November 2006: Fall Into Crafting! November 3, 2006

As the nights get longer and the days get colder, a whole new round of crafty books are popping up — just in time for you to start thinking about all the cool holiday gifts you might want to concoct… or the cozy scarves you want to piece together… or the trash you’re ready to turn into treasure. Here are five of the best new books around, covering everything from stitching and wire-wrapping to repurposing secondhand debris into all kinds of stylishness.

Craft books for my November West Coast Crafty column!

I had a chance to ask all the writers about the process of creating such cool books, and their favorite projects — thanks so much to Melissa Rannels, Melissa Alvarado, Hope Meng, Jenny Hart, Tsia Carson, Amy Butler, and Lindsay Cain.

Sew Subversive, by Melissa Rannels, Melissa Alvarado, and Hope Meng
Sew Subversive, by Melissa Rannels, Melissa Alvarado, and Hope Meng

This sewing book from the owners of San Francisco’s Stitch Lounge is perfect for the DIY fashionista-in-training, covering everything from which side of the fabric faces out (the party side, naturally — the business side hides all your boring seams and hems) to how to set up your sewing space and troubleshoot your stubborn tension issues. The emphasis here is on restyling your boring or too-big clothes into something super-personalized and cool, with plenty of advice and fun suggestions along the way, and lots of illustrations and photos to keep it easy.

Melissa, Melissa and Hope say: Our book is really a manifestation of what we’ve done with our business, Stitch Lounge: we teach curious creatives how to make their own fashion using some basic sewing techniques. When writing the book, we drew from actual experiences we had while learning, or that we’ve observed in our students. For instance, we see a lot of students get stuck when trying to remember how to load the bobbin into the sewing machine; we include a well-illustrated section in our book on the right way to do that. We also framed the lessons around real-life experiences like getting to work and having a button pop off! We work through the whole scenario from locking the bathroom stall to using a safety pin as a spacer to make sure you can get the button closed again. The language not only tells a story that readers can relate to, but it teaches the reader a useful skill as well.

Projects from Sew Subversive
photo by Matthew Carden

Their favorite project: Not to sound too much like our moms, but we love all the projects for different reasons! For simplicity/ease, we love the leg warmer and tie wrist cuff projects. At Stitch Lounge, we have seen many potential new DIYers/seamsters completely intimidated by all the knobs and buttons and fancy sewing terms involved in traditional sewing. These two projects are ultra-easy yet ultra-fashionable ways of getting your feet wet in the vast world of clothing/accessory construction. For creativity, we love the pillowcase dress. We heart vintage prints and fabrics, and this project is a great way to incorporate a vintage look for less. Finally, for reuse, we love the sweater scarf project. It’s a great way to reinvent those old sweaters sitting unworn in the back of your closet!

My favorite project: I love the Cut It Out! shirt with asymmetrical stylized topstitched leaves–a nice update to a plain old t-shirt incorporating plenty of cool negative space.

Craftivity, by Tsia Carson
Craftivity, by Tsia Carson

Tsia Carson, founding editor of, has gathered an array of 40 projects from contributors of all stripes. When I say array, I certainly mean it: they range from hand-knitting a hammock to creating graffiti using woodland moss as a medium, with plenty of other intriguing alt-housewares, accessories, and gifts along the way. The book is also unsurprisingly gorgeous in look and feel, reflecting Tsia’s background as a designer and maker extraordinaire.

Tsia says: There was so much madness in putting together this book because of all the contributors involved — some quite far flung. And I guess I am so proud that the book is so close to the original vision of a large multi-craft look at alt-DIY — rather than a single craft book. My favorite memories are that we had a series of craft-ons where many of these projects were tested and made for the book. The NY chapter of the Church of Craft came out in full effect along with many of the book contributors. We spent warm early fall days last year in the backyard eating and hanging out and making stuff. There are some nice photos in the back of the book of this.

Projects from Craftivity
Her favorite project: Gosh, there are so many projects I love in this book. It is so hard to choose! There are a few I am feeling currently because of the cooler fall weather. One of my favorites is the moth embroidered sweater by Jennifer Kabat. In this project you take a beloved sweater eaten by pesky moths and embroider the holes with a buttonhole stitch in a contrasting thread, thereby stablizing the hole and making a beautiful pattern across the sweater. But then I love Scott Bodenner’s Chandy which is on the cover, Lana Le’s Pom Pom rug and Jenny Hart’s embroidered screen door… There are also many “showcases” through out the book which just show some genius project that you might not want to do yourself. These are all jaw-droppers, and two of my favorites are Jesse Alexander’s ocean marbelized paper and Madelon Galland’s upholstered tree stumps… but I could go on and on and on.

My favorite project: I especially like Annette Kesterson’s sleek Button Cuff, which she aptly describes as “simple and wholesome but also elegant.”

Sublime Stitching, by Jenny Hart
Sublime Stitching, by Jenny Hart

Sublime Stitcher Jenny Hart has put together hundreds of new embroidery patterns in this charming book, and extra-nice touches like a lie-flat spiral binding and neat little inside-cover pockets for your patterns are the icing on the cupcake. Jenny demystifies the techniques and stitches of embroidery with humor and energy, while the inspiring photographs of her work give you all kinds of ideas for getting started — stitching guitars on ties? Well, why not?

