PlanetJune Craft Blog

Latest news and updates from June

Archive for Reviews

book review: Stuffed Animals

As always, I was not compensated for this review, and the following is based on my honest opinions!

I’ve known Abby through craft blogging circles for years – you may also know her from her blog, While She Naps – and I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book since the day she first announced she’d be writing it! Abby and I are kindred spirits in the sense that we’re both passionate about the techniques used to create our stuffed animal designs – in my case amigurumi, and in hers sewn toys.

You’ve probably already heard good things about this book (with everything going on here, it’s taken me far longer than I’d anticipated to prepare this review) but I don’t think you could test a book much more thoroughly than I have! And (spoiler alert) I’m so excited to show you the results of my testing process! Read on to see what I’ve been able to make, thanks to Stuffed Animals

Overview

Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction by Abigail Patner Glassenberg is “a comprehensive reference that teaches you how to sew heirloom-quality stuffed animals, from four-legged friends that actually stand to a classic, poseable Teddy bear.”

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

Stuffed Animals begins with a very useful introductory section, covering tools and materials, design considerations (research, pattern drafting, fabric selection, etc), and how to actually make soft toys (sewing, turning, stuffing, etc). This is a really solid basic instructional section, and, if you’re new to toymaking, I’d recommend that you read these chapters thoroughly before you do anything else.

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

The remainder of the book takes the form of a pattern followed by 3-4 lessons on techniques that were used/demonstrated in the pattern. The patterns are child-friendly and designed to make toys that will be played with and treasured. My favourites are the cute puppy, the hilarious zipper-mouthed dinosaur, and the classic teddy bear (just to satisfy my curiosity on how these are made).

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

All the pattern pieces are printed at full-size (except the dinosaur, which is just too big) so you can copy them directly without resizing. But, even better than that, all the pattern pieces are also available to download from Lark Crafts. This is an excellent bonus feature – it’s so much easier to print the relevant pages directly than to try to hold the book open to scan/copy the pattern pages, and, in the PDF version, the pattern pieces aren’t overlapped (they have to be in the book, to save space), so it’s much easier to see what’s going on. Thumbs up to Lark for offering this.

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

The pattern instructions are detailed, and numbered points guide you through each stage of the toy assembly, together with in-progress photos of all the interim stages. (Although I didn’t try making one of the included patterns, I read through several from start to finish in preparation for my own design, and I used the step-by-step instructions to help me figure out my toy assembly – I just used my own pattern pieces instead of Abby’s – so I can verify that the instructions are clear and easy to follow.)

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

After you’ve made each pattern, Abby follows with some theory on the techniques used in the pattern that you can use when designing your own toys, and additional related tips. For example, the Elephant pattern also serves as a demonstration of very useful design features: an underbody gusset, setting legs on darts, cutting a slit to insert a detail (ears, in this case), and making eyelids. (I ended up using 3 of these techniques in my design!)

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

It’s a big book, both in size and number of pages, with lots of content covered (16 patterns and 52 lessons), so there’s plenty of value for money here.

My Experience

I decided to try creating a sewn version of one of my amigurumi designs, and I thought my aardvark would be a good example, with only one colour and a very distinctive shape to replicate. Plus, who’s ever seen a soft toy aardvark?! Mine could be the first ever created!

Aardvark amigurumi crochet pattern by PlanetJune
The inspiration: my amigurumi aardvark design

I have happy memories of sitting on my bed as a teenager, listening to the Friday Rock Show on the radio, and hand-sewing toys from kits. So I’m no newcomer to sewing toys, but how the strangely-shaped pattern pieces combine into a perfect animal shape always remained a magical mystery to me.

soft toys made from kits
Toys I sewed from kits, over 20 years ago(!)

Designing for crochet (where you create the shape in 3D as you go) is nothing like designing for sewing (where you create the shape from multiple 2D fabric pieces) so I knew going in that this would be a huge challenge for me, and an excellent test of Abby’s teaching. You may have noticed that I like to jump in at the deep end in my crafting adventures, and this is no exception…

I read through all the lessons and skimmed all the project instructions to see each technique in action before deciding which would make good starting points for the design I wanted to create. I wrote myself a list so I could refer back to these lessons when I needed them (lessons 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 17, 29, 39 and 50 and the elephant, dinosaur, kangaroo and hippo patterns) and then I was ready to start!

I took some measurements from my crocheted aardvark, and drafted my first pattern, building in all Abby’s advice about underbody gussets and darts so the legs wouldn’t splay. I got some scrap fabric and whipped up my first prototype on the sewing machine:

prototype aardvark toy - version 1

Hahaha! Oh dear – I’m embarrassed to even show you this. I didn’t have a real grasp of the way to create a fully rounded shape, so my poor aardvark v1 was skinny with a giant humpback. Note, though, that the legs are nice and straight! I went back to the drawing board (and the book) and used the information on sewing a ball to refine my design with an additional top gusset piece, to create my second pattern and prototype:

prototype aardvark toy - version 2

Definitely better, but still not right. I didn’t bother sewing on the footpads or snout or figuring out the ears at this stage – no point working on details if the main body still looks awful. So I went back for another round of prototyping:

prototype aardvark toy - version 3

It was starting to look like an aardvark by this stage, although I have no idea what was going on in the chin area! I marked the eye position, and, using Abby’s elephant design for instruction on how to insert the ears, I also used this prototype to test 2 different ear positions, so I could get an idea of the best way to do it. (Don’t look at the legs too closely – I got a little scissor-happy when trimming these seams, so some of them came undone when I turned it! All good learning experiences…)

I could have made another prototype, but by this stage I was running out of time (I have my own book to write, you know!) and had no more scrap fabric, so I decided to be bold and make the next version, with a few final tweaks, in my real fabric, and keep my fingers crossed I’d got it right this time…

I’m what I’d call a straight-line sewist: I can whip up a basic skirt or bag on my sewing machine, but these small pieces, exact lines and tight curves are a little beyond my skill level – just the thought of stitching the tiny circles for the feet and the snout with my machine makes me shiver. To give me the best chance of success, I decided to go back to what I know, and hand-sew the final aardvark. Much, much slower, but very relaxing, and it’s much easier for me to get a smooth finish when I place each stitch individually!

When it came to inserting the safety eyes, I had a big surprise – I thought there was no way my awl (bought on Abby’s recommendation) would create a hole large enough for the shaft of the eye to slip through, but it did! Not snipping the fabric for the eyes was a revelation. This is the kind of expert tip that makes Stuffed Animals such a treasure.

Finally, finally, it was time to turn and stuff my aardvark, and see what I’d created… In my quest for the perfect aardvark, after turning and stuffing, I unstuffed and unturned and tweaked a couple of my seams by less than 1mm to subtly alter a curve here and there – it made a big difference. Then all I had to do was re-turn, re-stuff, and sew up the final seam (I came up with a little tip of my own at this stage to make my ladder stitches perfect – I’ll mention it here, in case it helps anyone else: as my fabric is stretchy, I couldn’t press a seam line as shown in Abby’s examples, so I basted a row of running stitches along each edge as a guide for my ladder stitches.)

basting lines for ladder stitching
Basting lines in burgundy so I could accurately place my ladder stitches

And the end result is:

PlanetJune plush aardvark toy

Fatty Aardvark! I love him so much, and I can’t really explain why.. I don’t think his charm really comes across in the photo: he’s big and soft and unbelievably cuddly. I love how solid and fat he is, but he’s still recognisably a PlanetJune design. And he’s irresistably huggable!

PlanetJune plush aardvark toy

He’s most definitely an aardvark, isn’t he? And look at those perfectly straight legs: not a hint of splay there. If I were going into the soft toy pattern design business (which I’m not – at least for the forseeable future!) I’d probably do one more iteration to tweak the angles on the neck and tail a teeny bit, but Fatty Aardvark is perfect just the way he is.

I’ve learnt so much from this project; I feel like Abby has given me the skills to design lots of animal toys (if only I had the time, and could master my sewing machine so I can actually sew samples on it instead of hand-sewing!)

