I’ve been experimenting with various mask sewing patterns since April. With the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 imminent as schools start up again, I decided to spend part of my Labour Day long weekend making a batch of masks I’ll really enjoy wearing, now I’ve settled on my favourite design.
This is the Contoured 3D Face Mask pattern from the Japanese Sewing Books blog and I love it because the structured shape keeps it away from your nose and mouth (so I find it much easier to breathe), while also fitting closely all around the edges (so it’s more effective) and going right up to my eyes (so it doesn’t steam up my glasses).
I also love it because of the clever design – it’s like fabric origami! There’s only one piece of each fabric (outer and lining), and the shape and structure is all formed from folding and seaming.
image courtesy of Japanese Sewing Books blog
The video instructions are incredibly clear and I’d encourage you to watch it even if you don’t plan to make one of these masks – it’s so satisfying watching it come together! I do wish there were also text instructions with diagrams, but once you’ve made a couple of masks you won’t need the instructions anyway; just the printable template.
Tip: This pattern comes in 6 sizes to cover all head sizes from children to men, which is great, but I think the sizes run a little small. I used the ‘ladies’ size (L), but I’m quite petite and this size is only just large enough for me, so you may well need to size up.
I’ve only made one change to the mask design, and it doesn’t change the sewing instructions at all: I like to use one long tie instead of elastic. I thread a 48″ length of cotton tape onto a yarn needle and pass it down through one side casing and then up through the other. The loop goes around your neck, then you pass the ends above your ears and tie them together at the back of your head to get a secure fit without the discomfort of elastic behind the ears.
My other innovation is in folding the mask so I can keep one in my bag or pocket. Instead of just folding it in half, I tuck the lower third up under the upper third and fold in the sides so it lies flat. Then I fold the resulting rectangle in half and wrap the ties around it to secure it in a compact square shape – it’s so small and convenient!
Until I find something like the gorgeous Japanese Hello Kitty fabric used in the tutorial video, I’m using my favourite sakura fabric to make all my masks. I bought it as a remnant many years ago and the need to make masks has finally given me a reason good enough to use it – and a way to make wearing masks at least somewhat enjoyable.
Isn’t this a great mask design? I highly recommend it. I hope you’ll try making one, or at least enjoy watching the video to see how it works!
Do you have a favourite mask pattern? Please share a link and why you like it in the comments – I’d love to see your recommendations too.
I’d like to introduce you to a new Canadian indie yarn hand-dyer, Cheyenne Brammah of Incyanity!
Cheyenne is a long-term customer of mine and she sent me some test skeins of her hand-dyed yarn for my feedback before she launched her shop. But, as always, the following is based on my honest opinions, and I’ve been waiting for the launch so I could tell you how much I enjoyed these yarns!
Cheyenne has a great eye for colour, and choosing her palettes from her own nature photography is inspired – each shade tells a colour story, illustrated by the beautiful photos. Just look at these stunning yarn/photo combos in the lush launch colourways:
I always appreciate bringing inspiration from the natural world into my designs, and looking at these yarns together with their inspiration photos makes my heart happy.
Incyanity yarns come in 100g hanks, and are dyed onto high quality bases (currently merino/silk, merino/nylon and merino/bamboo are available). I chose a merino/nylon (teal) and a merino/silk (purple) to test, both in fingering weight – the perfect weight for crocheted shawls!
My yarn was securely packaged and arrived in perfect condition. They looked lovely in the hanks, and even more stunning once I’d wound them into cakes. This is some seriously pretty yarn…
The tonal teal is a lovely shade. It’s just varied enough to provide some fun tonal changes while you crochet, but not so busy to distract from a beautiful stitch pattern in the finished piece.
Note: This shade is a preview of an upcoming colourway. It’s bluer than the Canyon Cascade colourway, but otherwise similar in the tonal variation.
The variegated Amethyst Sky is gorgeous in the skein and absolutely stunning after being wound. Just look at those rich purples tempered with icy blue – this colour scheme could have been designed just for me!
Note: The yarn base felt very nice to me, but Cheyenne wasn’t satisfied with the softness or sheen, and she has since found a vastly superior base for her Incyanity silk blend yarns. You can see how much more pronounced the sheen is now by comparing the same yarn in the shop with the photos of my test skein 🙂
It can be a challenge to find the right stitch pattern for a very variegated yarn in crochet, so I tested it out with this linen stitch swatch to see how the colours would play together. Very pretty! I can definitely see this as a lovely hat or cowl. But, in the end, I chose an unfussy lace stitch pattern for this skein (see my shawl below!), and I think the result is beautiful like this too.
I really enjoyed working with both yarns. They felt soft and bouncy, they didn’t split at all while crocheting, the yarn colours didn’t fade at all after soaking (a very important test!), and both blocked out beautifully.
And I think the results speak for themselves – the two shawls I made from my yarn are just gorgeous in these rich colours:
Did you know there are now two new additions to the Susan Bates hook line? I had to investigate, and got out all my SB hooks to compare the new styles with my classics:
Susan Bates crochet hooks have always been my favourites, because I find their in-line shape makes it much easier to make perfectly uniform stitches.
What’s an ‘in-line’ hook?
See my Crochet Hook Styles article to understand why the head shape can make such a difference to your stitches. It comes down to personal choice – if you prefer a tapered hook, you probably won’t enjoy any of the hooks in my review below (and that’s okay too, there are plenty of other crochet hook brands out there!)
