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book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

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

Overview

Making Pipe Cleaner Pets by Takashi Morito was originally published in Japanese, and has now been translated into English.

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

I’ve previously reviewed another translated-from-Japanese craft book (Crafting with Cat Hair) and, like that book, this is another book of adorable crafts you’d probably never think of making until you see the book!

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

Throughout, this book has a very Japanese aesthetic. On the photo pages, the dogs are posed in cute tableaus with a variety of unrelated props – books, craft supplies, crackers – and a haiku-esque poem to introduce each dog, for example:

The morning air feels good
Now, we’ll all play ball
And bathe in the morning sun

The overall effect is charming in that bizarre Japanese craft book kind of way.

(I should mention that ‘Making Pipe Cleaner Pets‘ is a bit of a misnomer if you’re looking for a variety of pets – this is a book of dogs. It has designs for 23 different dog breeds, plus puppy-sized miniature versions of several of the breeds.)

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets
A few more of the included dog breeds.

After the cute photo gallery of all the dogs, we get to the tutorials for how to make them. The first three dogs (Toy Poodle, Pug, Boston Terrier) have detailed step-by-step instructions, including both a diagram of each step and a photo of the result.

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

Those three designs teach you the basic techniques you’ll need to make all the dogs. The other 20 dog breeds have text and diagrams only, but the basic idea is the same for all the dogs, so you’ll rarely need to look back once you’ve tackled a couple of the easier dogs.

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

My Experience

I found the perfect pack of pipe cleaner colours (two browns, grey, white and black) and got started! I planned to make 2 or 3 dogs, to give myself a chance to get the hang of the technique.

First up, I tried the Toy Poodle, the first and apparently easiest dog in the book:

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

My completed effort definitely looked like a dog, but nothing like a poodle! The legs were too short, so I decided to embrace that: I shortened them further by folding over the ends, and reshaped the face a bit (by squashing it around), and now it’s a dachshund puppy. 🙂

For my next attempt, I thought I’d try the actual Dachshund model:

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

I felt like the proportions in the instructions weren’t quite right, so I lengthened the body and shortened the legs as I made my initial bends in the pipe cleaner, and I think it looks pretty good!

Okay, I’m getting the hang of this now; time to step it up a notch with a multi-colored dog. I tried the Jack Russell Terrier:

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

I like the result – the head colours are good – but I somehow made it all a bit skinny (my fault, not the book’s). I think mine has a bit of greyhound in him 😉

And then the Pug:

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

I learnt from my mistakes and used the basic method from the book, but tweaked all the proportions to be more suited to how I think a pug should look. I ended up with lots of the dark brown showing on the back of the head, so I wove a bit more of the light-coloured pipe cleaner over to hide that. What a cute pug face!

After making a few dogs, you get a feel for what you’re doing, as the basic concept is very similar for all the dogs. I decided to make some modifications for my last two dogs…

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

The Miniature Schnauzer model seemed like a bit of a cheat to me – the white beard and eyebrows were formed separately and glued into place! Instead, I used what I’d learned from the Pug and built the beard into the face.

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

And finally, the Corgi. I used the book for the face colours, but built the body myself, plumping it up and omitting the tail completely.

The advantage of this book is that, as all the dogs are constructed along the same principles, once you’ve made a few, you should be able to get a bit more creative and extend the same principles to different animals. I thought I’d test my theory by trying – what else – a grey cat!

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

I basically made another dog, but tweaked all the proportions as I went (shorter muzzle and ears, wider face, longer neck, etc) to make it more feline. The great thing about pipe cleaner models is they are completely poseable, so it’s easy to adjust the leg positions, add a curve to the back, or reposition the tail, if you decide it doesn’t look quite right.

The book suggests some finishing touches – glued-on plastic eyes and noses, trimming some of the pipe cleaner fuzz to make e.g. pointier ears, and an occasional glued-on mouth or tongue. Even my smallest (4.5mm) animal eyes are too large for my dogs, so I decided to keep my dogs (and cat) as pure pipe cleaners. I’m sure they’d look even cuter with faces, but I like them as they are, and I like that there aren’t any glued-on parts this way – they are simply twisted pipe cleaners and nothing more.

Top Tips

  • The first stumbling block is that all the designs in this book use 1m (40 inch) long pipe cleaners, which may be common in Japan, but I’ve never seen in all my years and countries of craft shopping! The book instructs that you can instead twist multiple regular-length pipe cleaners together to make a long one, but I’d recommend you use one at a time, and twist on a new one as you reach the end of the old one – it’s a lot more manageable that way. I used 3 or 4 pipe cleaners for the main colour of each dog (and 1 or 2 of any secondary colour).
  • All the dogs’ muzzles are made by coiling the pipe cleaner and then feeding the remaining end through the middle of the coil. I found this to be impossibly difficult to do neatly, until I coiled the pipe cleaner around a narrow tube (I used a small knitting needle), which gave perfectly round coils, and a nice space in the middle for feeding the end through.

