Put a Bird On It

Arne & Carlos Field Guide to Knitted Birds: Over 40 Handmade Projects to Liven Up Your Roost, Arne Nerjordet, Carlos Zachrison, photographs by Ragnar Hartvig, translated by Carol Huebscher Rhoades. Trafalgar Square, 2017. 9781570768231.

I attended the Nordic Knitting Conference this year and learned some pretty cool new things: how to work with more than one color of yarn at a time, how to use Sami patterns in a sock, and how to use a non-sewing machine style of steek. I didn’t end up going to any of the programs by celebrity knit designers Arne and Carlos, but I did see some examples of their projects — they looked really cool.

The knitted birds in their book are made with sock yarn on double-pointed sock needles, using the same techniques used in sock construction. If, like me, you knit a heck of a lot of socks, you’ve already got everything you need to get started, and this will give you a way to use up your leftover yarn. Plus the birds are pretty small and you don’t need to make two at a time if you don’t want to, so the projects go really fast. The book includes a lot of fancy variations: birds with sweater patterns, birds with tiny hats and scarves, birds with glasses, tropical birds with sequins — enough to fill this good-sized book. But after knitting my first awesome-looking bird with self-striping yarn and no other decoration, I think I may never need the variations!

Nice Package!

The Packaging Designer’s Book of Patterns, 2nd edition, Lászlo Roth and George L. Wybenga. John Wiley & Sons, 2000. 0471385042.

Folding Patterns for Display and Publicity, drawings by Laurence K. Withers. The Pepin Press/Agile Rabbit Editions, 2002. 9057680408.

Sarah: I looked up the addresses and hours… (thumps book on table)
Gene: You scared my cat!
S: I looked up the addresses and hours of all of the Powell’s Books locations in Portland recently and I probably knew but had forgotten that they had closed Powell’s Technical Books.
G: That was across the street from the big bookstore?
S: Yeah, it was all of their… not just computer stuff, but technical books in every field. If you need super-technical books about constructing drainage systems, they had those. Super specialized books in every field.
G: Do they have those books in the main bookstore now?
S: I believe so. Powell’s Technical is where I picked up this first book, The Packaging Designer’s Book of Patterns.
G: Wow!
S: I thought you’d really like it.
G: Oh my god!
S: Because it’s about how to die cut, where to fold, where to glue to make all of these different possible paper and cardboard packages. From really simple stuff, like a cereal box, to one that looks like a cathedral. You can make a box look like a specific famous building if you want to sell a souvenir whatever. This is aimed at people who are designing packaging and need some ideas.
G: You paid $65 for this???
Continue reading “Nice Package!”

Go Outside and Paint

Colors of the West: An Artist’s Guide to Nature’s Palette by Molly Hashimoto. Skipstone, 2017. 9781680510973.

Sarah: I got this book, Colors of the West, it’s a gorgeous book and the writing is wonderful but I realized I am the worst person to review this. I’m an indoor kid, I don’t go to a lot of state or national parks, I’m not a visual artist, and the author does a lot of amazing programs for my library so there’s no way I can be objective. So I gave it to my friend Bibi to review. You have a degree in art, right?
Bibi: Yes, a couple of them, actually.
S: And you actually go to national parks and camp and hike?
B: Yep.
S: So what did you think?
B: It’s fabulous. It really reminded me of places I’ve been. I would turn a page and say, “Oh, I’ve been to Olympic National Park!” Hashimoto really captures the feeling of the places she paints. There’s a painting of a pueblo in New Mexico and I remember being there and trying to take photographs and they just did not get the essence of the place. Her painting did, it caught the light and the feeling of it.
S: She’s got paintings of animals in the book, too, wild animals, and I know she sometimes uses stuffed specimens from Seattle’s Burke Museum and the Audubon Society as models.
B: I love how she will pick certain animals and not do a big background, just really make the animals the center of the paintings. She gets the character of their actions and how they live in their environment. It’s really sweet.
S: This book isn’t just her paintings and her views of these places, it also teaches how to use watercolors, techniques and materials.
Continue reading “Go Outside and Paint”

How to Take the Gravel Road

If Found Return To Elise Gravel, translated by Shira Adriance. Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462786.

