Knitting Book Reviews

Boutique Knits: 20+ Must-Have Accessories
by Laura Irwin

The author introduces the book by saying, “Boutique Knits is meant to outfit women with an eye on fashion in a collection of stylish and curiously assembled accessories and layers. I picture the knitter who will be drawn to these projects: She insists on seeing her fashion sensibilities reflected in her handmade projects. She pays attention to the little details on all of 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."

That seems like a lot to expect from a reader–not to mention a designer.

How does she do? There are some really creative ideas in here. If my count is correct, this book has seven hats, five scarves and wraps, four bags, three glove/mittens, four sweater-ish patterns, as well as a couple more items–24 patterns, in all.

Let’s start with the headwear. One of the patterns that drew me to this book was the Hoodie Devoted hood, because I’m a sucker for a beautiful hood, and this one is. A full, cabled, romantically draped hood that looks great with curly hair (very important for me). There are two cloche-style hats that are delicious and make me wish that that style hat looked remotely good on me. It doesn’t, but it would almost be worth it to pull off that cover pattern. And the Whiskey Felted Hat is a great combination of felted and unfelted knits.

The Pseudo Shibori Scarf is a gently pleated confection, and I’ve been admiring the Best Felted Ascot since I saw it–not least because it not only would keep your neck warm on a cold winter’s day, but it would look dashing with a suit jacket. I don’t quite get the point of the Alpaca Silk Bow Scarf–it’s a beautiful, intarsia-patterned scarf, but how is it designed to be tied into a bow, and why?

I really liked the Bittersweet Teak Gauntlets with their juxtaposition of different stitches and shapes. I thought the Plain Talk Ruffled Mittens were interesting, but thought the suede palms and thumbs looked odd. You can see them around the edges, and rather than making the mittens look more practical, to me, they just make them look clumsy … but without the suede palms, these are very cute. A stiff row of ruffles work their way up the arm, marching alongside a row of buttons.

The Silky Wool Vest has a creative way of putting together a shaped garment. I wasn’t crazy about the Raglan Wrap–it comes across as the type of layering piece that a young, stylish person can pull off and have it look fabulous, but anyone with a little less pizazz is just going to end up looking frumpy. That’s not quite the case with the Soft Kid Bubble, which could find itself in a similar situation, but which looks like it would be a little more forgiving to less-than-perfect figures. (Although its built-in camoflauge could look a little too “maternity" on someone with a convex waistline.) The Bamboo Diamond Shell, though, is lovely.

The Sunshine Intarsia Bag is a bright and cheery accessory for schlepping your stuff around, and the Pleated Demin Purse is a tiny little envelope of a bag, just the right size for a few items for an evening out. The Big Brown Bag lives up to its name but seems a little too “decorated" for my taste–covered with brass and beads and fittings, like an honored military general. I thought the Half-Felted Bag was a little odd. I loved the combination (again) of felted and non-felted detailing, but it’s odd, horizontal gathers seem ungraceful and out of place. Not to mention impractical.

There’s such a broad range of patterns, here–all accessories, but every one has something unique about it. Laura Irwin obviously likes playing with her crafting tools. (I can just tell that she finds lots of things to look at when she visits a craft store!) Beads, screws, buttons, eyelets, grommets, chains, zippers, d-rings. Straps, gathers, pleats, ribbons. LOTS of little extra details, lots of clever construction.

In many ways, this is a good thing, because it gives knitters a chance to try things they might not otherwise have done–like pulling out the sewing machine or the pliers and beads. The patterns are therefore not the average, run-of-the-mill accessories. The drawback is that some knitters might not feel comfortable needing to know how to install a Chicago screw or a set of eyelets, and might stay away from some of the patterns.

Not that you don’t get fair warning. The author says in the introduction, “The accessories of Boutique Knits introduce techniques, tools, and adornment rarely paired with knitting. These sweet patterns require a quick and clever mind, but not necessarily a lot of knitting expertise. When working on the patterns in this book, you will benefit most from a background in crafting, a healthy dose of improvisation, and impeccable attention to detail."

That certainly seems reasonable to me–especially when that philosophy is coupled with such a nice collection of innovative patterns.

Oh–and the other, technical stuff? The book’s photographs are good ones, in that they look good but are also properly representational of what they show. In other words, they’re pretty and practical. The book’s layout is easy to use. Each pattern has its own color theme along the page edges, so it’s easy to see where one ends and the next begins. It also comes with an index, and the patterns are listed by name in the Table of Contents.

Reviewed by Deb Boyken

Deb has been knitting since 1987 and has accumulated quite a collection of knitting books over the years. Her website, Knitting Scholar, can be found at
http://knittingscholar.com .