PlanetJune plush and amigurumi aardvark toys
Ami and Fatty Aardvarks

As shaping is so important to me in my designs, now I’ve seen how much difference 1mm in your sewing line makes to the shape of the finished toy, I think I’m more comfortable sticking with designing crochet patterns; they give you much more precise control over the shape you end up with. Follow my crochet pattern stitch by stitch and you will end up with the same shape as me, even if you’re a beginner. Cut and sew my sewing pattern template and you’d probably end up with a similar, but not identical, shape – by the time you’ve eyeballed a 1/4″ seam to add to the pattern piece and then eyeballed it away again to get back to the stitching lines, it’s highly unlikely you’ll end up with exactly the same shape, even if you’re a master of your sewing machine.

the evolution of the PlanetJune plush aardvark design
Aardvark evolution, or how I went from embarrassing ignoramus to plush designer in 4 stages – and all thanks to Stuffed Animals!

Peeves

These are all small niggles that I’m including for the sake of completeness. As I’ve used this book as a technique reference, not as a project instructional book, some of my peeves relate to that: if I’d made Abby’s projects before attempting one of my own, I’d have a better grasp of which techniques are illustrated by which project.

  • A visual contents page of all the projects in the book would have been very useful; to decide which project would be the closest starting point for each element of my design (e.g. do the closest legs belong to the elephant, or the lion, or the dinosaur, or something else?) I found myself flicking through the book over and over, making lists of every technique I thought might be useful for my design.
  • The index is brief and alphabetized not by subject, but by lesson title. I’ll give you a couple of examples of why this is a problem: I wanted to look up Abby’s advice on stretchy fabrics, but Stretch isn’t in the index, and neither is Fabric! The fabric selection advice is actually listed under C in the index, for Choosing Fabric – would you have thought to look there? And then I tried looking up Joints (there are 5 jointing lessons that I can see, spread over 3 projects) but there’s no mention of any of these on the index page. I’d advise you ignore the index and skim through the contents instead – it’s just as easy to find information there, and it’s far more complete.
  • Abby is clearly 100% a sewing machine user – there is no mention anywhere of the fact it’s possible to sew toys completely by hand. There is a page on hand stitches, but it only shows how to make various stitches for closing and embellishing, with no mention of which stitch would be best to use for hand-sewing a toy. (I just made one up to sew my aardvark – a faster variant of backstitch – but it would be nice to have some expert advice on that topic.)
  • I did spot a couple of minor text errors in my flick-through; the hippo’s underbody pattern piece is labelled ‘upperbody’, the footpads say to cut 2, not 4, and there’s no mention of attaching the hippo’s footpads to the legs. I’ve notified Abby so these can be added to the book’s errata page – unfortunately, errors are a fact of life in printed books, so I always recommend you consult the errata if something confuses you in any craft book.

Final Thoughts

This is a one-of-a-kind book and I think it really fills a gap in the marketplace. I’ve decided that this is really three books in one, and different people will use it in very different ways:

It’s a soft toy pattern book: If you’re looking for a book of toy patterns, this is a varied collection of animal patterns to suit a range of skill levels. If you want to make a toy as a gift, you’ll probably find a design to suit every child. While there’s no difficulty level indicated on the patterns, the complexity increases throughout the book as new techniques are introduced.

It’s a course on soft toy technique and construction: Abby’s background as a teacher really shows through here; this book is structured as a step-by-step course, with each project as a demonstration piece for the lessons in that chapter. If you work through every project in the book, learning the lessons as you go, you’ll have a solid grasp of soft toy design techniques that you could bring to your future projects.

It’s a soft toy design reference book: And then there are people like me, who want the book solely as a reference book and will create our own designs. The included patterns are still useful as demonstrations of the lessons, which, for me, are the real gold. The lack of an alphabetised index is a real blow here – this is the only place where the book falls down for me. Everything I need to know is here, somewhere, but I found I had to flip through the book over and over again to hunt for the gems I needed. But it was always worth it – the content in Stuffed Animals is worth digging for, and my copy has definitely earned its place on my permanent reference shelf.

Overall: highly recommended! (Well done, Abby!)

Comments (6)

MOO cards: review and giveaway

MOO logoNote: Don’t miss the giveaway at the end of this post!

You’ve probably heard of MOO before – the company that turns your Flickr images into mini business cards – but they now offer a lot more: full size business cards, greeting cards and postcards, stickers and labels, and more. And you don’t need a Flickr account to use them – you can upload your photos directly to MOO.

MOO asked me if I’d like to test out their service, and I was happy to oblige – I’d wanted to order some minicards anyway, but had no idea that they’d be able to ship to me in South Africa! It turns out that MOO have two websites (US and UK) but they ship worldwide from both those locations (if you’re international, compare shipping prices to your country from each site before you order, to get the best deal).

My Experience

I decided the most useful products for me would be lots of PlanetJune MiniCards and StickerBooks. (I also ordered a high quality dot grid notebook, because I love large notebooks when I’m designing, and the grid of dots makes it easy for me to draw crochet stitch patterns, write without sloping down the page, and sketch without lines getting in the way.)

The process for creating any size of cards or stickers is really simple – just browse your computer for some suitable photos, and upload them. The unique thing about MOO’s service is that you don’t need to have the same image on each of your cards: for no extra cost, you can upload as many images as you want, to the point where every card in your pack can have a different photo, if you want! (You can also use MOO’s design templates if you don’t want to start from scratch with your card design.)

creating MOO minicards

Once you’ve uploaded your images, you can resize and crop each one to fill the frame nicely before approving the project. You can also delete any images that don’t look good, add extra pics, or save your project to edit later. A little tip: If you have several designs uploaded to one pack of cards/stickers, you’ll receive an equal number of each design. As my Baby Bunnies photo is so perfect for the MiniCard size and shape, I added that same photo several times, so I’d end up with lots of bunny cards and a few of each of my other choices.

Here’s what arrived:

PlanetJune MOO order

Lots of pretties! Let’s look at the MiniCards first:

PlanetJune MOO order

They look great: bright and colourful, and the photos are crisp and high-res. MiniCards are the same width as a standard business card, but half the height. Each card is printed in full colour on both sides of the high quality cardstock, so, for the first time ever, I have my logo and colour printing on the back of my business cards:

PlanetJune MOO order

I want to address price before I move on. Although MOO’s prices may not look competitive compared with cheaper services like Vistaprint which I’ve used in the past, there are no hidden extras with MOO. When I used Vistaprint, by the time I’d added the glossy upgrade fee, the image upload fee, and the print on reverse side fee, the cards ended up being many times more expensive than they initially appeared to be, and only worked out to be cost-effective if I bulk-ordered 500 or 1000 cards at a time. And looking at both cards together, the print quality is much better on the MOO cards:

PlanetJune MOO order
MOO (left) vs Vistaprint (right). Any fuzziness is from the extreme close-up, but you can see the clear grain pattern visible on the VP cards only.

Okay, now back to my order! I put together the most adorable StickerBooks:

PlanetJune MOO order

Each sticker is just under an inch (22mm) in size. The stickers have rounded edges and look completely professional. My only problem with them is that they look so cute as a sticker collection, I’m going to have a hard time using any of the stickers!

As you can see from my earlier photo, MiniCards come packaged in a very nice classy white cardboard box, but as they are an unusual shape, I also bought a MiniCard holder to keep my cards looking pristine when I’m out and about:

PlanetJune MOO order

I chose this hot pink shade so I’ll quickly be able to find it in my bag when needed, but you can also get sensible black and white versions. And this is, for me, the genius part of MOO cards. Now when I meet someone and they ask what I do, I can whip out my pink card holder and say “I design the patterns for these”:

PlanetJune MOO order
Pick a card; any card…

I’ve already tried it and it’s a great icebreaker – nobody can resist taking the cards and looking through them all. Then I can casually say “keep your favourite, if you like” and they look thrilled as they try to choose the one they like best. The result is that I’ve handed out my business card (and my details are on the back, so I may get a new customer as a result), but my new friend feels like they’ve been given a gift instead of having contact details forced on them. Win-win :)

Giveaway Time!

MOO have very generously offered to give three PlanetJune readers their choice of either 50 Classic Business Cards or 100 MiniCards. (Classic Business Cards are exactly the same as MiniCards in terms of quality etc; the only difference is that they’re standard business card size).

The prizes includes standard worldwide shipping, so this contest is open to everyone – yay!

