Book Review: Craft Corps-Celebrating the Creative Community One Story at a Time by Vickie Howell

craft corpYears ago, if you would have told me I’d become an avid crafter, I would have laughed. I thought crafts were a pastime for little old ladies to sell at church bazaars. Then I visited Art vs. Craft in 2006 here and Milwaukee and the Chicago version of Renegade Craft fair in 2007. I was blown away by the wares people were selling. Around the same time, I got interested in learning how to make my bath and beauty products. I took a class on soap making and haven’t stopped. I haven’t bought a bar of soap at any shop or store for nearly ten years. I also make a lot of handmade jewelry and other assorted bling. Along the way I’ve met many other like-minded ouls and together we have creative network of multi-talented crafters, designers and artisans.

For me, crafting isn’t just a way to fill a Sunday afternoon — it’s a bit of an addiction — and I was only too happy to find Vickie Howell’s book Craft Corps-Celebrating the Creative Community One Story at a Time, highlighting the work of Do-It-Yourself-ers across the nation. Howell interviews needle-workers, jewelers, greeting card designers, scrapbookers, potters and other assorted crafty and arty types.

Ms. Howell’s name might be familiar to you knitters out there. She hosted the show Knitty Gritty, writes the celebrity knitting column for Knit.1 magazine and has also penned several books. She also founded the first LA-based Stitch n’ Bitch club in 2001. In Craft Corps, Howell interviews crafters from all walks of life to find out why they craft and what inspires them, talking with a few notable artists along the way.

Howell talks with a few of the bigger names in the craft world, including Mary Engelbreit, whose charming illustrations you’ve most likely seen on greeting cards, coffee mugs and calendars. There’s a section with Carol Duvall, who began hosting TV crafting shows when some of us were in diapers. Hipster crafters like Jenny Hart from Sublime Stitching and Mark Montano author of The Big Ass Book of Crafts are also featured. And I’m very happy to say that Faythe Levine, founder of Milwaukee’s late Art vs. Craft and creator of the documentary and accompanying book Handmade Nation, is also interviewed.

A majority of the people profiled are lucky (and talented) enough to make a living this way. They sell their creations at fairs and via sites like Etsy and Buy Olympia. Some crafters are formally educated, but many of them are self- taught or have been crafting since childhood. Faythe Levine’s earliest craft memory? Making friendship bracelets and lanyards at Girl Scout Camp.

Sprinkled throughout the book are small snippets of amateur crafters from the United States but also places like Ireland, Sweden and Australia. At the end of the book, Howell gives us a brief bio of each crafter interviewed, a wealth of crafting resources including websites and craft fairs, and even offers up some book discussion questions.

That said, Craft Corps can be a bit overwhelming. I found it best to read it piecemeal rather than from start to finish. Still, it’s a worthwhile read whether you’re a seasoned crafter or just someone who likes to peruse Etsy on your lunch hour.