Book Review: Wearable Crafts (1976) (with pictures)

book Wearable Crafts cover

I have to tell you about this book I got yesterday, “Wearable Crafts: Creating clothing, body adornments, and jewelry from fabrics and fibers” by Elyse and Mike Sommer, published in the way-back year of 1976.  Hold on, relax, stop cringing.  If you can just get past the well-seated idea that clothing and other areas of design were spectacularly ugly and garish (and I don’t blame you for having that outlook of the ‘70s), you’ll see that the best word to describe that decade’s needlecraft designs was this: CREATIVE.  Those people had balls, man.   You may laugh at the gaudy prints, but think about how much courage it took to wear those things.  Now… think about how far the designer’s mind had to stretch to come up with that stuff.  You see it now, right?  To summarize:

The 1970s was a decade of intense art and crafting creativity.

A few months ago while reading my favorite crochet blog, CrochetConcupiscence.com, Kathryn, keeper of all crochet goings-on, posted from a book she found of very creative crochet designs from the 1970s.  Ever since I’ve marveled at what some of those artists came up with.  And I’ve been searching for my own books featuring truly whackadoodle designs.  “Wearable Crafts” has several pages of weird crochet, but also covers many other art forms.

Chapters from this book:

Cpt 1:  The Development of Body Adornments and Soft Jewelry

Cpt 2:  Painted and Printed Fabrics

Cpt 3:  Appliquéd, Patched, and Quilted Fabrics

Cpt 4:  Embroidery and Needlepoint

Cpt 5:  Wrapped and Coiled Ornaments

Cpt 6:  Creative Crochet

Cpt 7:  Netted and Woven Fabrics

Cpt 8:  Leather, Macramé, and Feathers

Cpt 9:  Potpourri of Methods and Ideas

Cpt 10: Fun and Fantasy

As is with most art books from this era, most of the pictures are in black and white with a small section in color.  But as I mentioned above, color combinations usually were not those we’d find pleasant today.  And anyway, I find it easier to imagine pieces made in other colors when the photos I’m looking at are in black and white.  Each chapters covers the basics on how to do the techniques featured, but this isn’t a project book, it’s more like a portfolio with smaller discussions of techniques and the histories of those crafts.  It’s one of the few crafting books I have that I’m actually reading the chapters, not just the captions and how-to sections.

Because I’m such a visual person, rather than do a book report in words, below are several photos from the book so you can see for yourself just how interesting some of the included projects were; some captions were taken directly from the book. If the quality looks weird it’s because I didn’t want to wreck the tight spine so I took photos with my mobile to share here.

According to the book, t-shirts take well to embroidery. From India.

According to the book, t-shirts take well to embroidery. From India.

vest by Dewey Lipe

Embellished with crochet, knotless netting, and embroidery, this garment makes “crusty” look good. Dewey Lipe.

cape by Collette

I love how organic the shapes are, and actually the colors used here are pretty nice and reminiscent of nature. Cotton appliqué cape with velvet lining and a cloisonné button, also made by the artist. Collette (no last name).

jacket by Elyse Sommer

The texturing on this piece is really nice. Sculptural crochet jacket with handmade buttons and hand-printed lining. Elyse Sommer.

jacket by Yvonne Porcella

Isn’t this a neat idea? It’s an old quilt cut up and turned into a feminine jacket. Yvonne Porcella.

necklace by Margaret Cusack

This is actually soft sculpture, it’s made from silver lamé cording, with some of the threads in the cord pulled to make the “hair” curl. I absolutely love it. Margaret Cusack.

necklace by Mary Lou Higgins

Silver and leather encased in basketry coiled linen. Serving double duty, this necklace is shown here with a wall hanger designed to go with. Mary Lou Higgins.

necklace by Nancy Lipe

This is such a fabulous piece, containing crochet, knotless netting, and beading. The book called it “body adornment.” It wasn’t until I pulled these pictures together that I realized just how much of this one woman’s work I really like. Nancy Lipe.

neckpiece by Bucky King

An all-gold collar in metal thread embroidery. I also spy some quilting. Bucky King.

neckpiece by Elyse Sommer

Brilliant use of a decent piece of needlepoint when the rest of the piece was in poor condition. The book gives instructions on how to cut out the good part without it coming unraveled. Elyse Sommer.