To enter:

  • Just leave a comment on this post saying what you’d use your MOO cards for if you win!
  • One entry per person, please.
  • Make sure the email address you leave with your comment is valid, so I can contact you if you win (don’t worry, that field is private, so only I will see it).
  • You may enter until 6pm (EST) 11.59pm (PST) on Tuesday January 22nd 2013. I’ll draw the 3 random winners from all the entries after that time.

Good luck!

UPDATE 24 Jan: Thanks to everyone who entered! Just to keep you in the loop, I’ll be drawing the winners in the next few days (when I have time to set up the random drawing) and I’ll update this post with the winners’ names once I’ve done that :)

Comments (101)

review: ruffle yarn

The team at Kollabora thought I might enjoy playing with a crochet kit (and they were right!), so they sent me their tutorial for making One-Skein Finger Crochet Scarves, and 2 skeins of Red Heart Boutique Sashay yarn. I’ve been curious about these new novelty ruffle yarns, so I thought I’d review the yarn for you and these two very different scarf projects I used it for…

ruffle yarn scarves
Ruffle yarn scarves

About Ruffle Yarn

As this yarn is so unusual, let’s take a better look at it…

ruffle yarn
Straight off the skein, it looks like a ribbon

ruffle yarn
Opened out – you knit or crochet into the top edge; the decorative sparkly bottom edge will be on the outside of the ruffles

If you want to try out a ruffle yarn, Red Heart Boutique Sashay isn’t the only yarn of this type – ruffles are a hot novelty yarn trend and many yarn producers have jumped on board, so you can probably find similar yarns, from different brands, wherever you live.

Project One: Finger Crochet Scarf

I’ve never tried finger crochet, so I thought this would be fun. And it really was! The yarn was actually a perfect match for this project – straight from the skein without stretching the mesh out, it’s very thick and works up quickly. The colour changed every couple of stitches to keep things interesting. If you have kids, this project would be a great way to get them chaining, maybe as a prelude to teaching them to crochet with a hook. Even small children could easily make a necklace/scarf they could wear proudly afterwards.

You can find the One-Skein Finger Crochet Scarves instructions on Kollabora. As an experiment, I tried varying my tension from tight loops, through normal tension, and then then intentionally elongating each loop. The end results are noticeably different, but all 3 look good:

ruffle yarn
Tension variations, top to bottom: loose, normal, tight

I must admit, I didn’t think this scarf/necklace thing was for me, especially in such bright colours (this colourway is called Twist) – I intended to unravel it and reuse the yarn in the ruffly way it’s intended. But then, just for fun, I tied the ends together, coiled it into 4 giant loops, then wound those 3 times each around my neck to make a giant cowl with 12 wraps, and I kind of love it!

ruffle yarn scarf: finger crocheted
Finger crocheted cowl (12 wraps of giant chain stitches)

Even with my tension experiments, it looks good, but perfectionist me thinks I might just unravel it all and redo it at even tension – it was so fast and fun that it wouldn’t be a hardship to remake it anyway.

Project Two: Frilly Ruffle Scarf

I thought that using the ruffle yarn without opening it out to reveal the texture was a bit of a waste of the special ruffly properties, so I decided to try the knitted ruffle scarf pattern from the yarn’s ball band with my second skein. (It’s the free Frilly Knit Scarf pattern. If you don’t knit, Red Heart have a companion free Frilly Crochet Scarf pattern, but I didn’t realise that until I’d already knitted mine..!)

The knitting part is really really simple – knit 6 stitches and turn – so if you’ve ever knitted before, you won’t have a problem with that. It’s also very fast, and the end result looks much more impressive and complicated than it really is. The most difficult part is wrapping your head around the fact that you don’t use this type of yarn like a conventional yarn: you only insert your needle or hook into the holes along the top edge of the yarn, and ignore the rest of the mesh (which will form the frilly ruffles) – I recommend you look on YouTube for assistance if this confuses you.

ruffle yarn
Ruffles!

A little tip: if you’re trying to knit this particular frilly scarf, knit into every other space at the edge of the yarn. (The pattern doesn’t mention this.) If you knit into each space, you’ll end up with a dense spiral and no ruffles! I only figured this out after I’d knit about a foot of scarf and realised it looked nothing like the photo… Luckily it’s very easy to frog, as the mesh is smooth, so there are no fluffy fibre strands to get snarled together. After restarting:

ruffle yarn scarf: frilly knit scarf
Frilly ruffle scarf

Ooh! The finished scarf is wonderfully lacy and ruffly, but, even in in this lovely muted colourway (called Shuffle) I think it’s a bit too dramatic for my typical understated style – I felt like I was wearing a feather boa :)

Ruffle Yarn Verdict

Although it’s a ‘waste’ of the ruffles, a finger-crocheted scarf made from unstretched variegated ruffle yarn is fun, and would be a great first yarn craft project for children. You could easily get 2 scarves from one skein – I’m sure 6 wraps of chained scarf around my neck would have been plenty instead of the 12 I got from using the full skein!

A frilly ruffle scarf – either knitted or crocheted – would make a great gift for the right person, without a huge time commitment in making it. And you can really impress your non-crafty friends who don’t realise how simple it is to make – the yarn does almost all the work for you!

I also think that, in cream or white, this type of yarn would be a perfect way to make easy frilly ‘lace’ collars and cuffs for costumes, but I can’t think of many other uses for it. Even the patterns on the Red Heart site only show it used as an edging, to make a quick flower, or in several (apparently identical except for colour) frilly scarves…

I’d been wondering about these new novelty yarns, so I really enjoyed playing with the Boutique Sashay. As it works up quickly (both in ribbon and mesh forms) you can complete a project in no time, and with only one skein of yarn. It’s a bit limited in use, but, provided you have the right project for it, it’s fun and easy to work with (once you’ve figured out where to insert your hook/needle!)

Thanks very much to Kollabora for sending me these yarn projects to try out.

About Kollabora

kollabora: we are what we make
Kollabora is a new community site for makers offering DIY inspiration, learning, sharing, and supplies. They offer curated fashion-forward projects in sewing, jewellery and knitting categories (‘knitting’ includes crochet, btw) and, if you feel inspired, you can buy the pattern and all the supplies you’ll need directly from their page.

Their blog includes trend-spotting, how-tos, maker interviews and more, and they also have some wonderful original projects and patterns available at no cost – for example, I love the knitted Anchored Beach Wrap by Ruby Submarine.

Here’s what they have to say:

We believe that we are what we make, and that people should have a creative alternative to just buying products. They should have the opportunity to make what they’re inspired by. Every project on Kollabora feeds and fosters your creativity, and, above all, offers you the choice to make it yourself—a fun, unique and truly fulfilling alternative to simply buying an end product. We hope that you’ll share your adventurous experiences and expertise as we continue to craft our site into a wondrous, one-stop destination for everything you need to make something awesome.

I love this idea! In this time of disposable one-season fashions and cheap, low-quality imports, people are looking to make clothes and accessories instead of buying, and Kollabora’s projects show that you can be just as fashion-forward and on-trend when you choose to make it yourself.

I’ve only explored the knitting (& crochet) section of Kollabora so far, so I’m looking forward to checking out the sewing and jewellery categories to see what else I get inspired to make…

Comments (7)

review: Mend It Better

I won this book through its blog tour, so I decided to review it for you. The following, as always, is based on my honest opinions!

Overview

Mend It Better: Creative Patching, Darning, and Stitching by Kristin M Roach, who you may know from her blog Craft Leftovers, is a combination book consisting of basic mending advice and project tutorials for creative mending.

'mend it better' review

The tutorials, mostly contributed by other crafters, show a variety of mending options to cover tears, holes and stains by crafting embellishments or making a feature of the damaged area, and upcycling projects to improve badly-fitting clothing or thrift store finds. Kristen also provides a tutorial for making a cute zippered mending kit.

'mend it better' review
Colourful creative mending projects (e.g. this page is from the Mola Applique Patch tutorial by Carina Envoldsen-Harris)

The bulk of the book is reference material: it includes a lot of excellent mending information: repairing various fabrics; fixing damaged seams and buttonholes; repairing or replacing damaged zips and pockets, and much more. But calling it just a ‘mending book’ doesn’t really do it justice (and I haven’t seen this mentioned in any other reviews) – it also includes instructions for alterations you can make to your clothing: taking in a seam, adding hidden pockets, taking up a hem, adding bead or stitched embellishments, etc.

