Boutique Knits by Laura Irwin
Softcover, 136 pages
List price $21.95, currently available on Amazon for $14.93.
It’s easy to get a little jaded when so many knitting books are published each year – is there really anything new under the sun? So when I first picked up Boutique Knits, by Laura Irwin (Interweave Press 2008), I was expecting to see a nice collection of knitted accessories, but perhaps not much more.
I’m glad that I was wrong, for Boutique Knits features some creative and truly innovative techniques that will snap you out of any winter doldrums you might be in.
Let’s start with the mechanics. I counted 24 patterns, which break down, roughly, as follows:
- 4 scarves
- 6 hats, plus a headband and a hood
- 3 pairs of handgear
- 4 bags
- 1 belt
- 4 garments (3 vest-type garments and 1 wrap)
(As you may have guessed, because some of these items are a little untraditional, it is hard to put them into a hard-and-fast category, but this will give you a general idea of what’s included in the book.) All of the items are knitted (sorry, crocheters!); in addition to traditional knitting techniques, many of the patterns incorporate other crafts, including felting, shibori, and sewing. Many also use embellishment, from traditional sources (like beads and ribbon) and less traditional sources (like horse tackle and hardware).
Yarns used range in gauge from bulky (3 projects) to worsted/heavy worsted (10 projects) to DK/sportweight (9 projects) and two in fingering/laceweight. You’ll see all kinds of fibers, from wools to bamboo to alpaca to kid mohair. Yarns used tend to the luxurious, but since most projects use relatively small amounts, substitution shouldn’t be a big issue. (And this book would be a great way to use up small amounts of yarn in your stash.)
Most of the items are one-size-fits-most, since they’re accessories; the garments give three sizes, which I would term “Very Small,” “Small” and “Medium” – with finished chest sizes in the twenties (gasp) and thirties, with one or two in the low forties.
When it comes to content, the book begins with an introduction, a kind of mission statement from the author. She describes her target audience as a knitter who
insists on seeing her fashion sensibilities reflected in her handmade projects. She pays attention to the little details on all her favorite pieces in her wardrobe. She is brilliant and quirky. She’s got even better ideas than she knows. She is a designer or artist, although she may not know it yet.
The aim of this book, then, is as much to teach new skills and inspire, as it is to provide cookie-cutter patterns. And given the variety of techniques used by Irwin, intrepid knitters will benefit from this approach.
So what about the patterns? Well, for starters, unlike many knitting books, the patterns aren’t divided into sections but are simply given sequentially.
Right off the bat, you’ll see Irwin’s innovative approach in the first pattern, the “Pseudo Shibori Scarf.” Instead of using felting to create shibori effects, Irwin directs the knitter to knit the scarf first, then hand-sew ruching. The knitting isn’t hard at all, and so long as you are reasonably adept with a tapestry needle, the ruching doesn’t look terribly difficult either. Yet the end result is a delicate and somewhat unusual-looking scarf.
Several other patterns combine fairly basic knitting skills with creative embellishment. For example, the “Softly Pleated Sleeves” – which you and I might call fingerless gloves or gauntlets – are knit primarily in stockinette stitch, then purchased trim is sewed on; the Silky Wool Vest uses bridal button loops to avoid the need to make buttonholes, keeping the knitting basic; the Argyle Lace Hat is a beret or tam, with a decorative rib stitch and a single panel of lace, with fabric-covered buttons sewn on at the end.
Note that Irwin includes instructions that walk the knitter through each step of the embellishment process, with lots of photographs, and text boxes give additional information about sources for the more unusual items, specific non-knitting techniques and so on.
Several patterns use felting, although, interestingly, Irwin doesn’t always felt the entire item. The Half-Felted Bag, for example, mixes a felted bag with unfelted pockets on the side. Other items are completely felted, like the Sunshine Intarsia Bag.
And some items use more straightforward knitting, mixed with untraditional shapes to give them flair, such as the Bamboo Diamond Shell, a short-sleeve yoke-style sweater knit in the round, or one of my favorites, the Sideways Grande Hat, which is a ribbed cloche-style cap, embellished with a twisted faux cable that connects the brim and the crown.
In terms of overall observations, the book has all of the helpful and high-quality details you’d expect from Interweave: multiple photographs of each item, close-up shots of the more unusual details, charts for lace and colorwork motifs, schematics for the larger pieces. Joe Hancock’s photography perfectly captures the dreamy, romantic yet urban feel of Irwin’s designs without sacrificing the knitter’s desire to see clear shots of the garments.
As always, patterns are largely a matter of personal taste. If your tastes run to the very traditional, and/or you don’t have the time or patience for playing with embellishment and other techniques, you’ll want to take a close look before deciding whether this book is worth the investment. If, however, your style is urban funky chic, if you are looking to jump-start your knitting with some new techniques, or if your usual projects are feeling a bit ho-hum, I suggest you have a look at Boutique Knits. I’m looking forward to seeing what Laura Irwin comes up with next.