Now, I prefer aluminium/aluminum (I’ll say aluminum from now on, as the hooks are American!) hooks to bamboo or plastic, as they’re strong, smooth, and rigid. But clearly, even recommending you try a ‘Susan Bates aluminum hook’ in your preferred size doesn’t narrow you down to a single option, so I thought I’d put together a quick roundup of all the currently-available SB metal hooks, so you can make a more informed choice.
Susan Bates aluminum hooks – the contenders:
Here are all the options I’ll be looking at today:
Bamboo Handle/Silvalume Head
Silvalume Soft Ergonomic
Silvalume Super Lightweight
Crochet Hook Cushion Grip
And now onto the reviews…
The Quicksilver line is the old-school classic Bates hook, but they are still available today. All sizes are the same matte grey colour and very smooth. These are the first hooks I bought in all the sizes when I started crocheting seriously, and mine are still in perfect condition.
The biggest downside is that, if you crochet with a knife grip like me (i.e. you hold the hook gripped in the palm of your hand), the narrow handle, especially with the smaller sizes, makes it less comfortable to hold and and it’s more likely that your hands will cramp up.
I gradually upgraded to a set of basic Silvalumes, starting with the starter set (sizes F-K US, 3.75-6.5mm), and then adding all the other sizes individually. These anodised aluminum hooks are helpfully colour-coded by size, so it’s easy to tell the difference between your H hook (blue) and I hook (pink).
In a side-by-side comparison, they don’t feel as smooth as the Quicksilvers, but they’re still very smooth, and I prefer them to the Quicksilvers (although possibly just for the convenience of the colours…) Again, the handle is narrow, so not ideal if you crochet with a knife grip.
The newer Susan Bates hook styles below are all based on a Silvalume head, with a built-up handle that you may find more comfortable if you crochet with a knife grip. If you crochet with a pencil grip (with the handle of the hook resting on top of your hand), the handles are unlikely to provide you with much benefit.
3. Bamboo Handle/Silvalume Head
My all-time favourite hook! The bamboo-handled hooks have all the advantages of the Silvalume head with a smooth, warm bamboo handle that I find very comfortable to hold.
I really do swear by these hooks – I have two complete sets, plus another six spares in my most-used size (E US/3.5mm, for my amigurumi)!
4. Silvalume Soft Ergonomic
Soft Ergonomic is one of the new SB hooks, with a soft-touch plastic handle. The handle is a little longer than all the above hooks, so may work better for you if you have a larger hand. I find it pleasant to the touch and a definite improvement in comfort to the all-metal hooks, although I personally prefer the wider grip of the bamboo handles.
If you crochet with a pencil grip, you may find the soft-touch handle more comfortable resting on your hand because it’s warmer than an all-metal hook and not too bulky.
5. Silvalume Super Lightweight
Super Lightweight is the other new hook style, and I must admit this one has me baffled. Aluminum hooks are always lightweight, and, weighing the same size of each of the above hooks, the Super Lightweight hook was actually slightly heavier than any of the others! The handle is made of a brushed aluminum and it is much lighter than it looks from its size – maybe that’s where the ‘super lightweight’ part comes in..?
L: Bamboo Handle Silvalume; R: Silvalume Super Lightweight
Like the Soft Ergonomic hook, this one also has a longer handle, which you may find more comfortable if you have larger hands. However, with my small hands and the way I hold my hook, the wide part of the handle only benefits my little finger, so it’s definitely not well-suited to small-handed knife-grip crocheters! And, personally, I prefer the warm feel of the bamboo or soft-touch plastic to this cold aluminum handle.
(For amigurumists, I should mention that the smallest size this hook is currently available in is an F US/3.75mm, so it may be larger than you’d prefer for your amigurumi.)
6. Crochet Hook Cushion Grips
If you already have the older Quicksilver or original Silvalume hooks and don’t feel like the expense of buying a whole new set of hooks but would like a comfort upgrade, cushion grips could be the answer.
These Susan Bates cushion grips come in a set of two, and the packaging says they fit sizes F-J. I found that the green grip has a smaller hole than the blue, and, in my tests, the green works well for sizes E-G7 (3.5-4.5mm) and the blue for sizes H-J (5-6mm).
These grips are squishy and comfortable, and may be the best answer if you have arthritis or find gripping a narrow hook problematic – by pulling the grip up over the thumbrest, you can get the benefit of the foam padding and wider grip for your thumb and forefinger, as well as for your other fingers.
Hook Head Shapes
For completeness, I should also mention that all Susan Bates hooks are not the same – the head shape has changed more than once over the years, and depending on where/when your hook was manufactured, you may find your hook has a pointier or more rounded head, and a deeper or shallower throat cut-out.
My Susan Bates hooks have a mixture of the two, and I can say that I usually prefer to use one with a more rounded head, as it’s less likely to split the yarn, but the pointier ones have their advantages too – for example they come in handy when you need to poke the hook into a tighter stitch (e.g. for my Better Back Loops Only technique!)
Which head shape you prefer is a personal preference, and probably not one you’ll have any control over if you buy a new Susan Bates hook, anyway. But I will say that it doesn’t change my opinion: all Susan Bates hooks have the same in-line shape, and that’s the most important factor to me when I choose a hook.
We’re lucky to have so many hook choices these days, but it can be very confusing, especially if you add all the other brands of hook to the list of choices!
If you’ve been wondering which Susan Bates hook to try, or what the differences are between all the options, I hope this post will help you choose the one you’ll enjoy most.
What’s your favourite hook? Are you a Bates fan too, or do you prefer Boye, Clover, Tulip, or another brand? Please share your recommendations in the comments below 🙂
As always, I was not compensated for this review, and the following is based on my honest opinions!
Making Pipe Cleaner Pets by Takashi Morito was originally published in Japanese, and has now been translated into English.
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!