'mend it better' review
Detailed information, e.g. how to mend pile (left) and stretch (right) fabrics

The information starts from absolute basics – no prior knowledge of sewing equipment or techniques is assumed. The written instructions and accompanying photos are clear and comprehensive. Although I’m not in love with the narrow 3-column page layout, it’s efficient – there’s lots of information on each page but it doesn’t feel cramped. All project steps are clearly numbered, so it’s easy to follow the instructions.

'mend it better' review
Mending information starting from the basics

My Experience

I skimmed through the whole book to give me a basic idea of techniques I could use at the moment and then decided to fix a backpack where the fabric had frayed along the seam allowance and left a big hole along the seam. I used my sewing machine and sewed a patch onto the back of the frayed fabric, then unpicked the original seam and re-sewed it to include the patch. I didn’t think to take a ‘before’ picture, but, as you can see, the result is pretty much invisible:

mended backpack
The fabric had frayed along the seam, leaving a big hole between the arrows.

Next I consulted the section on fixing leather. I had assumed my office chair was real leather until it started to wear through and rip, and I could see the sad pleathery truth. Months ago, I tried to mend it with Speed Sew fabric repair glue, but it didn’t hold, and the rip worsened every time I sat down until it reached this sorry situation:

mending my chair

The rest of the chair is fine, though, so I really needed to fix it somehow before the exposed foam started to disintegrate and made the chair unusable.

As my ‘fabric’ is cheap faux leather, I wasn’t sure if the leather-mending instructions would work, so I started with this tiny hole on the other side of the chair front, to test the method. I tried the ‘mending a tear in leather’ instructions but, although the instructions were fine, it quickly became apparent that it wouldn’t work in my case – the pleather tore with any stress on it, so I ended up having to make large whipstitches over the top of the hole to keep it together. Result: a mended hole, but not a pretty one.

mending my chair
Tiny hole, before and after stitching

By this point, I could tell that fixing the giant rip neatly was not an option, so I decided to go for a functionally creative mend, using patching and gluing techniques from the book in addition to trying to sew the hole so it would stay closed.

mending my chair

I cut some black webbing to fit inside the gaps, and then slowly glued a section of the seat cover to the webbing, and stitched the hole closed. The rip was so large that pulling the sides together was extremely difficult, especially as the seat fabric ripped if the stitches were too close to the ripped edge. I found that making large stitches through the fabric and into the webbing was the best bet – the stitches kept the fabric in place against the webbing while the glue dried, and added support for the glue.

mending my chair

It was a long, hard job – stitching through thick webbing with a thin curved upholstery needle is hard work, but a thicker needle would have damaged the pleather even more, so I persevered. And here’s the result:

mending my chair

No, it’s certainly not pretty, but it all holds together: my frankenstitches feel very stable with the glued webbing to back them up, and I think I’ve succeeded in saving the chair – the foam shouldn’t degrade any more now it’s safely hidden away. Now I just need to crochet a seat cover to hide the frankenstitches, and my chair will be as good as new :)

I’d ignored these problem for months, but having a book of mending techniques at my disposal makes me feel like I can tackle these things. Next I’m going to try fixing a too-loose zip that keeps falling down!

Peeves

  • There’s a lot of information contained in the 200+ pages of this book, and some of the chapter headings are a bit broad and unclear (e.g. the Surface Fixes chapter includes fixes for snags and pulls, how to fix a patch pocket, 2 different project examples of adding new patch pockets, and instructions for re-pleating a skirt, while the Getting Fancy chapter includes lace, leather and stretch fabric repair). A one-sentence summary of each chapter on the Contents page would have been very helpful – I’d never have thought to look in ‘Getting Fancy’ to find the leather repair instructions! – so I definitely recommend consulting the index if you’re looking for something in particular.
  • I have a very understated taste in clothing and I can’t imagine using any of the project ideas on my own clothes. They’d definitely be a fun way to extend the life of children’s clothing – which are much more likely to need mending anyway – or if you have a less conservative dress sense than me. Having said that, if I look at the projects as embellishment tutorials instead of mending tutorials, I could adapt them for decorating cushions, bags, etc, so they still have some value to me.

Final Thoughts

Mend It Better: Creative Patching, Darning, and Stitching has plenty of eye candy and project ideas for creative mending, upcycling and embellishing. For me, though, the real value of this book is in the well-explained techniques that will let you fix and mend common problems and make alterations to get more mileage out of your clothing (and also luggage and even upholstered furniture: although the book focuses on clothing, the techniques can obviously apply to any repairs of fabric, zips, buttons etc).

The techniques explained here are absolutely worth the purchase price, even if none of the projects appeal to you, so I recommend Mend It Better as a solid reference for a variety of sewing and mending techniques. I’ll be keeping my copy in my reference library, so I’ll have more confidence in attempting fixes and alterations for my clothes, and I’ll be well prepared next time I have a mending emergency!

Comments (9)

book review: Simply Crochet

I won the eBook version of this book through its blog tour, so I decided to review it for you. The following, as always, is based on my honest opinions!

Overview

Simply Crochet: 22 Stylish Designs for Every Day by Robyn Chachula is a crochet project book built around an unusual but useful premise: stash-busting! The 22 projects are split by the number of balls of yarn each uses: eight 1 ball projects, seven 2-3 ball projects, and seven 4-5 ball projects.

Simply Crochet review by PlanetJune

Partly because it includes patterns contributed by 15 crochet designers, there’s a real variety of projects in this book, including garments for women and children, and wearable and home accessories. This means that, while you probably won’t want to make all the included designs, there’s something for everyone here, and you’re bound to find some projects that you’d like to make. And you’ll also find a variety of techniques: thread crochet, tapestry crochet, tunisian crochet, motif-based designs, felting.

Here’s a selection of the designs that most appealed to me:

Simply Crochet review by PlanetJune
L-R: Tunisian Neck Lattice by Vashti Braha; Annabel Shawl by Kristin Omdahl; Linked Jacket by Robyn Chachula

And, as I clearly gravitate towards a certain style, here are some of the other designs, to give you a more complete picture of the variety of patterns:

Simply Crochet review by PlanetJune
L-R: Tallula Baby Top by Marlaina Bird; Dots and Dashes Baby Blanket by Ellen Gormley; Flapper Hat by Margaret Hubert

As with all Interweave books, it looks elegant and is clearly laid out. The patterns are easy to follow and all include Robyn’s excellent stitch diagrams and schematics. Tips from each of the featured designers on making the most of your yarn stash and crocheting on a budget are also scattered throughout the book.

As the book is intended to be used for stash-busting, the yarn requirements for each project give the weight of the yarn used in the design e.g. ‘Sportweight (#3 Light)’ as well as the specific yarn used for the sample. (I think this is a very useful addition that should be included in all crochet books, to make it easier for you to substitute yarns.)

Although there is a short section at the back of the book with descriptions of the stitches used, I wouldn’t choose this as a learn-to-crochet book. But, as a project-based book for crocheters, I think it works very well.

My Experience

Being short on time and looking for something I’m not too familiar with, I decided to test out Robyn Chachula’s Mystic Cuff (p27). I don’t dabble in thread crochet often, as gripping the work tightly enough to force my hook into the tiny spaces plays havoc with my hands, so I’ve never made anything doily-like before.

Simply Crochet review by PlanetJune
Mystic Cuff by Robyn Chachula (large text added by me to obscure the pattern!)

I have tiny wrists so I figured I’d need to adapt the pattern so the cuff wouldn’t fall off my hand. Here, I ran into a little problem: the gauge section only gives the finished cuff measurement, which means I’d have to complete the entire cuff to find out if my gauge matched Robyn’s, and then adjust the pattern (or my hook) and restart accordingly. It would have been helpful to have a gauge measurement as the size after Rnd 1, or even a guide as to what wrist size it fits (the cuff overlaps itself, so the finished measurement is larger than the wrist size) so I’d know much earlier if I needed to start over to match the gauge.

