online knitting magazine called Twist Collective recently put out its call for winter 2010 designs. If you follow that last link, you will see that this issue’s three themes are vintage ice-skating gear, 1940s glam, and something to do with sari colors (couldn’t quite figure out that last one — I think it was mainly a color inspiration mixed with a push toward fantasy).

The first theme gripped me. As you have seen, I have been trying to carve out a niche as a designer of boys’ and men’s knitwear, so I immediately started to think about vintage-inspired garments of the type that men would have worn ice skating once upon a time. I soon found Truman Capote looking rather dashing:

There are two problems here: first, most American men would no longer be caught dead in a fair-isle sweater of this boldness. The standard-issue heterosexual man might dabble with the metrosexual look by daring to have Shoes with no Laces fer Crying Out Loud. But let this heterosexual man and his overblown sense of fashion adventure suffer no delusions: Truman Capote can still skate circles around him.

Second, the pullover shown above is about as good as it gets: most knits that men wore back in the heyday of ice skating at Rockefeller Center are nothing short of hideous. (If you want a good 20 minutes of rolling on the floor laughing, check these out. I especially love the dudes using pipes and books as props. Cables make me smart and peppy!)

The challenge, as always, with designing menswear is to hit that sweet spot between “I’ve seen that a million times before” and “You couldn’t get me to wear that if you were my dying mother and you knit that for me with your gnarled fingers.” With women, older girls and young children, there’s a pretty wide margin between those two points. With older boys and men, the margin is about as wide as my tolerance for BP Oil.

This designer, Jared Flood, seems to have mastered that fine art. What makes his designs so wildly popular with men? I think it’s the careful pairing of just the right semi-luxurious yarn with expert but simple shaping. OK, the guy is also a brilliant photographer, which doesn’t hurt.

So now I’m off to try to pull off something like that. Here are some more of my inspiration images: