Sunday, September 27, 2009

“Endless ways to make ‘old’ things new“

A Review ofHandmade Home:Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materialsinto New Family Amanda Blake Soule.
Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger Smith.

As an avid reader of Amanda Blake Soule’s blog, I was quite impatient to get my hands on her newest book about creativity and family life, Handmade Home: Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materials into New Family Treasures. My first impression was simply, “Wow! This is beautiful!” The second: “Hey! I’ve made some of these things already!” Did I find that second thought disappointing? Not particularly, because this book contains ideas, plans, and inspiration based on 30 projects that will hopefully turn into your own unique projects. And, honestly, it simply is beautiful to look through. The photographs are lovely; even the feel of the book is perfect.
As the author of arguably the most popular parenting/crafting blog, Soule created much excitement when she announced the publication of this second book about creativity and family life. Handmade Home is kind of a flip side of her first book, The Creative Family (Click here for our review). In that book, Soule shared her thoughts on approaching daily life in a deliberately creative way as an entire family. While that book contained much inspiration and a few detailed projects, the bulk of the book contained her reflections. Handmade Home, on the other hand, is a collection of 30 upcycled projects with commentary on family and community life interspersed.
The book begins with Soule’s advice on gathering and using old or vintage materials. Of course she advises using what you already own, but encourages the use of thrift stores and estate sales to find additional needed materials. Seeing Soule use old bath towels and the remains of a threadbare tablecloth to make a new bath mat or rag bag makes me realize that reuse of materials is pretty limitless, if one takes the time to be inspired. Soule encourages people to seek out ways to use what you have to make what you need (or want):
While a few generations of consumerism and a disposable living have come to pass in recent years, many of us today are finding our way home to this more back-to-basics resourcefulness. Today, I’m drawn to repurposing for so many reasons; It allows me to live a more financially pared-down and simple life in which it’s possible to work a little bit less and live a little bit more. It allows me to connect to the past and preserve a more traditional way of life. It allows me to place value on the work of the hands and the value of human time, energy, art and craft. It allows me an aesthetic and a quality of materials that are increasingly harder to find in today’s quick and disposable products. It allows me to lessen my family’s impact on the very earth we are so blessed to live upon.
The rest of the book is divided into 5 sections (Nourish, Nurture, Play, Seek, Retreat). Each section contains a few projects with short introductions as well as a longer essay defining the category. At first the essays seemed a bit out of place, but they are a glimpse of what inspires Soule and keeps her going as she navigates the raising of four young children. As stated previously, I’ve already made a few of these projects, but even those projects have a different spin on them—pleats added to the classic pillowcase dress, children’s drawings added to a ribbon blanket. These little additions make it worth seeing the projects again. Being reminded that there are endless ways to make “old” things new is refreshing.
The directions themselves are clearly written and contain helpful hints for newer sew-ers. A more advanced seamstress will be able to use the projects as a starting point for her own creativity. A rag rug could be beautiful patterned or purposely random. A tree wall hanging with leaves of old baby cloths could be transformed into a quilt or a pillow or another unique memory item. Wonderfully, though, nearly every project is doable for beginners. The instructions are clear, and the pictures helpful. For the tentative beginner there are projects such as simple bags and even a pretty mouse pad. Soule also advises which projects are best done with or by children.
With holidays fast approaching, Handmade Home would be invaluable to those who wish to give people a bit of handmade love. Why not make some child’s art-based bookmarks or a table runner for Grandparents? Or a letter satchel for your budding writer? These projects all could be done easily and with help/input from your child.

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