As my hands wouldn’t tolerate crocheting two cuffs in thread, I decided to assume my gauge was close enough and make my cuff smaller by dropping one repeat. My only other change was to substitute a larger crochet hook (2.25mm) for the foundation chain, as I knew I’d have problems working back into those chains if I made them with the recommended 1.5mm hook. And then I got to crocheting…

I found Robyn’s stitch diagram to be so clear that you could easily complete the cuff without reading a word (apart from how and when to attach the beads). I always prefer to check the written instructions too as I go, to make sure I haven’t misunderstood anything in the diagram, and I did find a couple of errors here in the way the repeats were structured (an extra dc2tog at the end of Rnd 3, and a missing ch 2 at the end of Rnd 4). However, the stitch diagram was correct in both cases, and is clear enough that I doubt many people would use the written instructions anyway. (I notified Interweave about the errors, so I expect Simply Crochet will be added to their Crochet Book Corrections page shortly.)

Aside from those minor glitches, which were easy to fix with a glance at the stitch diagram, the cuff came together very smoothly. I’d never seen beads attached in this way before – it was a very elegant method (although a bit tricky to guess how many chains were covered by each bead, so I made my starting chain too long, just in case, and unravelled the extra chains later). I finished the cuff easily. It took me 4 days because I didn’t want to risk giving myself longer-term hand pain, but it would be a very fast project if you don’t have hand problems like mine!

Simply Crochet review by PlanetJune
Isn’t it lovely?

Now for the bad news. It turns out that my gauge was way off: 20% smaller! That means that I could have made the cuff with no modifications, and it probably would have been only slightly too large for me… As it is, my modified cuff barely meets around my wrist, let alone has the overlap needed for the clasp. This is the only pattern in the book that doesn’t give a gauge swatch measurement, probably because the finished project is smaller than a typical swatch size, but it would have been helpful to know sooner that my gauge was so much tighter than Robyn’s. Even after blocking, it was still far too small, so I had to come up with a different method to affix the cuff around my wrist (I bent an eye pin into a tiny hook shape and stitched it to one end of the cuff):

Simply Crochet review by PlanetJune
I think my bent-pin solution for my too-small cuff is quite elegant!

The Mystic Cuff is a very pretty design. For most people, it’d be a quick enough project to whip up another one if your gauge was off – and you could give the original ‘gauge swatch’ (i.e. finished cuff) to a friend with a smaller or larger wrist. My complaint with the gauge is really only because of my own difficulties with thread crochet and hand pain, so making it once was enough for me, but now I have a solution for my sizing error, I’m very happy with my modified version:

Simply Crochet review by PlanetJune
My finished Mystic Cuff

Peeves

There’s not much to criticise here! Aside from the small errors I noted above (which I’m sure will be fixed with errata shortly) I only noted a couple of things:

  • The Billows of Baubles scarf (p19) is worked in stainless steel yarn, which isn’t something that’s commonly available, so I doubt it figures in many people’s stashes. As this is supposed to be a ‘use up your stash’ book, it would have been nice if there was a note about how the scarf might look if crocheted with a non-steel yarn of the same weight – it obviously wouldn’t be “an elegant sculptural accessory” as described.
  • The Linked Jacket (p129) mentions 2 hooks and eyes in the materials list. In one photo, it shows each side of the hooks and eyes attached to some sort of backing fabric or ribbon, however there’s no mention in the instructions of attaching the hooks and eyes. A little guidance as to placement of the fastenings, and whether that backing fabric is required (and if so what to use for it) would have been helpful.

Final Thoughts

Simply Crochet is a stylish book of crochet patterns featuring a nice variety of modern designs. The instructions are all clearly written and charted, the photos are clear and elegant, and the yarn weight and yardage info make it much easier to substitute yarns than in many other crochet books.

Sometimes pattern books can be very focused: all hats; all afghans; all one weight of yarn; all using one technique. If you’re looking for a project-based book featuring many different options for size, style, technique, and yarn weight, Simply Crochet will definitely fit the bill. Although it’s unlikely that every project in the book will appeal to you, there’s plenty of variety here to keep any crocheter interested!

Comments (6)

book review: Crafting With Cat Hair

Let’s get this out of the way first: I was given a copy of this book to review. But I’m not being compensated for this review in any other way, and the following is based on my honest opinions!

Overview

Crafting With Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat by Kaori Tsutaya was originally published in Japanese, and has now been translated into English by Amy Hirschman. When they say “…to make with your cat” they really mean it, as all the projects in this book are designed to be created from the excess fur that’s removed when you brush your cat.

Crafting With Cat Hair review by PlanetJune
Cover, showing cat hair finger puppet

The included projects are:

  • Finger puppets
  • Book covers
  • Cat portraits
  • Tote bags
  • Coin purses
  • Knickknack boxes
  • Pincushions
  • Badges
  • Mittens & gloves
  • Hats & scarves

Note: the amazon description also mentions cat toys and photo frames, but this is incorrect.

Crafting With Cat Hair review by PlanetJune
My favourite project: pretty pincushions

Aside from the finger puppets, which are made by wet-felting, each project includes patterns to needle-felt the cat shapes onto the finished item, and some also include embellishments (eyes, collars, bells, etc).

Between each project, there’s an information spread. These cover the benefits of brushing your cat, a comparison of cat hair and sheep’s wool, seasonal shedding variations, and more. The info sections are brief and easy to read, and include lots of cat photos to enjoy.

Crafting With Cat Hair review by PlanetJune
Cat-embellished mini tote bags

Note: the publisher’s blurb says “All the projects are cat-friendly, eco-friendly, and require no special equipment or training”. But, for any of these projects apart from the finger puppets, you will need what I consider to be specialized equipment: a felting needle and some kind of foam or sponge to stab it into.

My Experience

Before I start, I should introduce you to the real star of this review, my handsome boy Maui:

Maui cat in the sunshine
Maui enjoying the South African sunshine – it’s a hard life…

I’d been collecting Maui’s fur for a couple of years, in case I thought of something to do with it, but then I moved abroad and decided to throw it all away before moving. Of course, now there’s something I could have done with it! Luckily Maui is a fur generator, and graciously consented to being brushed every day for a week so I could save his fur to test-drive this book for you. He’s a short-haired cat, so if his fur will work for these projects, I’m pretty sure that it’ll work for any cat hair.

From looking through the book, I got the impression that creating a clear outline for your needle-felted silhouette seems to be the hardest part, so I picked one of the largest patterns to give me the best chance of making it look good (the cat pattern that goes with the Coin Purse, p51). It’s nice that several cat shapes are provided for most of the projects, so you can choose a pose that looks like your own cat – the one I chose was very Maui-ish. I used a sheet of acrylic felt as my base, as I’m sensitive to wool. I gathered up my small pile of Maui’s fur, and I got to work.

I do have a little experience with needlefelting (I made a mini guinea pig), so I can tell you that needle-felting with cat hair is definitely much slower than with wool. The claim of “quick and quirky” projects is a little overly optimistic, in my opinion. Cat hair doesn’t really want to be felted; it takes more stabbing to get the strands to mesh together. But it does work, eventually!

I felt that the needlefelting instructions were a little brief – if I didn’t already know better I’d have assumed from reading the instructions that I’d stab the needle in a few times to anchor the fur, and that would be it. (If you don’t already know, you have to stab over and over again, all over the surface, to mesh all the strands together into a solid fabric.) There’s also no safety warning in the book, which I think is an oversight – this is a sharp serrated needle you’re stabbing very close to your fingers, and you do need to be vigilant. (Ask me how I know this…)

cat hair needlefelted silhouette by planetjune
Pretty kitty silhouette (with the dreaded stabbing device)

It took me about an hour of stabbing to make my small cat silhouette (just over 2″ long), and it’s not perfect – it’s very tricky to make the edges neat, and perfectionism has no place here. You can see stray hairs around the edges and they really don’t like to be tamed; I may have been able to improve it further, but I took my stabbed finger as a sign to stop. Even so, it is adorable: it’s a sweet little silhouette of my Maui, made from his own fur! This is very special and I will treasure it.

cat hair needlefelted silhouette by planetjune (back)
The back looks similar, but more fluffy and less defined

The back (above) looks almost as good as the front! I’m not convinced that the cat hairs have matted together at all; it seems more like stabbing them through to the back of the felt has pinned the hairs into place. (FYI, the cheap acrylic craft felt stood up to all the stabbing with no problems, so don’t be afraid to use it as a base to needlefelt onto.)

