How-To Tuesday: Ready to Fly Penguin Karakuri (Mechanical Paper Model)

22 Jul


I’ve discovered a new craft obsession! Karakuri, which refers to “mechanism” in Japan. It’s also the name of the book from which this new love sprang–Karakuri: How to Make Mechanical Paper Models that Move by Keisuke Sake.

Penguin Video



Initially, while flipping through the book, I was in awe. Especially at the sections featuring photographic examples of karakuri designed by Japanese high school students. Then awe quickly turned into intimidation. The diagrams. Extensive instructions. Explanations about paper crafting, definitions of various “mechanisms” that I would learn to make out of paper–cranks, levers, cams, gears, linkages…

I’m not one to shy away from mechanics  (my stepfather, now retired, was a hydraulics engineer who often brought out his ohmmeter whenever I came to him with a broken something or another). But was I up for this particular karakuri challenge? I was leaning toward “not right now, maybe later” and was ready to shelve the book when I discovered the full-color pull-out pages with all of the parts I’d need for constructing the four models pictured on the book cover. There’s a Tea Serving Robot (oooh!), a Peek-a-Boo-Playing Teddy Bear (so cute!), a Train that goes around a track and through a tunnel (you’ve got to be kidding me?!), and… a Penguin perched on an iceberg trying to fly?! How could I not attempt to make a penguin?!

And so…

completedAfter three hours of careful snipping, scoring, folding, gluing, fitting, and numerous inhaling exercises… I’m happy to report: SUCCESS! This little penguin is ready to fly!

When turning the nob, the wings and body lift up and down, creating the illusion that the penguin has just started initial rotation before take off. Really quite brilliant.

There were a total of 15 steps to follow.bookinstructions I used scissors, a box cutter (I couldn’t find my exacto knife, which would’ve made cutting the circles and smaller parts easier), glue stick, cutting board, and metal ruler. I also highly recommend finding something like a bamboo skewer (if you don’t have a thin glue paint brush) which I used to apply glue to the smaller tabs, of which there were many. tools

I won’t detail each step. The book does a much better job than I ever will. But I do have a few things I discovered that I wish I’d known before starting the penguin project. Since you’ll be building the cam-axle mechanism and the base first and building the penguin head and body at the end, start by cutting pages three and four, build these parts, then move on to cutting and building pages one and two. Use the bamboo skewer (or fine paintbrush) to add glue to smaller tabs and parts. Wait for the glue to completely dry before attempting to put the separate pieces together. Finally, pay careful attention to the stars on each piece–they’re tricky visually but it’s critical they’re lined up the way the instructions show.



Ta da! Click the image below and watch the 10 second video of how Penguin moves.


Okay, so I’ve been bitten by the karakuri bug and I can’t stop. Next on the agenda… the teddy bear! Join me. The book’s available at your favorite retailer.


Barnes & Noble


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How-To Tuesday: Crochet a Mini Air Plant Holder

24 Jun



A few days ago, I was putting away leftover yarn I had used to wrap a gift. There wasn’t enough to make another scarf or even baby booties, but I didn’t feel like stuffing it back with the rest of the yarn. Suddenly struck with the urge to make something, I found my crochet hook and decided to make a crochet vessel for one of my air plants. It looks fancy, but any newbie crocheter can make this.

First, I created a center ring, using 6 chain stitches and a slip stitch.

  • –insert hook into first chain
  • –yarn over (yo) hook
  • –draw yarn through stitch and through the loop
  • –yarn over (yo) hook
  • –draw yarn through the 2 loops on hook

Next, after I made the center ring, I started on the first single stitch round.

  • –insert hook into center ring
  • –yarn over (yo) hook
  • –draw yarn through center of ring

chain1 chain2chainring

I continued to work single crochet stitches into the ring until I couldn’t fit anymore. The center ring stretches and it’s surprising how many stitches you can fit in.

If you need more help, watch Nattypat’s video here. Or simply visit our website for a bevy of crochet books for every level of crocheter. The beginner ought to find Erika Knight’s Simple Crocheting: A Complete How-To-Crochet Workshop with 20 Projects the perfect place to start.


Air plants, aka Tillandsia, are these otherworldly blissfully easy plants that require a minimum amount of upkeepno soil, a weekly soak in the sink, and decent light and air circulation. (I spotted some, by the way, at West Elm a few weeks ago). I’ve got about a dozen of them in varying sizes–from 1 inch in diameter to the largest, a 10-inch Concolor Giant.


