The most zeitgeist-y craft titles are more than pattern books. They not only give instructions for knitting a sweater or stitching a quilt but also advise crafters on how to use up their stashes, repair what they already own, and embrace the care, time, and effort that go into acts of creation.
These books position making things by hand as a path to a less consumerist, more centered, maybe even more spiritual existence. Preferred materials are upcycled, scavenged, reclaimed, reused, or otherwise sustainably collected. And in pretty much every genre of craft, these materials—plant-based dyes, clay, wood, hemp, cork, small-batch wool—have their origins in forests, fields, gardens, streambeds, and recycling bins.
“There is a quiet craft revolution happening,” says Monica Perdoni, commissioning editor at Leaping Hare Press. “It ties in with a growing awareness of consumerism and waste, and how a simpler lifestyle can help us reconnect to the natural world.”
Reuse and Repair
Siblings Sonya and Nina Montenegro live on an organic farm outside Portland, Ore., and teach handcrafting skills, beekeeping, and other sustainable arts. Susan Roxborough, executive editor at Sasquatch, discovered the Montenegros’ sewing zine on their Etsy shop and won at auction their first book, Mending Life.
Like the zine, Mending Life is heavily illustrated rather than photographed. When Sasquatch releases it in March 2020, it will be just the fourth craft title from the publisher. Roxborough says she was drawn to the book’s artwork and to its timeliness vis-à-vis sustainability trends; she sees the title as a potentially strong seller through special sales channels. “The authors are speaking to what many of us are waking up to in the world—how horrible fast fashion is on the environment, and the importance of really caring for your things,” she says. “But mending here is also a healing act, and a way to express yourself.”
It can also be a mindfulness practice. “The care you show when mending a garment strengthens your connection to it,” as Swedish clothing store owner Kerstin Neumüller writes in the foreword to Mend & Patch (Pavilion, Oct.). Through basic instructions complemented by photos, she makes room for a reader’s personal preferences, offering guidance in both invisible mending and more decorative mending that’s meant to be noticed.
At Abrams, editorial director Shawna Mullen sees a similar interest in environmentally friendly handicraft. “The focus on climate change seems to have readers striving for more sustainable practices,” she says, with “tactile, natural materials.” Abrams is pitching Reclaimed Wood by Alan Solomon and Klaas Armster (Oct.) as a “field guide” to salvaging wood from barns, water tanks, and bowling alleys, then using the material to spiff up homes, offices, and public spaces. Aside from the DIY instruction, Armster and Solomon, partners at Brooklyn’s Sawkill Lumber Company, present an aficionado’s appreciation for the history of wood in the United States.
A bonus, says Abrams editor-in-chief Eric Himmel, is that woodworking “is a rare craft that appeals to men.” It’s a traditional perception but not entirely unfounded. In December 2018, Fox Chapel saw a sales spike for the backlist title 20-Minute Whittling Projects, thanks, says director of marketing David Miller, to online shoppers searching for “gifts for boys and men.” He’s hoping for similar success with the woodcraft titles and associated patterns that Fox Chapel is adding to its new store on Etsy. The site, he says, offers easy-to-read analytics and makes it easy to target an already eager customer base. (For more woodworking titles, see “Board Meetings,” p. 28.)
That base may well include 20-somethings who want to surround themselves with “beautifully made things,” says CICO publisher Cindy Richards, “as a counterbalance to our mass-produced, throwaway society.” In October, the imprint will release Crochet Stashbusters by Nicki Trench, featuring projects such as hats and cozies meant to use up materials left over from other patterns. It’s one of several titles—including One Skein Crochet by Ellen Gormley (Interweave, Aug.) and the Take Two Fat Quarters sewing books by Wendy Gardiner (Search, Mar. 2020)—aimed at helping crafters use what’s already on hand.
With 17 patterns for totes and backpacks, belts and baskets, Create with Cork Fabric by Jessica Sallie Kapitanski (Stash, Sept.) is, likewise, a sustainability-oriented title. It’s a traditional, pattern-centric sewing book that introduces a new material: cork fabric is touted throughout as “natural,” “ecofriendly,” “long-lasting,” and “vegan.” C&T acquisitions editor Roxane Cerda says it fits in with other titles on her list that nod to topics including stash-busting and recycled textiles.
The Wild Dyer by Abigail Booth (Princeton Architectural Press, Oct.) approaches eco-consciousness from the perspective of color. Booth grows dye plants in her garden—comfrey and rhubarb, to name two—and works the land as well as her fabric as a means to connect with the natural world. Dyeing with plants, she writes, makes affordable the luxury of crafting with sustainable materials.