I haven’t decided how to finish my piece: I may add a felt border and some simple embroidery, inspired by the Badges project (p66), or make or find a frame for it, à la Portraits (p36), or maybe a combination of the two. I also considered adding eyes and a tiny embroidered nose, but I think I’ll leave it as is; simple is sometimes better. If I change my mind, I’ll flip through the book again to give me ideas!

Peeves

Although there are 10 projects in this book, 1 involves wet-felting and the other 9 are all needle-felting projects. Yes, there are directions for making a pincushion, bag, coin purse, felt pin, etc, but the actual cat hair part of each of these projects is exactly the same: needle-felt a cat silhouette to the project you’ve made, or to a bought garment. This may be an inbuilt limitation of trying to craft with cat hair, as opposed to any lack of imagination on the part of the author: cat hair is too short to spin into yarn (unless you have a long-haired cat) and, as the book explains, it doesn’t felt as firmly as wool, so it may be that these limited projects are really all you can do with it. (I previously tried to make a felt ball with some of Maui’s fur, and, although it looked like it had felted firmly while it was wet, once it had dried some hairs popped out around the edges, and it really wasn’t pretty enough to do anything with.) Still, I had been hoping for a little more variety with what to do with the cat hair.

If you’ve never needle-felted before, I’d suggest you look up instructions online before you begin, and please, please be careful with the sharp needle!

After seeing how fluffy the finished piece is compared with felted wool, I’m also not entirely convinced how well the cat hair felt would hold up on any kind of garment or item that gets heavy use – I suspect you may end up shedding cat hair wherever you go..! But the ideas and the silhouettes are all very cute, so here’s my suggestion to get more mileage from the book: you could always use the provided cat silhouettes and instructions to needle-felt wool roving to your hat and mittens instead of the cat hair, to get a sturdier result, and maybe save the cat hair for the more ornamental projects.

Final Thoughts

I see one huge reason to buy this book: cat owners will go crazy for a little felted something made with their own sweet kitty’s fur! I love the little silhouette I made with Maui’s fur, and I’m sure that your non-crafty cat-mad friends and relatives would be equally delighted with a little replica ornament of their beloved feline companions – it would make a great Christmas gift (although maybe not a surprise, as you’ll need to gather a few days’ worth of cat fur brushings in advance)!

Crafting With Cat Hair is definitely a specialised book, and one that only cat-lovers will appreciate. But it’s fun to read for the cat info and photos, and the projects, while a little limited in scope, are very cute. If you like needlefelting, or want to try it for the first time, and you, or someone you know, loves cats, you’ll probably enjoy this book :)

Comments (13)

book review: Microcrafts

Let’s get this out of the way first: I was given a copy of this book to review. But I’m not being compensated for this review in any other way, and the following is based on my honest opinions!

Overview

Microcrafts: Tiny Treasures to Make and Share, compiled by Margaret McGuire, Alicia Kachmar, and Katie Hatz, is a craft project book that includes 25 miniature craft projects that use a variety of different methods and materials – and each project is no larger than a spool of thread!

Microcrafts: Tiny Treasures to Make and Share

I love tiny craft projects – they can be fast to make, use hardly any supplies, take up no space to display, and have a huge cuteness factor just from their size alone! So I really looked forward to seeing this book, and I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s a hardcover book, with very nice, understated styling. It’s fun just to flip through – the photos are large and clear (larger than life-size!) and the projects are well-displayed. Project instructions are broken down into numbered steps, with illustrations, templates, and tips. It’s all well laid out and easy to follow.

Microcrafts: Tiny Treasures to Make and Share
Embroidered felt pendant and a felted planets mobile

The included projects cover a range of styles and difficulties, from the very basic (nutshell boats, miniature paper bunting) to more technically demanding (tiny books, miniature macrame), and a range of materials including paper, felt, fabric, polymer clay, and more. Every project is very different, and there are some original concepts that I haven’t seen anywhere else before, so you really get your money’s worth, and plenty of scope to spark your imagination.

Microcrafts: Tiny Treasures to Make and Share
Miniature books

My Experience

I fell in love with the miniature houseplants and macrame hanger but, not having a mini plant pot or access to any live plants, I decided to make all the components myself. I followed the Macrame Hanger (p44) instructions (see below). I also liked the Wire Plant Stand (p45) idea, but not the look of the finished stand, so I came up with my own very simple version. And this is the real beauty of the Microcrafts projects – they are based on such simple concepts that they lend themselves to customizing.

Microcrafts: Tiny Treasures to Make and Share

If you’re not already familiar with macrame, the Macrame Hanger is one of the most advanced projects in the book. I’ve never tried macrame before, or any knotting craft other than basic friendship bracelets, so I really put the instructions to the test. Each knot had an illustration that, after a few seconds of study, allowed me to complete it successfully. The concise instructions did leave me puzzled at a couple of places: how thin exactly is “thin cord or embroidery thread or string” and how do I “hide the ends of the knot”, for example, but I think I was overthinking it: I used size 20 crochet thread, as I had it on hand; it looks a little finer than the example, but it still looks great – the exact thread thickness obviously doesn’t matter.

I only found one mistake in the directions: the instruction for the 4 cords that hold the plant hanger says to make them 1/4″ long – that’s far too short. From the picture I assume that should actually be either 1″ or 1 1/4″, but the exact length is something you can decide to look good with your pot, so it doesn’t really matter; I just continued until mine looked long enough.

As for the macrame, it might have been easier to practice the knots at full scale before going micro, but it worked! My plant hanger looks exactly like the picture (above), so I must have followed the instructions correctly:

mini macrame planter by planetjune

Genius idea – as you can see, any kitschiness you may associate with macrame totally vanishes on this scale. Isn’t it adorable? Oh, hang on, maybe you don’t appreciate the scale without anything for reference… Here you go:

miniature polymer clay succulent garden by planetjune
This is a super-sized pic – in reality the entire pot is less than 1 inch (2.5cm) diameter!

I was inspired by the polymer clay projects in the book to create my plant pot and a tiny succulent garden from FIMO. I love how this project turned out, and I had a lot of fun making it :)

Peeves

I’m happy to report that I don’t have any major gripes about this book!

The introduction to Microcrafts says that microcrafting is “all about putting odds and ends to good use”, however, a few of the projects are a bit limiting because they rely on specific products in order to make them. For example, the fabric buttons project requires a fabric button covering kit; and I was very intrigued by the temporary tattoos project but was disappointed to find that it requires “clear temporary tattoo inkjet waterslide-decal paper” – you can’t get much more specific than that, and I didn’t feel it really fit with the “odds and ends” claim.

This only applies to a couple of the projects though: the bulk of the Microcrafts projects use basic craft supplies (paper, felt, yarn, glue, string, etc) that you probably already have in your craft stash, or could easily buy from any craft supply store.

And I was surprised to see a book about tiny crafts that doesn’t include a shrinkydinks project – such a missed opportunity! Note to the authors: that’s my suggestion for Microcrafts 2, ladies ;)

Final Thoughts

Microcrafts: Tiny Treasures to Make and Share is a great concept, and well-executed. There’s a wide range of projects ranging from very simple (fun to make for or with kids) to more advanced projects that any crafter will appreciate. The various contributors provide a variety of styles and materials used in the projects, so you’ll definitely find at least a few that appeal to you, and the others may just provide a spark of inspiration to create your own original microcrafts!

If you appreciate cute and tiny, and enjoy crafting, you’ll love Microcrafts. It’s a must-keep addition to my craft book reference shelf!

Comments (8)

review: The Knook

You may remember my knooking experiment from last year. Knooking (or knitting with a crochet hook) is a clever way to form real knitted stitches, by passing the live stitches onto a cord at the ‘wrong’ end of the crochet hook and then working back into them. The finished fabric is indistinguishable from a knitted fabric.

The main obstacle to knooking was the lack of proper equipment available. I used a locker hook, which worked well enough, but is only available in one size (approx G equivalent). The only other alternatives were to buy an expensive circular crochet hook set, or to hack a crochet hook into a knook yourself.