Gene: This is Elise Gravel’s sketchbook. It’s got this nice elastic band on it, to hold it closed like a real sketchbook! Like the elastic bands on Moleskine notebooks.
Sarah: Yeah!
G: Do you know Elise Gravel?
S: Yes, I read her books Jessie Elliot Is A Big Chicken, I Want A Monster, The Rat
G: What is that series called…? Disgusting Critters! Did you read The Great Antonio?
S: Yeah!
G: I like her drawings, she has a very loose, fun style. This is her book about making art and creativity. It has an emphasis on just letting go and drawing. Look, the endpapers at the front are deer, with the most marvelously simple pictures of plants that I’ve ever seen. And the back endpapers…
S: (gasps) OH!!! Those shrimp are great! They remind me of Ed Emberley‘s drawings.
G: Yeah, very much so. The book is all done on graph paper. What I really like about Gravel’s work, I’ve realized, is her lettering. She just has so much fun lettering in different colors, outlining and coloring around words, she’s clearly having a great time. Basically she says that her sketchbook is just full of complete nonsense. After her kids go to sleep she just draws, paints, puts anything she wants to in her black notebook. It contains all her bizarre ideas, she doesn’t critique herself at all, and in the morning her kids look at it and they all have these crazy ideas about what she drew.
Continue reading “How to Take the Gravel Road”

Hacks and Snacks

Edible Inventions: Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes You Can Build, Mix, Bake, and Grow by Kathy Ceceri. Maker Media, 2016. 9781680452051.

Like I said last time, maker books cover a lot of territory, from the sort of safe educational activities you used to learn about on PBS science shows to building a robot that spits fire. Edible Inventions spans a fun segment of the usual danger and futuristic-ness spectrums. You can build a hydraulic Lego 3D printer (a sort of food-based pen-plotter that can draw on a graham cracker with frosting), do your own molecular gastronomy by making gelatin dots and agar noodles, freeze a sorbet with dry ice, and make fancy fermented ketchup from scratch. There are also the projects I remember fondly from my own youth: solar ovens, homemade granola, home-fermented yogurt, and a tin-can cooker. Which is not to say that these golden oldies haven’t been updated! The section on that old standard, growing a tree from an avocado pit, also has instructions for growing new plants from the root ends of leeks, garlic, and romaine lettuce. There’s enough here to not only appeal to kids but to challenge them as well, plus chapter bibliographies in case they want to go further.

You’re Gonna Make It After All

Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects: Build, Invent, Create, Discover by Jack Challoner. DK Publishing, 2016. 9781465451354.

Make: Props and Costume Armor: Create Realistic Science Fiction and Fantasy Weapons, Armor, and Accessories by Shawn Thorsson. Maker Media, 2016. 9781680450064.

I’m really happy that some libraries have started including makerspaces in their services. The hands-on exploration and learning of the maker movement is a great fit with the library’s more traditional learning methods via books and videos. Now that I’m offering maker activities at work, I have to ask myself “What’s a maker activity and what isn’t?” My own working definition is that it must have some problem solving or design decision involved, and that the learning aspect of the activity can be successful even if the final product isn’t beautiful or operational.

Maker Lab and Make: Props and Costume Armor really point to the huge spectrum in making. Maker Lab looks just like the experiments and educational activities that used to go in science fair books and kid magazines. Remember learning about growing crystals by making rock candy? Totally in there. Unlike the books I devoured in my youth, it also shows you how to make a cardboard amplifier for your smartphone. Make: Props and Costume Armor features near-professional-level fabrication, mold making, and painting. It looks like the sort of thing that the Mythbusters do when they’re not busting myths. After my first encounter with the 501st (at Dragoncon), I was curious how they made their armor. Turns out it involves softening a sheet of plastic in your oven and using a homemade vacu-former. Yikes! This book covers that and more: many are definitely the kind of projects that will expose you to toxic fumes and household fire hazards.

Love Your Clothes for Longer

Fix Your Clothes by Raleigh Briggs. Microcosm Publishing, 2017. 9781621069065.

If you want to opt out of the consumer-driven everything-is-disposable society (or just save some cash) you need to pick up this book on the basics of clothing repair. Its zine-style is friendly and empowering, a nice change of pace from those sewing books that assume you want to learn everything about clothing construction before you learn repair skills. It teaches basic stitches,  including how to start and end your stitching with easy knots. (I was always terrified of everything pulling out, but no more!) Then you’re on to buttons and repairing busted seams. Hole in your clothes? Fix it by sewing on patches (in your choice of nearly-invisible or quick and dirty punk-patch) and darning holes (a technique left out of a lot of sewing books). Love those thrift store pants but the legs are too long? Get a handle on hemming. Even if you never pick up a needle, you need this book for the section on how to fix a broken zipper. Added bonus: learn how to waterproof everything from tents to shoes.

I can think of a lot of friends who will love this book and it will make the perfect gift for young people newly out on their own.