Some High-Value US Craft Books

18 Jan 2010

Last week's discussion about Japanese vs. US craft books was freaking amazing! We heard from book readers, authors, and publishers. Thank you to everyone who chimed in! (And, please keep chiming in if you like.)

Now, one thing that emerged in this conversation is that some folks seemed to hear me saying that all US craft books were somehow "bad." That's not my assertion at all. My point simply was that a lot of recent US releases didn't seem to have as much staying power in my book stash.

There have been a few craft books in recent years that really stand out as examples of high value and usefulness. To my mind, they embody a lot of the things I was saying about Japanese craft books. So I thought I'd share them:

Home, Paper, Scissors, by Patricia Zapata

If you read Patricia's blog, then you know she has a very distinct design sensibility - clean, simple, and modern. She used that style to great effect in Home, Paper, Scissors, but even more importantly, she presented a tightly-focused set of projects that took paper craft to new places.

Instead of relying on the usual papercraft suspects, Patricia showed us how to create shelves and lamps and bowls from paper. She really challenges the boundaries of what can be done with the medium. Plus, the projects are loaded with clear process photos.

This is a useful educational book, but also a challenging inspiration book. My review is here.


Fabricate and Eco-Craft, by Susan Wasinger

I love the way Susan thinks. Both of these books feature interesting projects I had never seen anywhere else. In Eco-Craft, Susan transformed six-pack rings into a gorgeous room divider. And Fabricate offers a completely inspiring new way to think about fabric - instead of offering yet another collection of sewing projects, she looks at ways to tweak, deconstruct, and transform fabrics. I always get a few new ideas when I flip through these books.

In both books, too, Susan offers lots of step-by-step photography, so each project is much easier to replicate - or reinterpret.

My reviews are here and here.


How to Make Books and Magic Books & Paper Toys, by Esther K. Smith

These two books strike me as awesome nerd love-letters to the craft of book-making. In both titles, there are totally fresh ideas as well as very old techniques. All the prototypes have a sense of humor, and all the projects come with delightful step-by-step illustrations.

I can flip through these books again and again, and reinterpret the concepts in my own crafting. See my reviews here and here.

Lotta Prints, by Lotta Jansdottir

To some extent, this book has less step-by-step education than I'd like, but since the actual craft techniques are so simple, it gets away with it. What makes this book shine is Lotta Jansdottir's unique design vision - and an abundance of photos.

My review is here.

Material Obsession, by Katy Doughty and Sarah Fielke

This has to be one of my all-time favorite quilting books, and that's because it approaches the craft through a focused eye. The authors re-interpret traditional quilt patterns using modern fabrics and design ideas. And they explain the rationale behind their design decisions in a totally engaging way.

I also love that each quilt design in the book is accompanied by clear illustrations and a useful full-quilt diagram. My review is here.

Common Threads...

Looking at this group, I notice that all these books emphasize process over product. Maybe that's at the heart of what makes a craft book valuable - its gives you food for creative re-interpretations, rather than a proscribed set of projects to copy.

It's certainly true, though, that this is just the type of crafter I am. There's a market for those project-based books, too.

What do you think? Which craft books have you seen lately that offer great value, and why?



Awesome, Mom- thanks for chiming in with your favorites!

ooh yeah I bought Fabricate after your review, fantastic!! and Lotta Prints is definitely one of my all-time favorite craft books. Personally, I tend to buy craft books more for inspiration than for process or project value, really. I rarely make anything directly from a book, but I do flip through my books while trying to brainstorm up my own ideas, so photography, creativity, variety are all more important than how-to photos, diagrams, or specific projects. This is a generalization, as I do sometimes choose books for the process value (like Fabricate). A few of my personal favorites:

Craftivity by Tsia Carson - a huge variety of projects in all craft genres, some essential process photos, but mostly gorgeous, inspirational beauty shots and super clever and unique ideas.

Knitorama and Hookorama by Rachael Matthews - there are good learn-to-knit and crochet intro sections in both books for those in need of some process help, but I love these books for the wacky awesome projects. The photography and styling is super silly, and they remind you that yarn is fun and inspire you to create silly things.

Intertwined by Lexi Boeger - For spinning art yarn, this book has great value for process, projects, and inspiration. I love that it goes into detail about how to create different kinds of yarns (kind of the main point), and gives a bunch of patterns for handspun, and also has tons of space devoted to showing the work of art spinners for pure inspiration - definitely my ideal type of craft book!

Knitprovisation by Cilla Ramnek - One of my all-time favorites and exactly the opposite of what you like best, so I think it's a good example of both how different books appeal to different crafters, and how books can be really fabulous even if they break all the rules of what a good craft book should be. Though it is by a New York publisher, I'm pretty sure the author is european (she's a designer for Ikea!) and it definitely doesn't feel like a US craft book. Basically no how-tos at all, just pure inspiration, it's all about encouraging you to improvise your own creations (knit, crochet, and sewn) - the beautiful photographs are paired with descriptive paragraphs about each item, so you can try to recreate something similar if you so choose. It's funny how the US publisher tried to market it as a more typical US book, by putting "70 imaginative projects..." on the cover and the cheesy tagline "be cool - don't stick to the rules!" on the back, kind of implying that it's more of a project-based book instead of what it actually is.

