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Life Is What You Make In It

How-to/Home Arts ForeSight

Without exception, every one of the hands-­on projects in these five books offers a satisfying creative experience. From reupholstering chairs to soap-­making, there has never been a better time to discover a craft to suit your needs, resources, and style.


Whimsical Hats

Book Cover Lynne Rowe
Barron’s Educational Series
Softcover $16.99 (128pp)

Wouldn’t your little cupcake get ten times more awws and cheek pinches if she actually looked like a cupcake? A bold red mushroom cap will have your tot resembling Mario’s Toad; the stripy zebra, winking owl, or leggy octopus will add a creative dimension to imaginative play; and the Christmas tree, pumpkin, and snowman will bring extra cheer to the holiday season. Turn heads with any one of the thirty crazy designs in Lynne Rowe’s Whimsical Hats.

Rowe’s detailed instructions make even the most complex pattern easy to follow. Circular designs, ear flaps, and special accessories—namely animal facial features—are clearly explicated, as in the Big Bad Wolf hood: “Cut 4 small triangles of light gray felt slightly smaller than the knitted ear. Stitch 2 triangles together using whip stitch and white thread. Pin to the white front of the ear and stitch in place.”

Beginners as well as experienced knitters can enjoy a quick project, as Rowe leads readers through the process of making each hat—and all pieces that go with it—one row at a time. The “Techniques and equipment” section at the end of the book is both a primer for newbies and a refresher for returning knitters. The variety of methods teaches a broad spectrum of knitting basics, just as the variety of styles offers something for every child’s personality: meek or wild, sweet or plunderous, sensible or fantastical.

devil hat image

Cute hats likely won’t be much help when the zombie apocalypse happens. But, hey, disasters like Category 5 hurricanes or undead uprisings don’t need to be an inconvenience—if you have the wherewithal to prepare.

owl hat image

The Prepper’s Complete Book of Disaster Readiness

Book Cover Jim Cobb
Ulysses Press
Softcover $16.95 (272pp)

In the event of a hurricane, an epidemic, a volcano eruption, or even economic collapse, Jim Cobb, owner of Disaster Prep Consultants, recommends packing the appropriate equipment and belongings in a “Get Home Bag,” needed “in the event a disaster strikes when you are away from home.” His illuminating new book, The Prepper’s Complete Book of Disaster Readiness, encourages diligence, logic, and careful foresight without overwhelming the reader.

Cobb’s wise words aid in the prepper’s decisions regarding packing the indispensable and leaving the superfluous behind. Succinct, concise, and no-­nonsense, his reasoning is both eye­opening and reassuring. He provides example scenarios such as a mugger more likely to follow someone with his or her head glued to a cell phone rather than someone alert to the surrounding world, and “appetite fatigue” resulting from eating the same foods over and over from a pantry stocked with no attention paid to variety—important from both “a nutritional standpoint and for basic psychological well­-being.”

Cobb stresses the importance of building a survival kit yourself instead of buying a premade one: “Consider any premade kit to be nothing more than a good start. You need to not only become familiar with each component, but also customize the kit and make it your own.”


Book Cover Amanda Brown
Ryann Ford, photographer
Storey Publishing
Hardcover $35.00 (400pp)

See that antique couch in the thrift store, the one with stained cushions and a hideous retro pattern? It’s the perfect shape, the perfect size, and the wooden legs match your living room fireplace like nothing has ever matched anything before. You don’t have to spend a ridiculous amount of money on an upholsterer—you can create a household treasure all on your own.

Amanda Brown believes that one-­size-­fits-­all furniture makes for a dreary, unfitting living room that drains energy rather than provides comfort and familiarity. In Spruce, she shows DIY­-ers how to make design decisions—like selecting fabrics based on practicality, functionality, and aesthetics— and how to transform undesired items into coveted collectables. Featuring six projects—Louis chair, pair of “slipper” chairs, wing­back chair, three-­seater couch, ottoman, and several types of pillows—Spruce traces the step-­by­-step process of upholstering furniture of any shape, progressing from simple frame to completed product.

As the instructions evolve, followers-­along can experience Brown’s imagination taking shape through detailed photographs. While the dozens of intricate steps per item may seem intimidating at first glance, these pictures convey exactly how each step is performed and how it contributes to the process. Brown does more than simply relay the steps to reupholster furniture (which resemble works of art more than just chairs)—she explains why each step is necessary and why she chooses one technique over another. The forty-­page appendix details specialty equipment and materials, providing readers with all the tools needed to turn a piece with potential into a piece to be proud of.

Made by Hand

Book Cover Lena Corwin
STC Craft
Hardcover $29.95 (176pp)

Lena Corwin’s Brooklyn art studio is home to dozens of different crafting classes taught by several professional designers with an assortment of skill sets. The diversity of activities presented in Made by Hand opens up possibilities for dozens of skills, from printing to origami, from soap­-making to patchwork; tie­-dying, weaving, embroidery, and more—there’s something for everyone.

Each teacher advises her students in how to select the most effective materials, set up a workspace, and ensure that as few mistakes will be made as possible. Photographs accompany the steps so that more advanced artists, or those who are completing the project for a second time, can reference them as a guide. These straightforward pictures are uncluttered demonstrations of the most important steps in the process.

Whether you’re interested in mastering a new skill or are looking for a few fun summer projects, Made by Hand offers the perfect range of usable textile handiwork, presented by fourteen teachers who obviously enjoy their craft.

Lace Collection for Knitting

Book Cover The Knitter Magazine Editors
Fox Chapel Publishing
Softcover $17.99 (104pp)

The twenty­-three stunning patterns in Lace Collection for Knitting will make any wearer feel as though she’s on the runway every day, whether adorned in a fitted sweater, an elegant cardigan, or a flowing shawl. The front cover does not do justice to the interior art—gorgeous photographs of models exhibiting the clothing and accessories give the book a sleek and chic fashion magazine feel. Even without the intent to pick up the knitting needles, turning the pages of this book offers an exquisite visual experience.

Starting with tools and suggested yarn, each designer gives row-­by-­row directions for knitting these enchanting and dainty pieces, including the entwined cockleshell, leaf, and ruffle details. Both written instructions and charted schematics are included, and both are equally clear and easy to follow by intermediate to advanced knitters. A list of knitting abbreviations at the front of the book is a helpful addition.

Knot Image

Whether working on a hefty DIY project for the home, doing landscaping or yard work, or wandering the wilderness, Colin Jarman’s The Knot Tying Bible: Climbing, Camping, Sailing, Fishing, Everyday (Firefly Books, 978­1­77085­209­9) has a knot for that.

Use the Swing Hitch to string a rope to a wooden or metal pole when building a child’s swing set. It holds the swing securely, so you won’t ever have to worry about your little ones hurting their behinds.

The Timber Hitch is perfect for dragging logs after cutting down a tree or hauling heavy sticks and branches during autumn yard cleanup or after a big storm. Tie the rope to the lumber with the Timber Hitch to relieve a ton of the weight from the load while you move the downed wood to a safer location.

When gardening, the Transom Knot can be used to tie poles together for fruit canes and bean poles. The perpendicular poles will allow the plants to spread out as they grow, for easier picking.

And there are some knots—like the Turk’s Head and the Monkey’s Fist—that are purely decorative, so practice them often to bring attention to your knot­-tying prowess.

Aimee Jodoin

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