neckpiece by Jeanne Lowe

This is one of my favorite pieces in the book. Made of 3/16” nylon cording and wrapped in Persian wool tapestry yarn, embellished with African beads. Tracing the shapes with my fingertips reminds me of mazes I drew as a child. Jeanne Lowe.

neckpiece by Mary Lou Higgins

Similar in design to the above, only this one started off with the coils wrapping around the ceramic-disk face and went from there. Also includes African beads, hand-forged bronze findings, and 2 smaller porcelain heads. Like the one 5 pictures above by the same woman, the artist also made a wall-hanger for this piece so it could act as art for the body or for the wall. Mary Lou Higgins.

vest by Louise Todd Cope

Wrapped linen threads and abacus beads. This reminds me a bit of all the hairpin lace I keep seeing lately. Louise Todd Cope.

bag by Ahuvah Bebe Dushey

See those ridges? The artist crocheted a base for the bag then crocheted on the surface of that fabric for a three-dimensional effect. Ahuvah Bebe Dushey.

cloak by Norma Minkowitz

This piece is outstanding, with most of the wonderous part in the top yoke. See all those shapes knotted around one another? There are NINETY figures crocheted and applied to the yoke, which you can see a bit better on the right side of the photo. Click for larger if you want more detail. According to the book, these little figures are what the artist was known for. If you Google her, you’ll see she’s still doing incredible work. Norma Minkowitz.

collar by Sheila Klein

This collar (capalette?) is similar to what I’ve been playing around with in my head but hadn’t stopped long enough to start working it up. The book calls it “an assemblage of crocheted shapes,” which to me says “freeform crochet.” Made of hand-spun and hand-dyed yarns. Sheila Klein.

hat by Nancy Lipe

Big crocheted flower, and I swear I can see some knotless netting and possibly some embroidery. I like that she used different types of yarn for a range of sheen, textures, and sizes. Nancy Lipe.

necklace by Elyse Sommer

I like that this necklace has no real fasteners, using mere gravity on the length of the cords to hold it around one’s neck. The “hair” above the face was worked with picot crochet stitches. Elyse Sommer.

necklace by Nancy Lipe

Large neckpiece made of crochet, knotless netting, and beadwork. I like how it looks to be slowly pouring itself down the front of the mannequin. This is another design that I feel could be tweaked to make modern. Oh, if you can see any detail at all on the mannequin, the artist crochets over the surface of her mannequins giving them texture, and if she gets mannequins that don’t match it doesn’t matter because she’ll make them go together. Nancy Lipe.

vest by Nancy Lipe

Very similar in style to the one above, only this one was called a “vest.” Nancy Lipe.

collar by Judy Smaha

Believe it or not, I have pictures in my clip file pulled from various websites of pieces made in the last couple of years that are very similar to this one, so it doesn’t look dated at all to me. Knotless netting and wrapped fiber collar-slash-neckpiece. Very feminine. Louise Todd Cope.

vest by Mary Lou Higgins

Now you knew there had to be macramé in here somewhere, didn’t you? This waistcoat is actually an attractive piece, and if you squint at it you could envision it made of crochet. Mary Lou Higgins.

hat by Nancy Lipe

This fantasy crocheted headdress proves that just because you finished the piece you originally designed it doesn’t mean you stick with the plan and call it done. From the book, “The artist found the hat esthetically satisfying but not entirely comfortable physically, so she worked it over a wig form, filling out the cheeks with cotton and then permanently gluing the form to an inverted wooden-bowl base.” Nancy Lipe.

hand & neckpiece by Nancy Lipe

I saved this versatile piece for last. This piece can be worn kind of like a glove, as shown on the left, or configured a wee bit differently to wear as a choker, as seen on the right. Not shown here, the artist also crocheted a small box for it, and somehow the piece fits onto the lid to use the whole shebang as an ornamental table sculpture. Now THAT’S thinking creatively! Nancy Lipe.

This book is out-of-print but I found several places online where you could buy your own copy.  Try Amazon, who had several copies between $4 and $6 at the time of this writing, or Google Books to find where else to buy it or to find it in a library near you.

Now, go make something wacky!

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