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Remembrance of crafts past

The Craftster Guide to Nifty, Thrifty, and Kitschy Crafts: Fifty Fabulous Projects from the Fifties and Sixties

Loaded with vintage photos and old-fashioned projects for toilet paper cozies and macaroni curio boxes, The Craftster Guide to Nifty, Thrifty, and Kitschy Crafts: Fifty Fabulous Projects from the Fifties and Sixties will be a reminder for some of the delicious first-generation thrills of real McCoy craft.

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Drawn from Leah Kramer's Craftster.org site, this how-to book functions most pleasingly as an archeology of items that will soon be lost in today's anti-homespun made-in-China world. Craft is the granny answer to Mandala sand painting, a discipline composed of patience and devotion lost in the rush-rush-rush disposability of the modern world.

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Skip the introductory glossary that seems geared to the mentally impaired with detailed explanations of obscure crafty terminology like "cigar boxes," "photocopier" and "pillow stuffing." The only thing missing: instructions on how to get to the next page.

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The neo-crafts pale next to the retro ones. Librarians will lose their minds when they see Kramer's instructions for a modern craft that entails gutting vintage books and tossing that pesky written stuff to fashion a clutch purse from the hardback cover. Craft is quintessentially thrifty and use-oriented and the idea of taking one consummately functional thing and rendering it differently functional smacks at our disposable-Bic (and illiterate) culture of today.

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Some of Kramer's reproduced crafts are sublime: The felt flowers would make God himself weep over the inferiority of his peonies and roses.

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Others are both atrocious and hideous, like the Egg Carton Lantern. And if punch cards aren't a depressing enough evocation of every waking moment given over to the Man, Kramer reprints a 1971 pattern for a Pleated Punch-Card Lamp Shade to cast a working pall over even your leisure time.

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Nifty, Thrifty, and Kitschy's biggest drawback is the reflex evocation of words like "campy," "tacky" and the dreaded "i" word, "irony," to describe items whose variety, novelty, charm, weirdness and era-defining qualities exceed those tired and imprecise words.

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Craft purists, who like to celebrate the virtues of the form, know that irony is an incomplete and stunted response to craft, a way of deferring to the obvious when encapsulating the deeper feelings craft inspires proves more difficult.

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The Craftster Guide to Nifty, Thrifty, and Kitschy Crafts: Fifty Fabulous Projects from the Fifties and Sixties by Leah Kramer. $17.95. Ten Speed Press. 174 pages.



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