Friday, November 09, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Knitting Little Luxuries, by Louisa Harding

In keeping with my unabashed adoration of British knitting designers, let us now turn to Louisa Harding. Recently, our cheery UPS man delivered a copy of Harding's new book, Knitting Little Luxuries: Beautiful Accessories to Knit (Interweave Press* 2007), to my great delight.

This pretty paperback runs about 129 pages, in color, and contains 21 patterns for hats, mittens, scarves, purses, a cardigan and even a wrap or two. I probably have mentioned before that I met Louisa Harding once and she was extremely warm and friendly. She was enthusiastic about her own yarn lines and looking forward to having the chance to design with them. Looks like she got her wish, as all the projects in the book are made with Louisa Harding yarns (distributed by KFI).

Let’s start with the concrete: as I previously mentioned, Knitting Little Luxuries is a paperback, everything in color, approximately 21 patterns (some with alternate versions, like the mittens below), MSRP $21.95 (available through the link for about fifteen bucks as of this writing). The book is very elegant, with a dreamy feel carried through in the muted yarn shades; typefaces reminiscent of vintage engraving; and soulful models that have some of the wistfulness of the Anthropologie catalog (my husband calls them The Lonely Girls, staring off into space dreamily while wearing vintage-styled clothing in their empty-except-for-a-china-teacup $5000-a-month loft apartments. But I digress.).

The book begins with a lovely and thoughtful introduction, in which Harding discusses the kinship that knitters share with each other and the particular bond we feel to the knitters who came before us. Harding tells of her grandmother in particular, who inspired with her inventiveness and creativity. Harding’s mission in writing the book was, then:
to design pieces that were very easy and simple to knit, which could be made
unique by the addition of found objects, buttons, flowers, ribbons, and
embellishments with embroidery, making every piece as individual as the women
knitting them.
Keep this in mind as you look at the photographs I've shown here. The buttons and other trims came from Harding’s grandmother’s button box, so you won’t be able to drive over to the Hobby Lobby and buy an exact duplicate – nor was this the designer’s goal. Instead, Harding’s intent was to provide the patterns as starting points for you to play with. Just sayin’.

The book is divided into four chapters: Eclectic and Quirky; Textured and Modern; Pretty and Feminine; and Traditional and Folk. Each chapter also begins with a handful of words on the divider page, creating a mini-“mood board” for that chapter, and giving the reader a little insight into what Harding was aiming for. Again, I think Harding explains it best:

I wanted the chapters in this book to reflect the different sides of women. There are many variations within female taste – we may not all like girly pink, but we can appreciate that a friend or relative may love it. With this in mind, the chapters and projects in this book have been designed to appeal to our different personalities.
So if the patterns, taken collectively, seem a little disjointed, again this was the designer’s intent. And if you, like me, are a woman of many moods, you may find projects to add to your queue in all of the chapters.

Chapter 1 is called “Eclectic and Quirky,” and the chapter is further defined by the words: details, vintage buttons, silk embroidery, ribbon and flowers. Harding describes the section as focusing on a mixture of yarns, styles and embellishments, again highlighting the knitter’s ability to personalize and individuate each pattern. Included are a basic beanie-style hat; the cover clutch; a cute pair of mittens; a striped beret; a capelet

and a wrap. The patterns sound simple, and indeed they are, but what makes them so charming is seeing the way the embellishments transform them. So we see two different versions of the beanie, one with mother of pearl buttons and fabric flowers; the other with pom-poms, each achieving a different look and feel. Likewise, the mittens look dreamy and sweet in a pale mohair with embroidered flowers,

but take on a folk feel when done in a striped/stranded pattern and with the addition of some neutral grays and browns.

The second chapter – Textured & Modern – uses the words organic, urban, sassy, twist and metal to set the mood. The patterns in this section are meant to illustrate the designer’s desire to turn the conventional into something unconventional. Patterns include a cabled bag with wooden handles – with the cables going side-to-side instead of up-and-down; a button-closure pillow cover; a “tabard” (a sort of tunic-meets-vest, it was featured in the Winter Interweave Knits); a pixie hat with tassel (very cute); and a scarf/wrap pattern, shown as both a thin scarf in a metallic ribbon yarn

and as a button-front wrap knit in a fuzzier yarn.

