Publishers have long offered books for crafters at all levels, from absolute beginners to professionals looking to hone their skills. Increasingly, though, craft books have begun to embrace other types of diversity among practitioners, too, with authors, models, and patterns that reflect people of different sizes, ethnicities, and abilities. Taken together, the array of titles planned for the next several months send a message: all are welcome.
Crafting as community
Printmaker and textile artist Jen Hewett is the author of 2018’s Print, Pattern, Sew (an “alluring how-to guide,” per PW). She’s also among the crafters of color who, in early 2019, took to social media to share “experiences of feeling either ignored or unseen by the larger crafting community, or willfully excluded from the narratives of who participates in craft,” she says.
A blog post by a prominent, white owner of a knitting company had sparked the outpouring, but the conversation was not a new one. “I knew from my own experience that we engage in these crafts at the same levels as our white peers, and statistics support this,” Hewett says, even if the public faces of the crafting community—typically white women—do not.
Beyond participating in the conversation on Instagram, “I wanted to write a book that shared the stories of a relatively broad swath of people of color who are actively engaged in fiber arts and crafts,” Hewett notes. “I sent out a survey, interviewed people, and commissioned a few essays.”
Her efforts manifest in This Long Thread (Roost, Nov.), which profiles a selection of the nearly 300 women and nonbinary people of color who responded to her survey, and includes interviews with and essays by a variety of crafters. “The fiber arts and crafts community is that much richer when there is space for our voices,” Hewett writes in the introduction, “not as window dressing, but as an important and integral part of this community.”
The Auntie Sewing Squad Guide to Mask Making, Radical Care, and Racial Justice (Univ. of California, Nov.) also highlights community connections, documenting the efforts of a mutual aid group, made up largely of women of color, who came together on social media at the start of the pandemic to make cloth masks for people in vulnerable populations. As performance artist Kristina Wong, who founded the group, writes in the preface, “Every vendor in the country ran out of elastic and fabric, and factory-made masks were out of stock for weeks. I was like Robinson Crusoe, and my desert island was my home in Koreatown Los Angeles, waving down every hobbyist seamstress on Facebook for leads on where to find elastic.”
Among the aunties, who range in age from eight to 93 and who to date have sewed and distributed hundreds of thousands of masks, are university professors Mai-Linh K. Hong, Chrissy Yee Lau, and Preeti Sharma. “We originally teamed up to put together an academic panel on the Auntie Sewing Squad at the Association for Asian American Studies Conference,” they wrote in a joint email to PW. Then Wong approached them to edit the book, and they set about gathering essays, illustrations, photos, patterns, and recipes from squad members across the country. The trio wanted the project to be “auntie-driven: centering aunties’ voices, stories, and creativity,” they explained. “Auntie Sewing Squad has taught us so much about how the traditions of mutual aid and care pair up with crafting.”
The idea of banding together based on a shared experience or common goal drives The Sewing Guide to Cancer (or Other Very Annoying Long Term Illnesses), which craft publisher Lucky Spool will release in October. Heather Grant, manager of education programs at Bernina of America, a sewing and quilting machine manufacturer, compiled projects from some two dozen contributors for useful gifts for those getting intensive medical treatment, such as an infusion bag or seatbelt cover. “When you’re undergoing a major illness your community comes together to support you,” says Grant, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and had a recurrence in 2018.
She and Lucky Spool founder Susanne Woods, who received her first cancer diagnosis in 2016, discussed creating a craft book based on their experiences. (Woods died in 2020 and Grant saw the project to fruition.) “The things we faced were applicable to people with Crohn’s, MS, fibromyalgia, and other long-term diseases,” Grant says, explaining that in Samarra Khaja’s illustrations for the book, “you can’t always tell the sex or the gender or the race or even what treatment of what they’re going through. We did that so it would be more inclusive.”
Sewing is for every body
Part of making a project or community inclusive is making the invitation to join explicit. “It’s easy for people with a lot of privilege to say, ‘We were never excluding them,’ ” says Lydia Rogue, publicity manager and editorial associate at Microcosm. “I think we’re moving from not actively excluding you and into, ‘No, this is for you too.’ ”
One example, Rogue says, is Kate Weiss’s Radical Sewing, pubbing in October and intended for sewists of any gender, level of experience, and body type. Weiss, a pattern maker and sewing instructor, walks newbie sewists through techniques aimed at making their clothing work for them: adding pockets, taking in seams and letting them out, sewing darts, and more. She also, Rogue notes, includes a section on clothing modifications for wheelchair users, an atypical topic for a sewing book.
In The Act of Sewing, which Roost published this past spring, Sonya Philip (one of the crafters that Hewett interviews in This Long Thread) offers four basic patterns—trousers, a skirt, and two tops—in sizes XS to 5X, and explains how to make alterations and modifications, add embellishments, and combine the patterns to create, for instance, a dress or jumpsuit. Several photos show the author, who favors strong colors and bold patterns, modeling her designs. Making clothes, Philip explains in the book, means that “we get to create what we want, instead of relying on the ever-changing tastes of fashion designers, retailers, and trendsetters.”
