Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Craft Book Review: Kyuuto Amigurumi (and Crochet Update!)

While looking around on Ravelry one day, I came across a really cute amigurumi someone else made. The glory of Ravelry made it possible to see that they used a pattern from this book to make it. Next stop was to my local library website to see if they had the book - which they did - put in a request and wait with baited breath for it to arrive. This leads to this week's Craft Book Review: Kyuuto! Japanese Crafts by Tomoko Takamori.
This is an English translation of a Japanese craft book. For those of you who don't know, the Japanese are crazy about amigurumi (thus the Japanese word to describe them) as well as all things cute, making their craft books highly sought after. The thing about them though - they are in Japanese usually. They do include crochet diagrams along with their written instructions, so you can still pick out the pattern if you know what to look for. Kyuuto makes it so you don't have to do that. Everything is already in English and in a format that you can understand ... after a little mulling over.
Like most other craft books, it starts out with a quick explanation of the skills you will need to know in order to complete the patterns. This is one of the smallest "before you start" sections I've ever personally seen - at first I didn't think the book even had one because the first two pages were stuck together. The left pic above shows the explanation page and the right pic shows the tutorial on how to assemble your animals. Very minimal instructions - this book relies mostly on pictures.
The next section has very pretty pictures of all the patterns in the book. The actual patterns are separate from the pictures, kind of like a craft magazine. Just like all Japanese craft books have a reputation for, the photos are very artsy and pretty. Some show details of the animals while others show the animals in a cute setting. Either way, there is no denying that the book has some seriously cute patterns. The patterns include:
  • American Lion
  • Big Teddy Bear
  • Black and White Kittens
  • Boy and Girl
  • Butterflies
  • Cat-Like Tiger
  • Citron Puppy
  • Colorful Donkeys
  • Cotton Candy Elephant
  • Cotton Puppies
  • Fluffy Animals (bunnies)
  • Frogs on Holiday
  • Jackrabbit
  • Little Duckling
  • Little Teddy Bear
  • Piggies in Love
  • Sheep from Woolen Planet
  • Striped Teddy Bear
  • White Seal
The pattern names have obviously been translated which can account for their weirdness ("fluffy animals"? really?), but the patterns themselves are super cute. Personally I think a sheep is better when it's from "woolen planet", don't you? lol
Once you ooh and aah through all the pictures of cute things to make, the next section holds the actual patterns. This is where things got a little interesting for me. The patterns are kind of a combination of a diagram and written instructions. I'm used to lines like "sc 2 in next stitch and 1 in following stitch, repeat 5 times" and things like that. This book does not make it that easy. I blew up the pattern for the Little Teddy Bear - I smudged out the instructions for copyright sake, sorry. But you can see that the pattern is listed in symbols. If I had not made so many animals already and therefor known the basic construction of an amigurumi, I could have been completely lost. So, I made a little translation of my own for others who may be confused at first:
The black symbol that looks like a bar bell standing up means single crochet. The top symbol with 2 circles above one on the bottom (like a V) means increase, or single crochet 2 in next stitch. The bottom symbol with the one circle above two at the bottom means decrease, or single crochet 2 together (sc2tog). The lines are set up like math equations. You do the part in the parenthesis as one action and repeat it the number of times it says outside the parenthesis. So for row 6 up there, you would sc 4, then sc 2 in next stitch and do that all 7 times to get all the way around. Make sense?

So, what was the animal that made me want to get this book? It was the Colorful Donkeys pattern. I know that sounds silly, but they are so cute and crazy looking. Very different from other patterns I've seen around so I had to give them a go. 
What idea drew me to the colorful donkey? Why, a piñata of course! I happened to have all the typical donkey piñata colors already in my stash (and they were all Red Heart With Love brand yarn). The biggest decision - how to use the colors. Did I want stripes like a real piñata? Or just use the colors as the pattern describes (i.e. each section of the donkey a new color)? To answer this burning question, I grabbed some crayons and colored like a 5 year old. And yes, I did draw those donkeys - I am seriously the worst artist ever - but they did the job. In the end I decided (with consultation by the husband) to go with my original drawing - going by the pattern instructions but using my wild colors. We thought it was the best looking drawing. So I set to work and created this little guy:
This is Pokie the Piñata! Isn't he fun?! Ii just love how all his colors came out together and I decided to tie them all in with the pom pom on the tail. Love it!
This pattern had me try a new technique for making amigurumi faces - felt! I cut a circle of felt (to the size shown in the pattern) and then whip stitched it onto the mouth piece with black embroidery floss. Then I used the same embroidery floss with a teeny tiny crochet hook and made a chain for the mouth. I think it was about 12 chain stitches across, and I sewed it onto the mouth piece as a smile. This makes for a very cute face, but man was it time consuming! I'm used to big crocheted pieces you can sew in, not this tiny stuff. I will say that for a baby this is a great method since all the facial features are nice and flush with the toy so they aren't in as much danger of being ripped off. Still, it took a dang long time.
Here is a side view so you can see all his colors and how they are put together. This was one of the longest assemblies I've ever done! The book has you make the entire head piece before you attach the ears, eyes and mouth. I'm no amazon or anything, but my fingers were having a pretty hard time getting into that little neck to sew and tie things down. Next time I will trust my instincts and sew them on as I go and before I bottle-neck down to a smaller opening. Keep this in mind if you are making any of these patterns - I'm sure if it does it on one, it does it on all of them. The real kicker is that all of these patterns are written to be made in sock weight yarn. If I had a hard time getting into a hole made with worsted weight yarn, imagine how impossible it would be in sock weight. Yeah, I don't want to imagine in either.
All in all I liked this book. The patterns are really cute and I love my little piñata I made from them. I will definitely put out a disclaimer that this is not good for beginners to amigurumi. You should be pretty comfortable with making animals before trying any of these patterns - do not be fooled by how simple they look! For those who know their way around with amis, I recommend doing what I did and borrowing this from the library to try one of the patterns before you buy it. I may make one or two more animals, but I wouldn't buy this book when all is said and done.

*As a side note - my nephew LOVED this piñata! All of the pieces are narrow enough for his little 7-month-old hands to grab a hold of and all of the appendages are a small enough width to fit in his mouth and chew on. Plus he's really colorful, so Luke was all about it :)

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