Chronicle distributes PAP (both publishers are owned by the McEvoy Group). Rob Shaeffer, senior acquisitions editor at PAP, says that because Chronicle’s sales team has expertise in marketing high-end crafts books, his imprint has an opportunity to diversify beyond architecture books and “build up a presence in the craft world.” Like other publishers, he sees a millennial readership for eco-minded titles.
At Chelsea Green, which uses the tagline “the politics and practice of sustainability,” the narrative history Fibershed (Nov.) takes its name from the nonprofit author Rebecca Burgess founded, which brings ecologically sourced textiles to the marketplace. In the book, Burgess explores the realities behind mass-produced garments, the carbon cycle, and natural fibers. She seeks to reconnect the dots, she writes in the introduction, between the “impacts our clothes have on land, air, water, labor, and our own human health.”
Hand and Heart
The notion that crafting can feed the soul is not new, but it’s enjoying renewed vigor with titles such as The Knit Vibe (Abrams, Oct.) by Vickie Howell, former host of the PBS TV show Knitting Daily. Interviews with high-profile knitters, knitting
community builders, and mindfulness gurus, all discussing their connection to craft, form the bulk of the book, which also includes about two dozen patterns.
Mindful Thoughts for Makers by Ellie Beck (Sept.), book nine in a 12-book series from Leaping Hare, Quarto’s conscious living imprint, joins similarly themed titles for birdwatchers, cyclists, and gardeners. Beck, a textile artist with 40,000 Instagram followers, encourages readers not only to reacquaint themselves with what she calls the “innate” act of making, but to “lean in to the stillness and quietness that can come from the experience.”
The book “focuses on the process, experience, and nature of crafting, which any maker will understand,” says Leaping Hare’s Perdoni. “Hopefully, it will interest potential readers who hadn’t previously thought how mindfulness can be explored through the practical and expressive mediums of creating.”
This is of a piece with The Mindful Maker by Clare Youngs (CICO, Oct.), in which another designer with a healthy Instagram following (67,000 strong) shows readers how to “make new things from old, slow down, and take enjoyment from the act of crafting and the peace it instills,” says CICO’s Richards. The Mindful Maker covers multiple disciplines—sewing, embroidery, macramé, weaving, felting, punch needling—that she says appeal to a readership of millennials “keen to experiment” while doing their best to save the planet.
Such books may find even younger readers, if Jonah Larson is anything to go by. He taught himself to crochet at age five and, with his 192,000-follower-strong Instagram account, connects with people worldwide through his craft. Not yet a teenager, he’s the author (with his mother, Jennifer Larson) of the recently released Hello, Crochet Friends! (Kwil, ages 5–12), which shares the story of Jonah’s adoption from Ethiopia and the sense of community he’s found through crocheting; it includes one pattern.
Embroidered Life by Sara Barnes (Chronicle, Sept.) explores the artistic practice of Sarah K. Benning, a contemporary embroiderer with 501,000 Instagram followers. It’s a testament to the growing relevance of this branch of needlecraft, the mindfulness that can result from its practice, and its potential for being easy on the Earth. Benning “embraces sustainability in her embroidery,” Barnes writes, “and tries to be conscientious by using secondhand textiles.”
The title offers an introspective counterpoint to Threads of Life by Clare Hunter (Abrams, Oct.), a wide-ranging history that explores the role embroidery and other needle arts have played in “identity, protest, memory, power, and politics,” according to the publisher.
Why We Quilt by Thomas Knauer (Storey, Oct.), also a history, visits with dozens of quilters and learns their many motivations beyond the simple satisfaction of the act—to connect with tradition and loved ones, to express creativity, to move beyond consumer culture, and even to change the world. In its six chapters, it manages an impressive feat: it nails every prominent craft trend of the season.
Lela Nargi is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn who’s written several books about craft.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Rob Shaeffer's name.
Below, more on the subject of hobby and craft books.
The Politics of Yarn: PW Talks with Clara Parkes
In ‘Vanishing Fleece,’ Parkes documents the sheep-to-shop journey of a bale of Saxon merino wool.
The Way of Clay: Hobby & Craft Books 2019–2020
New books delve into the finer points of pottery.
Board Meetings: Hobby & Craft Books 2019–2020
Many of the season’s woodworking titles emphasize recycled materials or are otherwise mindful of creating something meant to last.