For the record, I loved your Japanese vs. US books post, and I completely agree with you that, generally speaking, those Japanese publishers put out books superior to our stick-to-what-the-mainstream-wants US publishers, as I'm sure you already know ;)

i just got the material obsession the other day. L O V E it!

Ooh - this is an awesome roundup, Lee - thank you so much!

I loved Craftivity, too - a really unexpected take on craft.

Agreed - Linda took a very accessible and fun approach to crochet.

Right you are, actually - my bad there!

Right - I've heard of Ratio. Definitely one I'm interested in checking

Book tips, I've been reading a book called Life, paint and passion - it's all about intuitive painting but maybe you can find it at the library? It's ALL about process and very interesting!

I third the Craftivity book. It's been around for awhile now, but it's was really at the forefront when it come out and still inspires. I'd put Denyse Schmidt's quilt book in the long-lasting category too.

i just got the material obsession the other day. L O V E it!

Oh Diane... you just added a lot of items to my book wish list!

Lotta Prints is a new to me book- but looks like just the sort of thing love. I remember that you mentioned home, paper- that cover just gets me.

I actually haven't bought very many craft books recently- the last one I bought was a lovely one on spinning (sorry I can't remember the name right now) it offered a lot of useful beginner only information, perfect for someone who is just starting, and had gorgeous photos.

I was just lusting after Material Obsessions at the book store today...thank you for your review!

About the Material Obsession book - it's written by two Australian quilters (two of my friends!) and was first published in Australia, so it's not really a US craft book. It has been published in many other countries as well. Just thought you'd like to know!

I love both of Esther K Smith's books--my kids and I use them all the time. What's interesting too about the books here is that they aren't following the Japanese model necessarily. I love books that are more about theory and creativity without having specific patterns. In knitting I think of Elizabeth Zimmerman or Barbara walker. There are some great ones in cooking too--like Michael Ruhlman's book Ratio.

Great list...will have to check some of those out that I haven't heart of! I would also recommend "Printing by Hand" by Lena Corwin. I like how it starts from the basics and although you can follow along her projects and use her templates, she's really teaching you technique so you can design your own. It helps to learn from the foundations, even though everyone sort of knows how to stamp a rubber stamp, for example... :P

I've got that Lotta Prints book - one of my favourite craft books is Crochet Adorned by Linda Permann - gorgeous projects... gorgeous photography.

I totally agree. There are too many craft books that just give 'recipes' to replicate a series of projects. I want to learn new techniques and listen to the thought-processes and inspiration behind ideas; I want to feel new ideas sparking in my own head as the pages turn. But it's like cookery: most people feel safer following a recipe, less likely to go 'wrong'; other people (like my husband) just make it up as they go along and it doesn't matter if it's 'wrong' or not: it's just a creation. One way isn't necessarily better than the other, they just suit different kinds of people - diff'rent strokes, as they say.

Several of these same books are in my own collection - for the same reason. Lots of step by step of technique designed to teach and inspire - not just a bunch of projects designed to be duplicated. There is nothing wrong with books that are collections of projects, but the serious "go to" books I want to own are those that are well written learning tools that inspire me to express myself. I love to thumb through "project" books for ideas once and a while, but the books I buy are those that teach and teach well.

A couple of my favorites:

"The Embroiderer's Handbook" by Margie Bauer published by David and Charles, UK. Anyone, even someone who has never had a needle and thread in their hand, can learn to embroider using this well constructed collection of how-to's. The process for making every stitch is beautifully illustrated using pictures backed up with well written text.

"The Polymer Clay Techniques Book" by Sue Heaser, published by North Light Books US. Before you and I made all the polymer clay candy for our "permanent" gingerbread houses, I had never touched a piece of polymer clay. The techniques provided in Sue's book are so clearly illustrated and described that this absolute newbie was able to create polymer ribbon candy, rock candy with tiny trees and lemons in the center, twisted stripe candy sticks... in no time at all. Sue's book teaches me how to create what is in MY mind!

I definitely would like to see more craft books published using technique-centric focus. As I said, those are the ones I am most likely to purchase. Even more so in this economy when acquiring a library of books - each with one project I like - is not an option.

Bravo, Diane, for inspiring such a lively discussion on the subject of craft book content!

Knitting new scarves by Lynne Barr is one of the best knitting books that I own. Its not so much about knitting scarves as pushing the boundaries of what you can do with knitting and the scarf format is just a convenient way of exploring that. Everytime I look through it I am inspired; my fingers start itching to do something crazy with my yarn.

Also, I think that Material Obsession is an Aussie book. Thought I better stand up for my adopted homeland :)