Book Report: The Complete Book of Retro Crafts

I have long admired local artist and author Suzie Millions’ thrift-chic rockabilly fashion sense as well as her design aesthetic. Now she’s compiled all her DIY savvy and throwback style into The Complete Book of Retro Crafts: Collecting, Displaying and Making Crafts of the Past (Lark Books, 2008)—a colorful and inspiring combo of coffee table curio and how-to guide.

At first glance, Retro Crafts seems to share a sense of irony with Amy Sedaris’ I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. There are projects involving hot glue and macaroni, and countless images of vintage-y decor finds (a plastic doll dressed in seashells, tubes of glitter, likenesses of squirrels). But Millions backs up her collection of oddities with sound advice on how to collect, and how to derive crafting inspiration from sepia photos, beer cans, goggly eyes and cast-off toys.

And, while Sedaris’ book combines kitsch with practical tips (casserole recipes, party themes) there’s an over-the-top zaniness (how to get your drunk friends to leave your party, how to wear panty hose), Millions steers clear of those themes in Retro Crafts, making it a book you can give to your irony-loving hipster friends and your macrame-crazy spinster aunt. Seriously.

The book starts off at a slow enough pace for the newest crafters to keep up. Helpful hints include the mantra-esque “Stop and think it over” and the borrowed from Montessori chestnut, “1. Preparation, 2. Execution, 3. Cleanup.” Millions keeps the text moving with clever headings like, “I Don’t Know What It Is, but I Made It Myself: The Good, the Bad and the Really Ugly” and “It Looks Like a Priceless Heirloom, But It’s Just a Memento.” Best of all, a winking cartoon version f Millions herself often appears wearing a wide apron and offering helpful advice.

The craft projects themselves range from the reasonable to wacky and from simple to complex. A decoupage postcard frame and a star bust wall clock strike me as contenders for snowy winter evenings. The pantyhose poodle will likely not top my “To Do” list, but readers with crafty kids might enjoy such a project. And it involves pipe cleaners and false eyelashes.

It’s easy for retro crafts (retro anything, for that matter) to quickly cross the line into utter tackiness, and while Millions dances on both sides of that line, she does an admirable job of neither taking her kitsch too seriously nor editing out crazy-seeming crafts that, in the end, endearing than ridiculous. Seasonally-specific examples: “Reinbeer” made from beer cans and pipe cleaners, and the pine cone elf incorporating faux holly berries and pompoms.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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