Verdict

I found the concept of pipe cleaner dog models to be fun, but it was more challenging than I’d expected. Although it looks like a kid’s craft, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for young children – it’s not easy to make a dog that looks like the photos! Teens with good dexterity and patience may enjoy making dogs, and it’s great for crafty adults like me.

The dogs are very cute and fun to pose, but there’s a bit of a learning curve, and every dog will end up with its own personality, no matter how closely you follow the directions. But that variation is part of the enjoyment of making things by hand: I feel it adds to the charm – just like a litter of real puppies, you never know exactly how each one will look until you see it!

If you persevere through a couple of practice runs, you’ll be able to make cute pipe cleaner pups too, and, once you’ve made a few dogs, you’ll see how the general idea works, and be able to try designing your own animals, if you want.

book review: Making Pipe Cleaner Pets

If you’re looking for an unusual craft to try, I can recommend Making Pipe Cleaner Pets as a fun diversion, and a great introduction to sculpting pipe cleaner animals!

Comments (8)

book review: Mandalas to Embroider

Let’s get this out of the way first: I received 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!

Carina and I have been friends since we first met (online) in our early days of craft blogging, over a decade ago! She’s well-known for her distinctive cheerful and colourful embroidery designs and has authored 3 books as well as a shopful of self-published designs (you can find them all at Polka & Bloom).

Ever since Carina mentioned that she was designing a book of mandalas, I’ve been waiting to see what she came up with, and I wasn’t disappointed! Embroidery, like other slow crafts, can be a calm relaxing hobby, and combining that with repeating mandala patterns sounds like a perfect recipe for slowing down and enjoying some crafting time.

Read on for my review, and to see the gorgeous embroidery I’ve made from one of the book patterns…

Overview

Mandalas to Embroider by Carina Envoldsen-Harris

Mandalas to Embroider: Kaleidoscope Stitching in a Hoop by Carina Envoldsen-Harris is a book of circular embroidery patterns. As Carina says in her introduction:

Mandala is the Sanskrit word for ‘circle’. These days, it is often used as a generic term for a particular motif, especially in arts and crafts, usually with a concentric design or one which radiates from the centre.

Mandalas to Embroider includes 12 large and 12 small delicate repeating patterns. Nature-based, geometric, or more abstract, the designs are all bold, happy, and – of course! – colourful. The circular nature of the patterns means they fit perfectly in an embroidery hoop, making the finished pieces easy to display.

Mandalas to Embroider by Carina Envoldsen-Harris
Such pretty and colourful designs!

The book is split into two halves: the first half includes clearly-illustrated stitch tutorials, instructions for preparing and finishing your work, and all the patterns, with colour palettes and stitching suggestions.

The pages of the second half are actually iron-on transfers for each of the patterns. Each page is perforated so it can be removed neatly, and there’s a handy pocket inside the back cover to store any transfers you’ve already used. I thought this was a really nice touch, as each transfer can be used up to ten times, so you’ll be able to keep the transfer pages together with the book, so they’re ready for the next time you want to use them.

Mandalas to Embroider by Carina Envoldsen-Harris
Left: stitch tutorials; Right: iron-on transfer

This book is beautifully styled and photographed, and I couldn’t stop paging through again and again to admire the variety of mandala-inspired patterns.

Mandalas to Embroider by Carina Envoldsen-Harris
A couple of the lovely photos

My Experience

Although Mandalas to Embroider includes 12 mini designs, I decided to jump right into one of the 12 full-sized designs. Sakura Clusters was an obvious choice for me, as I love cherry blossoms (I even designed a cherry blossom garland for my first book, Paper Chains and Garlands!) and this design was the first that really caught my eye as I flipped through the book:

Mandalas to Embroider by Carina Envoldsen-Harris

I decided to see how the design would look in a colour scheme inspired by real-life cherry blossom instead of Carina’s cheerful bright palette. That’s one of the advantages of embroidery (or crochet!) patterns – it’s so easy to make them your own by simply changing the colours. I shopped for floss colours using the pinks, reds and blue from this beautiful reference photo:

photo of cherry blossoms
I was unable to find anyone to credit this stunning photo to – if you’re the photographer, let me know!

I raided my fabric stash and the only off-white fabric I could find looked a bit thin, so I used two layers to stop the threads on the back of the piece from showing through on the front. (I wasn’t sure if that was going to work, but my stitches didn’t show through the fabric, so I suppose it did!)

sakura mandala emboidery

I wanted to make my embroidery a little smaller than the original, so I copied and reduced the pattern page, then traced the design onto my fabric with a pencil. If you use the iron-on transfers, you can skip all that and be ready to start embroidering right away!