The Knook kit from LeisureArts

Now, finally, LeisureArts have come to the rescue with their new knooking kit, called simply The Knook. I should mention that LeisureArts kindly sent me a kit to review, but I’m not being compensated for this review in any other way, and the following is based on my honest opinions!

If you’d like to buy one, The Knook is currently available from Walmart stores. If you’re looking for it, don’t assume, as I did from the pictures online, that this is a full-sized book: the knook hooks are the same length as a standard crochet hook (about 6″/15cm), and the booklet is the same height, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled to find the kit (it should be located with the other knitting and crochet tools), as it’s fairly small.

UPDATE 20 Sep 2011: Great news! The Knook kit is now available for pre-order on Amazon, and will be released on October 1st :)

UPDATE 6 January 2012: Even better news: LeisureArts have now released more knooking books! Here’s what’s currently available:

  • The Knook kit (that’s what I’ve reviewed here; includes 3 knook hooks and basic instructions)
  • Learn to Knook (includes instructions for decreases and increases, finishing seams, changing colors, making cables, knitting in the round, and more)
  • Several knooking pattern books for hats and other items (although you can use any knitting patterns once you’ve learnt how to make the knitted stitches with your knook!).

The Equipment

The kit comes with 3 knooks, in sizes G/4mm, H/5mm, and I/5.5mm, and three coloured cords (there’s no difference between the cords except the colours, btw). The knooks themselves are made from bamboo, so they are very light and look quite stylish. There’s a slight depression for the thumbrest, which makes it more pleasant to hold than the locker hook I used for my previous knooking attempt. The hook tapers towards the bottom, to allow the doubled cord to pass through your stitches more easily, and the cords are smooth and shiny, which should make them ideal to slide through your stitches.

The ends of the cords are melted (so they won’t fray), and that rigidity made it slightly tricky to thread through the eye of the knook, but I found that by gently twisting the cord as I pushed, it slid through the eye easily enough.

The Book

The provided booklet includes step by step instructions for casting on and off, knit and purl stitches, and includes both right-handed and left-handed photos for every step (I heartily approve!). At the end of the book are 4 patterns (a scarf, washcloth, and two blankets.)

The Knook kit from LeisureArts

When I learnt to knook previously, I had obviously misunderstood something, because knitters looked at my Shaun the Sheep case and told me that my stitches were twisted. (I don’t mind – it still looks good!) I haven’t touched a knook since then and really don’t remember how to do it, so I can test these instructions as a beginner, and hopefully learn the correct method in the process…

The Instructions

I only had internet on my phone when I was testing the instructions, so I couldn’t access the accompanying YouTube videos. If you’re learning to knook, I suggest you use the videos in addition to the booklet to help you learn.

The Knook kit from LeisureArts

To knit, “insert the Knook from right to left into the first stitch”. What?! This motion felt entirely alien to me: it’s like working backwards (I’m left-handed), and the photo didn’t help. After watching the video later, I see that they inserted the hook under the cord too (not shown in the book), which is far easier than the clumsy way I did it to try to match the book’s photo – I had to hold the cord vertically (as you would a knitting needle) to get my hook into the stitch. So, watch the video too if you’re going to learn using this booklet; it really helps. After trying the video method, my knooking speed is now much faster.

first steps in knooking
My first steps: stitches picked up along the chain; stitches slid onto the cord; working back into the stitches

After a few rows of awkwardness, I moved onto the purl instructions. This was much easier than the knit stitch for me and I conquered it in no time.

I did a few rows in stockinette and then checked my swatch, only to find that I was twisting the stitches of every other row. I checked back with the book and noticed a very important highlighted box right at the beginning of the instructions:

If you already know how to crochet, please study the photos closely. From this point on, you will NOT be using the same yarn over typically used in crochet.

Oops… I read the instructions again and realised I’d been twisting the knit stitches by yarning over in my usual crochet way. I re-learned the knit stitch properly, then finished my swatch using the supplied bind-off method (although I had to do it twice because it didn’t mention that you have to bind off loosely and so my stitches ended up being too tight on my first attempt).

Using the Knooks

With my stitches down, I was ready to put the knooks and cords through their paces with a test project. The patterns in the booklet were all too large for impatient me (except the washcloth, which I knew I’d never use) so I decided to improvise. I used the H hook and teal Bernat Satin yarn to knook up a mug cosy of my own improvised design.

One of my knook hooks was slightly rough around the notch cut to make the hook shape, but I polished the bamboo smooth by rubbing it against my jeans so it wouldn’t catch on the yarn. (If you had a very rough knook tip, I’d recommend sanding it with fine sandpaper first.)

After smoothing, the knooks themselves worked very well – the non-hook end was far easier to pull through completed rows than the bulkier locker hook had been, and the silky cords slid through my stitches easily too.

knooked mug cozy

I completed my mug cozy in the time it took to watch a Lord of the Rings movie (so, 3 hours or so), and I’m happy with the result. It’s all knooked apart from the cord over the top of the mug handle, which I foundation single crocheted (still using the knook hook though – you can crochet with a knook too, of course). I expect I could make another mug cozy in about half the time now I’ve seen the video and know to knit by inserting my hook under the cord – live and learn!

Verdict

I highly recommend this kit for the knook hooks and cords. If you want to knook, this is definitely a worthwhile purchase and very inexpensive (people have reported paying around $7 for one at Walmart – well worth it). The booklet is useful too, and the inclusion of left-handed instruction earns it bonus points from me, although I’d recommend that you use the videos too (also available for left-handers). I found that the book photos are very useful to keep on hand as an instant reference for the yarn over directions (I had to check a few times to make sure I hadn’t reverted back to my crochet-style yarn overs, but it worked: no more twisted knit stitches for me).

The Knook kit gets a definite thumbs up from me.

What Next?

knooked Sampler Scarf from LeisureArtsOnce you have the equipment, the world is your knooking oyster! If you have any questions about knooking, I always recommend the Knooking group on Ravelry, which is full of knooking experts and newcomers alike.

LeisureArts are publishing more knooking patterns on their website, but I understand you can also knook (almost?) any knitting pattern.

On the LeisureArts site, I’m most excited about the Sampler Scarf pattern pictured to the right note: it’s free, but you do have to register and provide a billing address in order to download it. It includes instructions for combining (knooked) knitted sections with crocheted stitches, which isn’t as easy at it sounds, because crochet stitches are wider than knit stitches. The pattern has sections worked in Knit Check, Knit Diagonal Rib, Knit Basketweave, and Knit Pennant, with instructions for each, so that’s another 4 knooked stitch patterns I’m looking forward to trying out.

I’ll definitely be knooking more often now that I have a set of proper knooks! What do you think: are you tempted to try knitting the crochet way?

Comments (52)

book review: Crochet Compendium

Let’s get this out of the way first: I was given a copy of this book to review. But I’m not being compensated for this review in any other way, and the following is based on my honest opinions!

Overview

Annie’s Attic say, about their new book Crochet Compendium: The Ultimate Collection of Crochet Techniques:

We’ve combined our best-selling technique books into the ultimate reference book of crochet techniques – great for newcomers and expert crocheters too!


Crochet Compendium front and back covers

While I’m not sure that this is the ultimate reference book (it’s hard to imagine any book that could cover every crochet technique, and especially one with less than 140 pages!), what this book does include is a collection of a variety of lesser-known crochet techniques, some of which, I was happy to see, were brand new to me.

Each technique is covered with between 1 and 10 pages of illustrated instructions, followed by one or two projects using the technique. In all, this book includes 16 techniques (plus the ubiquitous crochet basics) and 20 projects. It provides an overview of many crochet techniques that you may not be familiar with, including:

  • beaded crochet
  • broomstick lace
  • doilies
  • double-ended crochet
  • felting, filet crochet
  • crocheting with fleece
  • mosaic crochet
  • hairpin lace
  • intarsia
  • slip-stitch crochet
  • crocheting socks
  • symbol crochet
  • Tunisian crochet
  • waffle-weave
  • wiggly crochet

Annie’s Attic previously published each of these techniques as separate booklets, and in this book you get all the instructions from those booklets (but fewer patterns for each than if you bought the individual booklets), so it’s a very good deal if you’re interested in learning new techniques – you get a lot of value for money here.


