Knitting for Menfolk

With Valentine’s Day coming up, some of you may be considering surprising your significant fellow with a sweater. If so, I urge you to reconsider, or at the very least reconsider which men’s sweater you’re planning to make. Knitting for others can be tricky and often doesn’t go over as well as you’d hope. It’s disappointing to see all your hard work rejected, but it’s also unfair to spring a sweater on someone without considering their taste.

A man in a white turtleneck wears a wool sweater for Valentines day covered with knitted hearts. Vibrant pink background; studio shot.

This is not a good Valentine’s Day surprise. | Credit: Getty Images/ RyanJLane

NOTE: We’re going to make sweeping generalizations about masculine sartorial preferences here; don’t @ me if you’re a dude who likes to wear lace shawls or neon Fair Isle cardigans. Also, I too am aware of Sam Barsky and his amazing sweaters. This is not aimed at the knitting blokes in our midst; we know you’re awesome and open to fancy cables and colorwork and all other manner of knitted objects.

Most guys don’t want luxurious, “interesting” sweaters, and it’s good to keep that in mind when choosing which sweater to make. Making an intricately cabled cashmere pullover for someone who thinks “dressing up” means “wearing their least-ripped jeans” perhaps isn’t the best choice. Likewise, if your friend only wears shades of gray, brown, and khaki, they’re probably not going to be excited about a multicolored Fair Isle cardigan. The recipient often just isn’t as into fancy sweaters as the knitter is.

If you want the gentleman in your life to actually wear the sweaters you make, you’ll probably have to make some concessions. Men’s sweaters need to be simple, a neutral color, and unshaped. This means no complicated stitch patterns, no multi-colored yarns, no asymmetrical hems, etc. Remember KISS: keep it simple, superknitter. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to boring knitting; there are plenty of sweaters with clean, elegant details that are quite lovely.

Here are a few special elements that can make any basic sweater sing.


A few simple cables make a sweater look more polished without being overwhelming. Look for rope cables or a column of symmetrical cables. The Nelson Pullover has a single cable that runs down each sleeve.

Nelson Pullover | Photography for Interweave Knits Fall 2017 by Nathan Rega

Nelson Pullover


Basic knit-and-purl patterns like moss stitch or seed stitch can add texture to a project. Hank’s Pullover uses garter rib add interest. Several different stitch patterns are used to break up the body of the Limerick Henley.

Hank's Pullover | Photography for Interweave Knits Fall 2017 by Nathan Rega

Hank’s Pullover

Limerick Henley


An easy way to create more interest in men’s sweaters without going overboard is to use an interesting neckline. Shawl collars like on the Donegal Sweater have a certain vintage appeal. Or try a henley-style sweater such as the Spring Henley for a rugged, outdoorsy look.

Donegal Sweater

Spring Henley

When in doubt, ask the recipient. After all, it is for him; shouldn’t it be something he wants to wear?

Shop the patterns featured in this post:


One Comment

  1. Elizabeth T at 8:50 am January 11, 2019

    You are so correct in your points. I selected a sweater to knit for my partner. He was okay with the style of the sweater. Then I showed him the shades of color available for the suggested yarn. I was shocked! He selected the most neutral of all tones in the line. I thought he would have opted for the blue. Spot on post!

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