I am not a crafty person, not really. For one, I lack the patience for a lot of crafts, and for two, I have a strange need for the things I make to be functional.
The craft I know best is sewing, because it is relatively quick (I can produce a dress in a day or two) and extremely functional (I can wear said dress), but even that has fallen by the wayside over the past couple of years, until the only time I haul out the sewing machine is right before the holidays, and only to make gifts.
All of that said, I continue to be very fond of admiring the crafts of others. There's something compelling about viewing a work that obviously took a lot of time and dedication to complete, whether it's a piece of art in a museum or an old-fashioned sampler on a modest household wall. I think I admire these things all the more given my own lack of commitment to making them.
You won't find many old-fashioned samplers in the book I'm talking about here. "Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery" comes to us from Leanne Prain, co-author of the bestselling 2009 book "Yarn Bombing." Prain seems to have a knack for seeking out unusual crafters and their unusual crafts.
"Hoopla" is a wonderfully thorough collection of needlework both relatively straightforward and outright mind-bending, from pixel art to portraiture.
This is not simply a lushly illustrated book of patterns, although there are bunches of those (including a cross-stitched MetroCard pouch, a pair of nipple doilies, and a "love gun" that asks, "Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?"), not to mention lots of info on techniques and tools.
Prain has also collected interviews with some truly fascinating (and inspiring, to those of you with more motivation than I) needle-wielding geniuses, some of them quirky artists with wild imaginations, and some social justice radicals using needlework to express their politics.
"Hoopla" looks at embroidery through a lens that sees its value as a decorative art, as a source and means of personal reflection, and as a subversive action, from "tattooed" baby dolls, to thread-embellished family photographs, to careful reproductions of prison life. This book is a marvelous treasure of needle arts even for someone like me, who will probably never pick up the tools to make any of it.
The extra awesome part? You can get a copy of Hoopla yourself, for free. Just leave me a comment below telling me about the last time you used a needle and thread. I'll announce the winner next week. (Unfortunately, this giveaway is limited to folks in North America only -- sorry, friends in the UK and elsewhere!)