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Remembrance of Items Past

Not much art to this craft book

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Loaded with vintage photos and old-fashioned projects for toilet paper cozies and macaroni curio boxes, this guide will be a reminder for some of the delicious first-generation thrills of real McCoy craft.

Drawn from Leah Kramer's www.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.

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.

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.

Some of Kramer's reproduced crafts are sublime: The felt flowers would make God himself weep over the inferiority of his peonies and roses. Others are both atrocious and hideous, like the Egg Carton Lantern.

The guide'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.

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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