Jenny says: This book was basically an answer to the demand for more, more, MORE! People wanted more patterns. And since the Stitch-It Kit has been such a huge success, we decided to make this a companion book to that- expanding the instructions, doing all new projects and of course, new patterns! There are over 90, so I hope that will hold people for a while. I had to figure out how many designs I’d have to create a day to meet the deadline (three a day).

I love working on the projects and combining the designs in such a way that is meant to inspire the reader. They are free to use the patterns just as they are, but I designed them really to be a starting point for their own creativity. I had fun stitching up the bag in the front of the book, with the Scottie dogs. I combined a cross-stitch with a hidden stitch along the top edge in black and white, which is so simple, but not usually done. I hope the reader will notice details like that and see the possibilities.

Shhh... Baby Blanket from Sublime Stitching
Her favorite project: I think my favorite is the baby blanket that says “Shhhh.” The patterns in this book are a little more traditional offerings, but I like that even in that realm you can do something very sweet and unexpected. I’ve never seen a baby blanket that reads “Shhhh” and it seemed like the perfect message to put in embroidery on the edge of the blanket, right under their little nose.

My favorite project: I just adore the pillowcases and sheet set that Jenny embellished with a mix of colorful hanging lanterns — that’s first on my list!

In Stitches, by Amy Butler
In Stitches, by Amy Butler

Amy Butler, renowned fabric and pattern designer, has created a new collection of “simple and stylish sewing projects” for the home in this beautiful spiral-bound hardback, including both everyday necessities like a CD holder and desktop organizer created out of coordinating fabrics and little luxuries like a comfortable-chic kimono. Paper patterns for many of the projects are tucked into a neat folder at the front of the book. Her Midwest Modern aesthetic flourishes throughout, and the results are equally inviting and inspiring.

Amy says:The feel of the book is very consistent with how I approach my sewing patterns and when it came to finalizing the content, it was natural for me to organize the projects by lifestyle, living spaces and personal style. It took me seven months to produce In Stitches with the help of some very talented seamstresses in my community. We had an elaborate writing/testing/editing process to get down to the final 25-plus projects. Some of the projects were doozies to test like the Decorative Patchwork Throw, just the measuring, and re-measuring to make sure all of my increments were correct took a great deal of extra time, but well worth the effort! It usually takes me 3-4 months to complete one pattern so to work through 25 projects so quickly sort of revolutionized my pattern development process. I learned so much, it was incredibly rewarding to turn in the final manuscript! I’m so proud of all the work everyone did to contribute to the end results.

One of my favorite qualities of the book is the range of projects, from simple to a bit more complex. The idea to have ” something for everyone ” at every level of sewing was important to me, and the ” voice” or instruction approach had to be easy to follow. I’ve had a lot of nice comments from folks who have purchased In Stitches but don’t sew yet! I can’t think of a better compliment.

Wide-Leg Lounge Pants from In Stitches
Her favorite project: I love my Wide Leg Lounge Pants project because the pants are very simple to make, easy to customize and they transition easily from the couch to a dinner party! I have very long legs (I’m 6 feet tall) so being able to make my lounge pants as long as I need to is an extra bonus. The shape of the legs is dramatic and they make me feel quite elegant when I wear them. I also think they make the perfect gift! They make up beautifully in quilting fabrics or flannel.

My favorite project: I think the Big Dot Pillow is just the thing for my living room!

Get Your Sparkle On, by Lindsay Cain
Get Your Sparkle On, by Lindsay Cain

This stylicious jewelry-making primer from the owner of the Femmegems boutiques offers 25 shiny designs for bohemians, party girls, brides, beach babes and rock stars alike. The common thread here is an easy and accessible, but high-fashion, feel, and the book is filled with light-hearted extras like “Great Moments in Bling” and a list of “Rock Songs” (like “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and “Ruby Tuesday”) — call up your girlfriends up and plan a ladies’ night in to string your beads with one hand while pouring the next round of margaritas with the other.

Lindsay says: The book was really driven by the lack of a book like it in its category. No one had broken the mold of a conventional how-to jewelry manual and given it a spirited fashion slant. We included editor interviews, peeks inside real women’s jewelry boxes, flea market makeovers, etc. in order to do this and break up the monotony of the expected project-project-project lay out. The “gemstyles” (Park Avenue, Rock Star, Bohemian…) as an organizational approach to the book is what I think makes it such a fun read too, even for someone with no intention of making jewelry! The pop-quiz and timeline are both very humorous – I’ve gotten a lot of positive response to both of them.

Tassel Earrings from Get Your Sparkle On
Her favorite project: I love the Tassel Earrings project because it takes a decorative household item which is playful and beautiful but transforms so easily into a feisty pair of earrings. It could be great for an over-the-top New Year’s event, or preppy-chic with the simplest outfit and loafers. Either way they are sure to get noticed.

My favorite project: I was instantly drawn to the Chain, Chain, Chain Earrings — they’re a cascading mix of faceted beads in smooth, pretty colors.

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