I must admit to being a little nervous about starting stitching; although I’ve been cross-stitching for decades, and of course enjoy my punchneedle embroidery, I haven’t actually done any regular embroidery since I learnt the basic stitches in primary school.

sakura mandala emboidery

I needn’t have worried – the patterns in this book all use fairly simple stitches, which are clearly explained at the start of the book. Although I started slowly, I quickly picked up speed. By the end of the project, I felt very confident with the stitches used in this pattern, and I’m ready to learn some of the other stitches for my next embroidery project!

Look, even the back of the embroidery is quite pretty…

sakura mandala emboidery

And now for the big reveal:

sakura mandala emboidery

Isn’t it lovely? In my colour palette, the pattern takes on a more serene look, but Carina’s pretty design still shines through. I’m thrilled with my embroidery, and I’ll be very happy to display this finished piece on the wall of my craft room.

Final Thoughts

Carina’s designs always have a hand-drawn quality to them, and I was impressed to see that she’s managed to maintain that even with the repeating patterns in Mandalas to Embroider. There’s still a free, natural quality to the designs. I noticed while I was stitching the flowers that the petals of each flower aren’t perfectly identical. This is a good thing – the relaxed nature of the design felt like permission to be relaxed in the execution – there’s no need to make every stitch exactly even and perfect to get a beautiful result.

Mandalas to Embroider by Carina Envoldsen-Harris

If you’ve never tried embroidery, I’d definitely encourage you to give it a try – I found it very relaxing and satisfying to watch the design come together. And I think Mandalas to Embroider is a perfect introduction to embroidery, as you can build your confidence by practicing your stitching on the smaller patterns, or do as I did and jump right into a large one!

Comments (2)

sculpting in crochet and other media

While taking a photo of my original crocheted alpaca Alpaca together with my new felted alpaca Alpaca, it occurred to me that I’ve also made several other ‘pairs’ of crochet/non-crochet sculptures over the years!

Here’s my gallery of pairs – can you see the similarities between each pair?
(The names are links to my patterns, in case you’d like to make the crocheted version!)

Crocheted and needlefelted Alpacas (2008 and 2017):

needlefelted alpaca and amigurumi Alpaca crochet pattern, by PlanetJune

…crocheted and needlefelted Guinea Pigs (2007 and 2009):

needlefelted guinea pig and amigurumi Guinea Pig crochet pattern, by PlanetJune

…crocheted and hand-sewn Aardvarks (2011 and 2013):

hand-sewn aardvark and amigurumi Aardvark crochet pattern, by PlanetJune

…crocheted and polymer clay Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs (2010 and 2010):

polymer clay frog, and amigurumi Poison Dart Frog crochet pattern, by PlanetJune

…and crocheted and polymer clay Succulents (2012 and 2011):

polymer clay succulents, and Succulent crochet pattern, by PlanetJune

I think it’s strange and lovely to see the way my PlanetJune style seems to come through, no matter what medium I work in! I really enjoy sculpting, in any medium. Although the process of crocheting is very different from building up clay, fiber, etc, the placement of stitches to form a 3D shape gives amigurumi the added bonus that the finished pieces are more easily replicable than with other crafts.

I’m so glad that crochet lends itself to patterns – it’d be much more difficult to explain how to sculpt an animal or plant from clay or fibre without being able to quantify the instructions with specific stitches in specific places. If I hadn’t found amigurumi, I’d still be making nature-inspired sculptures, but I don’t think I’d be able to make my living from them!

I work far too slowly to be an ‘artist’ and sell my finished pieces, but I feel like my patterns are a way to share my designs in a way that I couldn’t easily do if I switched to a different medium, and I love that my patterns give me a way to help other people to craft their own soft sculptures too! ♥

Comments (3)

needlefelted alpaca

A long weekend makes the perfect opportunity to start a new craft project. I’ve been dying to do something with the alpaca fleece I bought from my Alpaca Loom trip a couple of weeks ago, and I thought a suitable first project would be to try needlefelting an alpaca (fibre) Alpaca (animal) – and I’m so happy with how it turned out!

needlefelted alpaca by planetjune

I’ve needlefelted only once before, and reading my previous blog post, I see that was almost exactly 9 years ago(!), so I think that qualifies me as an absolute beginner again…

If you’d like to try needlefelting (particularly to make animals), I recommend the video tutorials at Sarafina Fiber Art. After watching a few hours of those, I felt ready to jump in and just learn by doing. My fleece was a lot shorter than the roving Sara uses, so my learning curve was a bit steeper than I was expecting, but I got there in the end. And, after maybe 5 hours of very slow but enjoyable progress, here’s what I ended up with:

needlefelted alpaca by planetjune

I started with a pipe cleaner armature for stability and used animal eyes (without the backs), but everything else is pure alpaca fleece. I tried to loosely attach a top layer to make it look more fuzzy, and added a little fluffy topknot as a finishing touch.

needlefelted alpaca by planetjune

I’m very much still a beginner, but it’s so satisfying to see the animal slowly start to take shape, and there’s something extra-special about knowing you’re making an animal sculpture from that animal’s own fibre.