Part of the extensive hairpin lace instructions

Tucked away at the very end of the book, there’s a 31-page section on crochet basics, which seems like a strange place to hide it, as it’s not referenced anywhere else in the book. Most of this is the general “how to sc”, “how to dc” etc, but the final few pages include tables of standard abbreviations, metric conversions and international hook size conversions (and knitting needles too – oops!), skill levels, and yarn weights – this is actually useful reference information to keep handy, as now I won’t need to keep looking it up at yarnstandards.com! The final page is a one-page stitch guide covering abbreviations (again), international stitch conversions, and basic stitch instructions (again), but it’s in a nice single-page format.

The various techniques require and provide differing amounts of well-illustrated instruction before jumping into the project(s): crochet with fleece, for example, needs no more than a page on how to cut and join fleece strips to make your ‘yarn’, while hairpin lace includes 10 pages of braid variations and methods for joining them together.

My Experience

For my review, I thought I’d trying jumping in as a beginner to see how I’d cope with a totally new (to me) technique: Mosaic Crochet. I started out like a good little student, by reading the 4 pages of provided instructions. It seems very thorough, but I wasn’t at all clear what the fabric would look like: there are no photos of the wrong side of the fabric in either the technique or project instructions. I assumed (as the provided project is a scarf) that this technique produces a double-sided fabric – it would be strange to have a scarf that you have to keep flipping over to make sure that only the ‘right’ side shows! – but I thought from what I’d read that there would be strands of chains visible on the back of the project… What would that look like? Why hasn’t the book shown me, so I can tell if I’m doing it right..?!

Clearly, I was overthinking: time to jump in and start the project so I could see how it really works! I decided to make a swatch sized such that I could turn it into a slip case for my lifeline (aka my BlackBerry). I chose two blackberry-ish shades of Patons Grace and a C hook. I followed the ‘charts with repeats’ sample on p50-51, using 2 repeats instead of 3 to fit the width of my BlackBerry.


The pattern I followed for my sample

Mosaic crochet is not a simple technique to learn. The chart looks very easy to follow, but each square represents two rows, not one, and you have to either sc, dc, or chain into/over each stitch, depending on both the colour of the stitch and the colour of the stitch in the row below – so there’s a lot to get your head around. Luckily, the sample includes both the chart and row by row written instructions, so you can check you’ve understood the ‘rules’ when interpreting the chart.

By Row 5, I was starting to think I’d got the hang of it, but then the written instructions disagreed with what I understood from the chart. I followed my instincts and went with my interpretation of the chart, and it turns out that the written instructions were wrong (it said “sc in each of next 6 sts” instead of “dc, sc in next 4 st, dc”). After that, I figured I had the technique down and followed the chart up to the top (Row 14), ignoring the text. Luckily I checked the text again as I finished my first repeat – it turns out that none of the included charts include any rows that are all one solid colour (Rows 15-16 in this case), so you do have to follow the written pattern instructions as well as the chart.


Finished sample (right side)

I had the technique and the stitch pattern figured out by this point, and so I could complete the case without any more problems. (To make my sample rectangle into a case, I just folded the top down by a small amount and the bottom up to meet it, and then single crocheted the front and back together along each side.)


My BlackBerry case

I’m really happy to have learnt the technique (although I do feel that I could have explained it more clearly than these instructions did). The result looks really cool, don’t you think? I love the patterning. And FYI, the reverse side looks like this (below): not the same as the front, but the chains look like slight wavy bumps against the stripes, so it forms its own interesting pattern.


Mosaic crochet (wrong side)

Peeves

In my cursory glance through the book, I did spot a couple of other errors (e.g. the double-ended crochet instructions had two photos showing the first vertical bar, where one should have shown the first horizontal bar). This was surprising as the book is excerpted from other, previously-published books, so I’d have thought the instructions would have gone through 2 technical editing processes and be super-accurate as a result. [If any publishers are reading this, I’m a qualified and thorough technical editor and an experienced crocheter and I’d love to improve your crochet books for you!]

This book feels disjointed – it is a compilation, and that’s very obvious: the style is varied throughout (colour or black and white photography and/or dimensional or flat illustrations), and no chapter references any other. In some cases one chapter even contradicts another, e.g. US slip stitch is given as equivalent to UK slip stitch (p86) and to UK single crochet (p134). In practice, though, you probably wouldn’t even notice these inconsistencies, as you’d only be working with one technique/chapter at a time. The wealth of information included here definitely makes up for the lack of cohesion.

Final Thoughts

If you view Crochet Compendium as a collection of booklets in one convenient binding, you won’t be disappointed. I really enjoyed browsing the variety of lesser-known techniques that are included, and I’ll definitely return to this book in future; I can tell that it’s going to be a useful title to add to my reference collection.

For non-crocheters, I wouldn’t recommend this as your learn-to-crochet book, as the crochet basics section is instruction only: there are no basic projects to practice on. But if you’ve conquered amigurumi and granny squares and are wondering where to go from here, Crochet Compendium: The Ultimate Collection of Crochet Techniques would be a great book to whet your appetite for some very interesting crochet techniques – I’m sure you’ll find something that’s new to you inside!

Comments (7)

my book: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amigurumi

I can hardly believe I’m finally getting to write these words: my crochet book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amigurumi, is out today!* It’s been a very long process that’s taken me to this point, and part of me still doesn’t believe it’s real, although I do have this proof:

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amigurumi by June Gilbank
Yay! Look what I made – it’s really real!

I’ll be sharing more information about the book over the next few days/weeks, but, as there seems to be a lag somewhere between the publisher and Amazon’s website (their current description is about a year out of date!), I’ll share the correct ‘blurb’ copy that should be there:

Amigurumi (pronounced ah-mee-goo-roo-mee) is Japanese for “crochet (or knit) stuffed toy.” Although the concept originated in Japan, the amigurumi craze is taking over the world in waves of crocheted cuteness! From adorable fuzzy critters, to sweet-looking fruits and vegetables, to quirky comic book and cartoon characters – if you can imagine it, you can crochet it!

Whether you’re an experienced crocheter or have never taken hook to yarn, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amigurumi shows you everything you need to know to hook your own delightful amigurumi. This helpful guide includes:

  • A primer on the yarn, hooks, and stitches best for amigurumi, plus fun embellishments you can use to personalize your ami.
  • Easy-to-follow tutorials for getting started, increasing and decreasing, working in the round, changing colors, and more.
  • Expert advice on adding eyes, hair, jointed limbs, clothes, and other fun accessories to your ami.
  • Tips for following an amigurumi pattern, plus four start-to-finish patterns to give you a head-start on designing your own.
  • A full-color insert with inspirational photos of the finished ami patterns featured in the book – and more!

I’ve spent the past few days making a fun (and deceptively time-consuming to produce!) little book trailer for your viewing pleasure:

Click through to see a larger version of my book trailer at YouTube :)

All the amigurumi you see in the video are made from the patterns in the book. These are exclusive patterns that I created for the book – you won’t find them anywhere else.

All along, my plan for this book was to create the definitive reference guide to amigurumi techniques, not just another pattern book, and I hope that’s what I’ve achieved. I’ve put a lot into this book, and I hope that you’ll get a lot out of it, whatever your skill level or experience with amigurumi. It’s the only book of its kind, and I really hope you’ll enjoy it – and please let me know if you do!

If you haven’t ordered a copy yet, they should be in bookstores any day now, if not already, or you can order online from such fine retailers as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.ca.

Yay!

* UK folks, looks like you’ll have to import a copy or wait till December to get your hands on a copy :(
I expect the delay is while they translate it (back) into British English and into UK crochet terms – just guessing…

Comments (29)

« Previous entries
  • Welcome to PlanetJune!

    June Gilbank
    Hi, I'm June. Welcome to my world of nature-inspired crochet and crafting. I hope you enjoy your visit!

    If you'd like to get in touch, you can contact me here.
  • Follow me

    RSS FeedSubscribe to my blog by EmailFollow me on TwitterFollow me on Facebook
    Friend me on RavelryWatch me on YouTubeFollow me on PinterestMy photostream on Flickr
  • Breaking News from June

  • Browse Blog Categories

  • Blog Archives

  • Support PlanetJune!

    Simply click one of these links before you shop at Amazon: