“I come from a family of dreamers,” Heather Ross writes in the beginning of her upcoming book, How to Catch a Frog: And Other Stories of Family, Love, Dysfunction, Survival, and DIY (STC Craft, May 20). This isn’t really a craft book, but it gets to the heart of Ross’s creativity and her propensity for making things by hand. An author and fabric designer, she’s also the founder of the brand Munki Munki and the new book traces her artistic temperament and entrepreneurial skills to her unconventional upbringing in rural Vermont in the ‘70s.
As a child, Ross lived in a geodesic dome that her bohemian parents built in the artists’ enclave San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; and then in a one-room schoolhouse heated by a wood-fired stove. Nature was a source of wonder and inspiration for her; chapters have titles such as “How to Help a Bird Build a Nest” and “How to Make a Bonfire.” Along with her funny, quirky and heartfelt observations, there are instructions for simple projects: a coffee log fire starter, a teepee, and paper flowers.
But it isn’t all idyllic. Ross’s family lived in a constant state of self-imposed poverty and struggle; her parents split up and her mother was an unreliable presence (there are suggestions of addiction and violence). In the end, it’s clear that Ross learned to be self-reliant and that creating useful, handmade objects became a way of life for her. “To make anything by hand, whether it is to feed or to warm or to shelter yourself, to succeed in meeting some small—or not small—need that exists within us, this is what we and every other thing with a heart that walks this earth are meant to do with our hands and with our days,” she writes.
In the gorgeously designed Bibliocraft: A Modern Crafter’s Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, March) Jessica Pigza also brings a new and nerdy angle to craft by focusing on libraries as a source of inspiration. Pigza, a craft blogger and the assistant curator of the New York Public Library’s Rare Book Division, invited numerous artists and crafters to contribute projects based on library materials, such as early women’s magazines, botanical books from the 18th and 19th centuries, decorative bookbindings and heraldry. Design Sponge founder Grace Bonney created antiquarian animal votive holders using images from a 16th-century zoological text, and author and designer Liesl Gibson sewed a fabric growth chart that was inspired by soil profiles (normally the province of soil scientists).
The projects range from fairly simple (felt dogwood blossoms) to complex (cyanotype throw). Pigza mentions several vintage craft books that are well worth an eBay search, and if you’re moved to explore a library yourself, she offers a list of specialized research collections and digital libraries. And if your library skills have atrophied since grade school, the book even includes a quick primer on call numbers and catalog searches.
If no-brainer crafts are more your speed, check out Wise Craft by Blair Stocker. Based on the blog of the same name, it encourages readers to up-cycle everyday materials into simple projects for the home. Experienced crafters may find the projects too simple, but you have to give Stocker points for her sense of humor. For Halloween, she transforms old Barbie dolls into zombies with the help of white spray paint, and to make a memo board she suggests using toile and adding modern-day word bubbles to the pastoral scenes (“Wish I brought my iPad,” says a man fishing from the side of a bridge).
And then there’s Sweet Paul Eat and Make: Charming Recipes and Kitchen Crafts You Will Love (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 1), by the Oslo-born food and craft stylist Paul Lowe. Lowe’s quarterly magazine, Sweet Paul, is basically Martha Stewart Living on steroids: page after page of breathtaking food and craft photography. In both the magazine and the book, the recipes and crafts are simple: just a few ingredients, just a few materials—and often ones that you already have around the house. In his clean, Scandinavian style, Lowe share instructions on how to make an organizer out of Clementine crates and flowers out of coffee filters. And did you know a pie tin can be used to make a mirror, a picture frame and a tiered cookie stand?
What craft project will YOU take up next?
Cover Image: http://blairstocker.com/
Heather Ross: http://heatherross.squarespace.com/journal/
Bibliocraft: http://www.abramsbooks.com/Books/BiblioCraft-9781617690969.htmlFour book
Sweet Paul Eat and Make: Excerpted from SWEET PAUL EAT AND MAKE, © 2014 by Paul Lowe Einlyng. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. Photos: © Alexandra Grablewski.