February 09, 2017


The Klutz Book of Knots. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $14.99.

Sew Mini Animals: More Than 12 Animal Plushies to Stitch & Stuff. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $21.99.

     Even among the always unusual “books-plus” offerings from Klutz, whose productions are crafts projects built around instructional books and including just about everything needed to get the projects done, The Klutz Book of Knots stands out. On the face of it, this is one of the simplest items Klutz has produced, being merely a spiral-bound, lie-flat book packaged with two brightly colored cords. But open the book and start looking at the information on how to tie “23 of the world’s best hitches, ties, wraps & knots,” and the cleverness of the packaging becomes immediately apparent. The instructional pages are thick and are interspersed with cardboard “guide” pages that are extra-thick and specifically contain punched-out or cutout areas through which you fit the cords while following the knot-tying instructions. The cutouts, which are various sizes and various shapes, are perfect places to practice knot-tying, because they hold the cords in the right position so you can twist and mingle them according to the clear, well-illustrated instructions. One practice page, for example, includes two lozenge-shaped holes laid out vertically, for use when tying clove hitches, and two laid out horizontally, for use with half hitches. There are also two simple punched holes on the page – for use when you flip the page over to the next set of instructions, where the punched holes prove to be just the right place to tie a bow tie. The cleverness of the practice pages really comes through as the knots get more complicated. For the complex package knot, for example, the practice page includes one round punched hole and three holes punched on three sides so they become notches at the top, bottom and left. A diagram of the finished package knot shows exactly what part of the cord should end up exactly where when the knot is tied correctly. Of course, the instruction book would not be a Klutz product if it did not include some humor to go with the information. So, for example, the “sheet bend” is described as being “handy for creating a makeshift rope (like from clothes or shoelaces) when you’re in a pinch,” and illustrated with a cartoon of a kid clad as a superhero climbing out the window of a tree house by using clothes tied together with this know. And the timber hitch, used when hauling logs, is shown being used by a busy cartoon beaver that is carrying eight gnawed, tied-together logs on its back. The knots explained and illustrated in The Klutz Book of Knots range from the simple and intuitive to the pretty doggone complicated, and mastering them outside the book will take some doing – parents, as well as the kids ages eight and up for whom this offering is intended, will really appreciate being able to learn the knots using the super-clever practice pages, and will find that this book provides a real-world skill that can be used day after day and year after year.

     A more-typical Klutz offering, also for ages eight and up – one with considerable charm and cuteness rather than a lot of practical real-world applicability – is Sew Mini Animals, which includes pretty much everything needed to make a dozen or more two-to-three-inch-high little plush toys or friends. Like most Klutz offerings, this one has a book bound, with strong tape, to a box containing the projects’ essentials. In this case, that means nine colors of felt, stuffing, eight colors of floss, two embroidery needles, some precut felt eyes and cheeks, and plenty of patterns to use when cutting out felt into animal shapes. There are real-world skills to be learned here – embroidery, and even straightforward sewing – but the primary focus is on specific techniques needed to create these particular projects. Thus, there is information here on how to make a whip stitch and back stitch, but those instructions are purely at the service of creating the little animal fiends. Klutz does its usual excellent job of explaining how to do that. Creating a seal, for example, is an eight-step process that starts after assembly of the right items: cream and grey floss, the grey cut out into two seal body shapes, one seal base and four seal fins, the cream used to cut out a circle that will become the seal’s face. The steps start with “using a back stitch, make a nose and mouth on the face piece,” and continue through assembly and attachment of the various parts – with each stage of the project clearly shown, and each needed stitch designated. The book handles every project with similar care. It sensibly starts with information on making a penguin, a simple project on which young craftspeople can hone their skills. Then there are sections called “Flat and Fuzzy” (including sloth, bat, pig, and whale), “Belly Buddies” (seal and hedgehog), “Four-Legged Friends” (fox, raccoon and alpaca), and “Cute All Around” (bunny, panda, octopus, and owl). The projects proceed roughly in order of difficulty, and in some cases learning one makes the next one much easier – for instance, “the raccoon is made in almost the same way as the fox, with a few changes in felt colors and details.” All the little felt critters created using Sew Mini Animals are adorable, and the package provides enough variety so kids can easily pick and choose which projects they want to do – one child might, for example, prefer to make nothing but penguins, in multiple felt colors, while another might want to follow the book from start to finish and try making one of every animal shown. Sew Mini Animals is a winning combination of careful instruction and enjoyable results – which is exactly the mixture that makes Klutz “books-plus” projects so special.

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