August 2008

Crafty books for crafty people

By Natalie Chanin
By Nancy Queen
By Nancy Queen
By Kathleen Taylor
By Sherri Haab
By Jodi Kahn
By Ronee Parsons
By Rebecca Ludens
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The "haute homespun" Project Alabama cotton T-shirts created by Natalie Chanin and stitchers of her native Florence, Alabama, revived a Southern community's dormant textile industry and received critical acclaim. Chanin then founded Alabama Chanin, a line of recycled and sustainable products from furniture to quilts and clothing made by artisans from that same community. In Alabama Stitch Book: Projects and Stories Celebrating Hand-Sewing, Quilting and Embroidery for Contemporary Sustainable Style, Chanin introduces the patterns, stitching, stenciling and beading techniques of the Depression-era South that inspired her, followed by 20 illustrated projects using her trademark deconstructed T-shirts and applique techniques. Her popular T-shirts, skirts and corsets are included along with instructions for a "rag boa" that doubles as a furniture duster, a bugle-beaded postcard of kraft paper and a gorgeous tablecloth of cream cotton backed with royal blue roosters embellished with paint and knots perfect for a country picnic of homegrown fruits and vegetables. Some projects include recipes and country wisdom ("Here's the lesson: if you start to get a hole in something, fix it immediately . . . this saying seems to apply to most problems in life."). Pull-out patterns, stencils and templates, and evocative photographs by Robert Rausch inspire readers to take a stab at these inventive needlework projects.

Interest in needle arts is exploding, but this new generation of "chicks with sticks" demands quick-and-hip projects that offer somewhat instant gratification. Knitwear designers Nancy Queen and Mary Ellen O'Connell have developed just these kind of quick, no-fear projects in The Chicks with Sticks Guide to Knitting: Learn to Knit with More Than 30 Cool, Easy Patterns and The Chicks with Sticks Guide to Crochet. Each book starts with a "getting hooked" section on yarn, tools, patterns and lingo, followed by a crash course in basic techniques and fixing mistakes. Crafters are introduced to basic stitches working through beginning-to-advanced garment and accessory patterns, with detailed schematic diagrams and color photos along with "Cheep Tricks" and "Chick Feed" sidebars of anecdotes and tips. You won't find weird ponchos or boxy Christmas sweaters here, unless they're retro-ironic; patterns include a "surfer chick quick cap," a no-sweat hoodie, a "bad to the bone" dog sweater and a felted hobo bag.

Felting is a popular offshoot of the knitting craze, and Kathleen Taylor (Knit One, Felt Too) has developed some wild and wooly projects using the technique in I Heart Felt: 33 Eye-Popping Projects for the Inspired Knitter. Throwing a hand-knitted object into hot water and watching it shrink isn't for the faint of heart, but Taylor lends knitters courage with patterns for small felted stuffed vegetables, a honeycomb ear warmer and shaggy slippers. Basic techniques for felting common knitted stitches from cabled to Fair Isle and caring for felted items is followed by illustrated projects highlighting texture, color and embellishments with suggested yarns, knitting patterns and felting and assembly instructions. Knitters who have always wanted to try this technique will find plenty of inspiration in Taylor's bright and cheerful projects.

Silver and gold are precious, but there is plenty of charm in soft, homespun adornments made of knitted, knotted, felted or braided fibers. Felt, Fabric and Fiber Jewelry: 20 Beautiful Projects to Bead, Stitch, Knot and Braid presents gallery-quality projects by popular crafting writer Sherri Haab (The Art of Metal Clay) and guest designers using fabric, ribbon, thread, cord, beads, buttons and a variety of needlework techniques from crochet and felting to tatting, braiding and macrame. The jewelry varies from the extremely modern and hip (mixed-media charms, black crocheted choker, velvet and ribbon cuff) to the whimsical (felted bead bracelet, braided cord necklace with polymer clay pendant), and sweet and retro (embroidered rings, crocheted bracelet, ribbon flower pins). Each project has a list of materials and supplies, detailed directions, diagrams and step-by-step photos. While beginners will play catch-up on some projects, and familiarity with tools and supplies like the eyelet setter, Japanese screw punch and inkjet linen is assumed, the finished-project photos will encourage any crafter to attempt these gorgeous items.

Fashionistas who are too busy for long nights of clicking needles will love the inventive fudging in Simply Sublime Bags: 30 No-Sew, Low-Sew Projects. Jodi Kahn (The Little Pink Book of Elegance) has created clever construction methods using scissors, pins, staples, duct tape and thread for accessories that look like they were bought in a chic boutique. Projects range from a tiny "campy coin purse" based on the old Tandy leathercraft pouch and a 1960s handbag assembled from a silk placemat and bamboo handles, to a fringed "Chanel" bag made of black duct tape and brass chain link, a modern square-bottomed handbag created from wallpaper samples, a yellow caution tape zippered clutch, a "Twister" tote from the old game mat, a "metallic" bag made of silver Mylar balloons, and an Astroturf picnic basket. Templates, detailed directions and color photographs accompany the eco-friendly projects. While most projects require a fair amount of patience, fashion-forward crafters and thrifty recyclers will find these ideas thrilling.

Young mom-scrapbookers looking for a muse will like Modern Memory Keeper: A New Approach to Scrapbooking Your Family Legacy by scrapbook blogger Ronee Parsons. Emphasizing of-the-moment techniques like distressing, chipboard and digital photo editing, the book presents a wide variety of techniques and layout styles from "shabby chic" to clean and modern for an accessible yet inventive look at traditional scrapbooking. Along with the large layouts, the book's strongest features are the writer's prompts that help scrappers dig deep into family history to find the stories that make for memorable pages, and plenty of ideas for presenting journaling and photos in the most creative way.

Visual learners will appreciate the simple, spiral-bound ideas in Visual Quick Tips: Paper Crafts. This compact portable guide, written by Rebecca Ludens ( and Jennifer Schmidt, a member of the design team for several scrapbook manufacturers, presents a range of basic paper craft, scrapbooking and card-making techniques illustrated step-by-step with full-color photos. From designing a scrapbook layout, making a minibook, invitation, envelope, art journal or artist trading card, to sewing on paper, stamping, quilling and distressing, this guide touches on important trends and techniques in paper arts.

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