Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: Easy Crafts

Title: Easy Crafts
        
Author: Ellsworth Jaeger
        
Date: 1949
        
Publisher: Macmillan
        
ISBN: none, but click here to see a copy with a dust jacket that shows the author's name as "Jaeger Ellsworth." (Probably the pen name of a writing team, since the inside front page of my copy has "Ellsworth Jaeger" and so has the dust jacket of the companion volume.)
        
Length: 129 pages with black-and-white illustrations and diagrams
        
Quote: “Simple craft suggestions...that untrained hands may undertake with materials easily secured.”
        
These are the crafts people my age learned at summer camp: smoke printing (with grease), spatter painting, potato printing, shelf-fungus sculptures, track casting, insect collections, tin-can birdhouses, bird feeders, baskets, sock animals, clay pots, cornhusk dolls, cardboard weaving, fuzz sticks, and green-twig toasting forks.
        
The beauty and usefulness of these objects varies considerably even when they’re made well. Usually they weren’t made well. Many of them, being made from all-organic materials, weren’t meant to last long. A green-twig toasting fork has two uses: it teaches us that, if metal toasting forks weren’t available, we could still toast things; and it teaches us why our ancestors celebrated the cleverness of the first few humans who thought of making metal toasting forks.
        
Anyway, the objects are fun to make, even if some materials (blueprint paper, blotters, inky coprinus mushrooms) are harder to find than they seem to have been in 1949.
        
Some materials are, in fact, so much harder to find that making these projects now seems unthinkable. Spruce roots and willow bark are not to be wasted on beginners’ baskets that could be made with phragmite reeds and honeysuckle vines. The idea of killing butterflies for a collection is disgusting to most people today, although my brother and I filled a large case with butterflies and moths that we found in good condition after the short-lived animals died. Even though wild birds normally shed and replace all their feathers every summer, and many are likely to drop lovely little feathers at camp sites where a feeder has been set up, using feathers that aren’t obviously the dyed feathers of white chickens now seems tasteless.
        
On the other hand children can still enjoy recycling outgrown socks into toys, cutting scraps of paper into snowflakes, tying cornhusks into fanciful shapes, weaving, beading, braiding, and similar crarfts described in this book.
        
No attempt to “grade” the projects has been made. (Children who are growing up on their own schedule always appreciate things that aren’t limited to some arbitrarily defined “age group.”) Directions for things four-year-olds can do without much supervision, like shaping clay pots, are interspersed with directions for crafts that require strength and coordination, like snipping tin and sewing leather. Know the children with whom you share this book. My brother shaped some cute fuzz sticks when he was six, and did not hurt himself, but fuzz sticks are made with a sharp knife. In the eighteenth century little girls made elaborate alphabet samplers while learning the alphabet, at ages four to eight, but embroidering with a blunt plastic needle on plastic mesh may be a safer way for a whole first-grade class to learn the craft than embroidering with a sharp sewing needle would be.

With appropriate adult supervision, Easy Crafts is an excellent book for all ages. 

Whoever Ellsworth Jaeger, or Jaeger Ellsworth, or Jaeger and Ellsworth were, it's unlikely that they have any use for a dollar. To buy Easy Crafts (and/or Nature Crafts) from me online will cost $5 for each volume plus $5 for shipping.