Next is Pretty & Feminine, with the tags luxury, soft, intricate, delicate, and graceful. Obviously this section caters to the “girly”, glamorous side. I think I lost my girly glamorous side in a tragic hunting accident when I was younger but if you still have yours, you’ll find a drawstring lace purse;

fingerless mittens with a lace edging; a lace scarf in an angora blend; another small clutch bag; and a cropped cardigan with a convex (or is it concave?) front edging.

Last is Traditional & Folk, inspired by the tags warmth, comfort, tradition, bright and color, with particular emphasis on fair isle or stranded patterning. This chapter contains a scarf knitted with fair isle bands, stripes and a diamond pattern; a fair isle beanie; a very cute tasseled hat, with jester-inspired flair and a fair isle band across the bottom;

and a fair isle bag with wooden handles. These were among my favorites in the book, and would make great gifts.

There is a short section showing particular techniques after the pattern section, but this is only a few pages long and devoted to specific skills used in some of the patterns, such as embroidery techniques, three-needle bind-off and chart-reading.

Sizing is much less of an issue with accessories, and so we cut Louisa a lot of slack for the fact that most of these patterns come in only one size -- with purses and scarves, it just doesn't matter. The tabard is written for four sizes, from a finished bust measurement of 33.5 through 47 inches, and the cardigan (which is designed to have minimal ease with the fronts not actually closing across the widest part of the bust) in six finished bust sizes from 34 to 45 inches. The only other projects for which size may be an issue are the hats, handgear and capes/wraps. The fingerless gloves are written for a 6.25 inch circumference which sounds small to me, even taking stretch into account, but the hats have a finished circumference of 20 to 22 inches which will probably fit most heads, and so most knitters should be okay with most of the items.

The photography is very nice: clear, well-lit, not distracting, with shots of the overall item and some close-ups of particular design details. And thankfully, they didn't forget the obligatory photograph of the model pretending to knit one of the projects from the book:

The layout and graphics are also pleasant and help contribute to the overall mood of the book but there's enough white space despite the small type to keep things easy on the eyes. Color charts are given, always a plus, and there are schematics for the handful of patterns that need them. As noted above, all the yarns used are Louisa Harding yarns, which are pretty readily available at local yarn stores and on-line. Substituting for some of these yarns will be easy; for example, Harding's Grace DK-weight yarn is 50% merino/50% silk and any one of a dozen or so DK-weights with good stitch definition would do the job. Substituting yarns used in other projects may require a bit more experimentation; one drawstring purse, for example uses a metallic yarn along with an aran merino, and you might have to play with some different choices to find the right weight and combination if you choose not to use Harding's yarns. (My limited experience with Harding's yarns is that they are quite nice and often innovative mixes of fibers, with good colors.)

Overall, then, I'd say Knitting Little Luxuries is worth a look. Lovely patterns, high production values, good ideas for holiday gifts, and at less than a buck apiece per pattern (do the math, peeps: you get 21 patterns for less than a dollar apiece if you pay less than $21), a good return on your investment. Keep up the good work, Louisa!

*In the interests of journalistic integrity, I will remind you that our upcoming book is being published by Interweave Press, but I checked the inside front cover, and it doesn't look like any of the people who worked on Louisa's book overlap with the people we're working with.


Anonymous said...

Pretty pretty pretty.
Nothing wrong with pretty.
Some of Louisa Harding's earlier yarns were, I thought, a little too shiny and squeaky.
I've seen pretty new wool ones, though.

Having met Louisa Harding a few times, I am able to concur that she's a lovely, kind, self-effacing woman.

mindy said...

As always, thanks for doing these reviews. Will give this one a looksie.

Lynne E. said...

Great review! I'll look at the book when it turns up at Barnes & Noble, but I can already tell that it's a probable pass for me. My collection doesn't need another accessories book with simple patterns made interesting only by the embellishments.

Sarah said...

Aww, you love my fibah kittehs!

Had to come reply :)

Now I have to buy knitting books.

Anonymous said...

You've made the book sound more interesting than I thought it would be. I found the comparison of the mitten pattern in two different yarns a useful reminder.

As the girls from Stash and Burn sometimes say, this looks like a book you might want to live in.

Knitting Bandit said...

Great review. So thorough. It's not a book that I would've probably really looked at, but I'll take a look now. For my own mini-review: I saw a mock up of the new Big Girl Knits book (due in April) at a class taught by Jillian Moreno. That looks like its going to be fatastic. I didn't buy the first book, the patterns looked "too big", but this second books looks much more adaptable to all sizes.