Philip’s goal is to help readers “take back control,” says Emily Coughlin, associate editor at Shambhala, who saw the book to print after Jenn Brown acquired it. “Every body is created differently and grows or shrinks in different ways.”
Harriet Butt, senior commissioning editor at Quadrille, has noticed a push for body-positive books, as opposed to titles that say “you shouldn’t wear this color, or you shouldn’t wear a v-neck.” In Ahead of the Curve, coming in October from Quadrille, Jenny Rushmore offers patterns for two dresses, two tops, and pants, and teaches sewists to adjust the patterns to their particular measurements. “We wanted this book to give you confidence and to make you feel empowered and to celebrate your body,” Butt says.
Rushmore, founder and creative director of the size-inclusive pattern company Cashmerette, maintains an encouraging tone (“Remember: if something doesn’t fit, your body is not the problem—the clothes are”) and communal spirit throughout Ahead of the Curve: her models are body-positive clothesmakers she found on Instagram.
Vanessa Koranteng and Sicgmone Kludje had community at top of mind when conceiving the February 2022 release Conscious Crafts: Knitting, part of a series from Leaping Hare Press that centers the therapeutic side of crafting. The authors cofounded the Black Girl Knit Club, an East London collective that offers workshops and a space for women of color to gather together and knit. “It was really important for them to show Black models wearing their designs,” says Monica Perdoni, senior commissioning editor at Leaping Hare. “Traditionally there haven’t been many people of color in craft books.”
The 20 patterns are geared toward beginners, and each is paired with a different affirmation. “While you’re making the project,” Perdoni explains, “you might rest your eyes on the little statement about remembering to reconnect to what you’re making, not just focus on the end result.”
In Knitting for Radical Self-Care (Abrams, Nov.), knitwear designer Brandi Cheyenne Harper gives each of her 10 patterns an evocative name—e.g. the Ode cardigan, the Aura cowl—and introduces each with a musing on one of the women she calls “revolutionary ancestors,” such as Sojourner Truth and Toni Morrison. Harper, who models her projects and who, like Sonya Philip, is interviewed in The Long Thread, guides readers through the knitting basics, from casting on to binding off and weaving in ends, and shares her principles of self-care as they relate to craft. “So many mistakes in my life I will never be able to go back and fix,” she writes. “Knitting is a soft place to land.”
Mexican American artist Kathy Cano-Murillo writes on her website that she launched her Crafty Chica brand in 2001 as a way for Latinx people to “claim our identity in this market space and make our own decorations, jewelry, home decor, and so on.” She’s the author of several crafting books, including 2006’s The Crafty Chica Collection; Quarry is releasing an updated and renamed edition, The Crafty Chica Creates! Latinx-Inspired DIY Projects with Spirit and Sparkle, in December. Three-quarters of the projects are new, including a shrug made from Mexican scarves and pan dulce jewelry made from polymer clay. “It really shows my growth as a designer,” Cano-Murillo says, “and the longevity of the need for Latino-themed DIYs.”
Cano-Murillo built her brand well before Instagram became a way for crafters to connect with one another, and for publishers to find artisans who just might have books in them; the coming months bring debuts from several crafters with large, engaged followings.
When Abrams editor Meredith A. Clark was looking to acquire a book on “something a little different from more traditional crochet,” she says, she thought of Toni Lipsey, whom she and 140,000 others follow on Instagram. The designer, patternmaker, and instructor behind TL Yarn Crafts began exploring Tunisian crochet a few years ago; the first tutorial she posted, in 2017, has 600,000 views on YouTube.
The Tunisian method “functions like crochet but the end result looks a lot like knitting,” Clark says. “So there’s cross-craft appeal.” In The Tunisian Crochet Handbook (Oct.), Lipsey introduces the tools and techniques unique to the craft, such as the extra-long crochet hooks required, and walks readers through 20 patterns.
Embroidery designs by Dhara Shah, an Indian woman living in Lithuania who has 108,000 Instagram followers and sells her wares under the name ChainStitch-
Store, “would pop up all the time on my Instagram feed,” says Caitlin Dow, editor at Page Street; mandalas and botanicals are recurring motifs. In December Page Street will release The Embroidery Handbook, which includes tutorials and patterns for 30 of Shah’s projects.
The Instagram account of another embroiderer, Olga Prinku (with 194,000 followers), showcases her unusual take on the craft—hoops of tulle embroidered with dried flowers—and the Yorkshire garden that supplies her crafting material. Prinku’s debut, Dried Flower Embroidery (Quadrille, Sept.), offers 17 beginner-appropriate patterns and an assurance from the author that the projects require no special skill—an attitude that typifies the welcoming spirit of many new craft titles. “When I started,” Prinku writes in the introduction, “I had no training or expertise—just enthusiasm and curiosity.”
Elyse Martin, a writer in Washington, D.C., has also published in Electric Literature, Slate, the Toast, Tor.com, and elsewhere.
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