Because they don’t require soil, you don’t even need a pot or vessel. So if you’re not quite in the mood to crochet, you can still find fun ways to display them. A chipped porcelain tea cup, sea shell from PTown, gold glass cigarette ash tray circa 1970, a two-inch silk pillow my friend brought back from Japan for me, vintage door knob, Italian cake platter, old glass condiment jars–all of these have at one point or another served as vessels for my air plants.

Confession: this post should really be titled Procrastination in the Guise of Craft project. That yarn I was putting away? That was just one of many things scattered around my apartment. Busy week. Busy weekend. But, well… the thing is, there will always be laundry to wash, bills to pay, arcs to read, yarn to put away…. Please don’t misunderstand me; it’s not that I’m pushing for a life of irresponsibility. Just that it’s important to step away on occasion and allow your mind and hands the luxury of creativity. 

Happy crafting!

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How To Tuesday – DIY Koozies!

17 Jun

Happy summer, Crafters!

It looks like the warm weather is finally here to stay which means it’s time for regular picnics, beach trips, and plenty of time outside. But when you’re spending so much time outside you have to remember to stay hydrated. And what better way to keep those beverages nice and cold than with your very own customized koozie? This craft comes from Katie of View from the Frige who shared these fabulous fabric koozies while guest posting on A Prudent Life.

DIY Koozies  |  A Prudent Life

Image from A Prudent Life

As someone whose parents reclaimed all the souvenir koozies I’ve grown accustomed to when I moved out, this craft is something I need to do before the 4th of July holiday. Is there anything worse than warm soda? (Yes, yes there is. The answer is warm beer.)

Head on over to A Prudent Life and get started on yours!

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Freebie Friday: Giant Sungold Sunflowers

6 Jun

In Southern California where I grew up, a three-hour drive often involved experiencing the beach, the mountains, the desert–all in one go. And along the way, without fail, wild sunflowers. A mere glimpse out the window at their waving heads would pierce the darkest of moods. GiantSungoldThey’ve always been one of my favorite flowers.

Being in NYC, I’m thousands of miles away from that scene, but with hotter days on the horizon, I’m indulging a little bit… in nostalgia. This week’s FREE PROJECT DOWNLOAD is the Giant Sungold–a knitted pattern from Kristin Nicholas’ 50 Sunflowers to Knit, Crochet & Felt, which includes 50 original designs of colorful sunflower blooms and buds, as well as leaves, stems, and little sunflower-loving critters to use on accessories, clothing, gifts, housewares…and so much more.

So grab your needles and hooks. The world is your sunflower!


You can purchase 50 Sunflowers to Knit, Crochet & Felt at your favorite retailer below.




Barnes & Noble
Powell’s Books








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Project of the Month: Embossed Invitations

3 Jun

*Today we have a guest post from one of our colleagues here at St. Martin’s Press. Welcome Erin and thank you for sharing your project!*

It’s June, which means wedding season is in full swing and our mailboxes are full of thick, heavy envelopes from soon-to-be-wed couples.

Now, I love a beautiful, personalized wedding invitation as much as the next person. But when the time came to think about my own invitations, I realized I also really loved staying in budget and protecting my sanity. I wanted to send my friends and family something that reflected my fiancé and me, but I didn’t want to spend a small fortune or every spare minute to do it.

So I took what I knew about myself (I’m not a calligrapher, but I can print out color copies on nice paper like a pro) and researched some easy ways to make a simply-made invitation a specially-made one as well.

In the process, I fell in love with embossing. I love how it gives depth to what is otherwise just a flat piece of paper, and I love how difficult it is to mess up. It was fun, it was fool-proof, and it even ended up being one of my favorite parts about planning the wedding. Plus, I didn’t have to go into the red to do it. (Well, technically I went into the dark red, but that’s just because it was one of the colors I’d chosen for my wedding!)

First, I designed the components to my invitation and, after a few paper jams, printed them successfully on nice paper stock on a color copier.


Then, I turned card-stock into a mini-folder and used an embosser to imprint it with my fiancé’s and my initials. I wanted to add some texture to the invitation pieces themselves, so I used the embosser on the back flap of the RSVP cards as well. You can get a custom embosser online for around $30, and with different interchangeable plates, you can use it for everything from a book stamp to a monogram. (Word to the wise: Keep the image or words you’re imprinting simple so the embossed message stays legible.)


Finally, I finished with a raffia ribbon.


And there you have it. Embossing is an easy and affordable way to put your own stamp on an invitation or a card.



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