I only used a tiny fraction of my fleece, and I can already see I’m going to making more needlefelted animals, when I have time. (I also have some acrylic needlefelting fibre – thanks Alison! – that I’ve been scared to waste, so I’m looking forward to trying some more colourful animal sculptures once I’ve built a bit more confidence with the basic shaping techniques.)

It’s very freeing to make things in a different way from my usual crochet, where I can build up layers if it’s not quite right, and not have to worry about how to explain what I did to anyone. It’s good to have a new hobby 🙂

Have you ever tried needlefelting? Isn’t it fun?

Comments (7)

classic Tetris in cross stitch

tetris cross stitch embroideries

I like to have a relaxing craft project to work on over the holidays, to give me a complete break from work and designing. In December 2011, I’d hoped to do some knitting, but you have to learn to keep plans flexible when you live in Africa: the knitting needles I ordered from my local shop in November didn’t arrive until the following March(!), so I had to change my plans. Instead, I returned to one of my oldest crafty pleasures: cross stitch.

Long before I taught myself to crochet, my crafts of choice were polymer clay, candlemaking, and counted cross-stitch. I used to buy cross stitch kits, and then, later, bought software that let me design my own charts. Now I know my way around Illustrator, I can design my own charts, from scratch – much more satisfying 🙂

I like the idea of 8-bit art – basing a design on pixelated video game graphics makes it so easy to replicate the original – but I wanted to give it my own twist. So, I came up with a Tetris design to stitch in 4 shades of green to mimic the original classic 2-bit black and white (actually light green and dark green – or ‘pea soup’ colours according to Wikipedia!) Game Boy version.

And here’s the result: 10,000 perfect little stitches of geeky relaxation.

tetris cross stitch embroidery

To give this design a very small amount of meaning, the falling block has a little built-in life metaphor: do you take the easy road by dropping the block straight down and completing two lines, or do you hold out for the big rewards by shifting it one space to the left first, and hoping a straight piece comes along soon so you can complete a tetris? (I’d hold out for the tetris every time!)

The original Game Boy Tetris is still the best version of the game (although I may be biased – it was my only game for months, until I could afford to buy Super Mario Land too – and I’ve probably logged hundreds of hours of gameplay on it). I have a Tetris game for my DS, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the classic music and Russian dancing men from the original.

I considered making a companion piece showing the full band and all the dancing men, but that would need the full height of the Game Boy screen (144 pixels) – almost half as many stitches again as the first piece! I decided that’d be too much work, but, when the holidays next rolled around, guess what I started designing..?

tetris cross stitch embroidery
Can you hear the music?

I’d figured out how to draw symbol-coded cross-stitch charts in Illustrator and charted each piece fully before I started to work on it:

tetris cross stitch chart (partial) by June Gilbank

Doesn’t my chart look great? I’d hoped to eventually release both patterns as Donationware, but the issues of trademark infringement and unlicensed patterns made that idea too difficult to pursue further, so I guess my charts will never see the light of day. But at least I know how to create perfect professional-quality cross stitch charts now – you never know when that’ll come in handy!

This turned into a really long-term project. During my second Christmas of working on the second piece, I posted this wip photo (rotated so as not to give the game away):

tetris cross stitch work in progress

I was still working on it last Christmas, and it’s taken until now to complete, wash, press and mount both pieces.

tetris cross stitch - back
The back of the second piece – I love how the back of cross stitch embroideries look almost as good as the front, and have their own patterns that you don’t see from the front.

And finally, 4 years of holiday crafting and 24,800 stitches after I embarked on this project, they’re ready to hang in my office/studio! It took a lot of patience to reach this point, but I think it was worth it:

tetris cross stitch embroideries

They’re a perfect fit for the narrow wall space to the right of the window. The only question left is which should hang above the other: like this…

tetris cross stitch embroideries

…or like this…

tetris cross stitch embroideries

I really can’t decide! Which do you prefer?

Either way, I love them. And now I’ll get to see my Tetris wall hangings every day, and have a moment of happy nostalgia every time I look at them. 🙂

Comments (9)

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    June Gilbank

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