Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Family Creative Workshop

This summer Uncle Pookie came home one morning from the library book sale with a truly amazing number of books, among them a complete set of The Family Creative Workshop (twenty-three volumes plus index). Bringing out my usual objections about lack of space and not buying something just because it's on sale, I honed in on The Family Creative Workshop because it "didn't even look like something he'd usually be interested in" and I already had a general needlework reference. He pointed out that it was dollar-a-foot day (i.e. "it was on sale, therefore I had to buy it") and, besides, it looked good. Well, whatever points it costs me in the game of moral one-upmanship that is marriage (according to Marge Simpson), I've long since conceded he was right and it was a good purchase. (Heck, I'm so bad at this game I'll even admit that my concern over limited space did not prevent me, later in the day, from going to the library myself for a little dollar-a-foot action; books have always been my gazingus pin.)

The Family Creative Workshop really is a fun set of books. It set out to be, according to the introduction, an encyclopedia of traditional and contemporary crafts, and I think it succeeded at least as well as could reasonably be expected. No multi-reference an be exhaustive on any one subject, but this series tells you quite a bit about a lot of subjects, including some you may never have heard of before. They have defined "craft" very loosely. Don't think that it is just the expected crafts. The section on granny squares, which are maligned by some as the hokiest of "old lady" craft items, is sandwiched between gold panning and greenhouse construction. There are also entries on things like cryptography, maps, and old-fashioned street games.

And if some of the craft items are a little seventies-esque (which I tend to like) and not to your taste (fantasy in children's stuffed animals is great, but when making a blue-maned lion, I think it's overkill to use a gaudy patchwork print fabric for the body), just turn the page and read about something else. These books were made for browsing.

Each entry was written by an expert in that area; a few contributed more than one entry. I don't recognize any of these names except that of Isaac Asimov, who did the astronomy section, but they all seem to be knowledgeable. To keep good standards up across such a large number of authors, I suspect there were some good editors working on this project.

There are lots of illustrations throughout the books, and the covers of the books are especially nice: various crafts or craft materials made the artistic focus of glossy photos. You can see a lot of pictures from the books at this link.

The index is good. If you are collecting these books one by one, do not be tempted to forgo the index, because it includes extras. It is divided into four parts: "Basic Reference Guide"; "Materials Reference Guide"; a section of patterns you might want want to use in various crafts; and the index proper, which also includes a second index of projects from the books grouped by evaluation of cost, time required, or suitability by age and skill level.

In short, I highly recommend this series for purchase. I wish I had had it as a child. Just be careful of opening a volume when you're dusting or just want to look up one thing--I've lost "lost" hours that way.

Yet More Mary Frances

Just as an FYI for anyone interested in Mary Frances, if you search for Jane Eayre Fryer at the Internet Archive, three Mary Frances books turn up, the housekeeping one, the gardening one, and the first aid one. I don't actually like reading online books all that much myself and have mostly limited myself to plain text books from the Gutenberg site when I have read them, but some of you might enjoy these.

And of course for those interested in sewing, no trip to the Internet Archive is complete without a peek at Pattern for Smartness. If you've never seen it, it's a late-forties promotional film from the Simplicity Pattern Company, which people like to laugh at for a few ripe-for-MST3K-treatment bits, but which actually has some good sewing advice in it.