Thursday, February 12, 2009

Book Review: Organizing Your Craft Space


Author: Jo Packham

Cover Price: $14.95

Publisher/Year: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc/2006

My rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Thoughts that crossed my mind most often while reading this book: “Good Gods, does this woman put ribbons on everything?” and “Again with the shallow boxes and drawers?”

“Organizing Your Craft Space” urges you to “create a functional, inspiring space that lets you focus on crafting, not clutter,” so sayeth the back cover.

Groovy. I need functional and inspiring. And organizing.

I have many crafting interests: soap-making, sewing, quilting, counted cross stitch, knitting, leather work, papier-mâché, paper making, painting, drawing, polymer clay, and occasional forays into stamping. Thus, I thought that this book, which features chapters on stained glass and mosaics, rubber stamping and stenciling, scrapbooking, paper crafts, beading, yarn crafts and needlework, and quilting would have many ideas to help me get my often unruly crafting areas under control.

While this book has many lovely photos of lovely studios and workspaces, as well as featured “Guest Artists” who could’ve been plucked from Carol Duvall’s Rolodex, I found it to be a major disappointment in the area of organization. It should rightly be titled “Decorating Your Craft Space,” for the author seems to stress visual appeal much more highly than she stresses organization, and the word “functional” belongs nowhere in this book. She’s also big into decorating things with ribbons. They’re tied around jars and bottles, adorn boxes, attach tags to baskets and boxes, and serve as hanging cords for “storage” systems that look like they’d fall off the wall if you breathed hard on them.

The book offers two quizzes to help you understand your personality type. If anyone cares, I am an “Idealist,” which the author says means I tend to be sentimental, don’t need a lot of stuff to make me happy (a decent book on craft organization would definitely make me do a happy dance), I tend to prefer refurbishing furniture rather than buying new (OK, this is true, but it’s largely due to budget issues rather than desire issues; give me $5000 and turn me loose in the Ikea store, and see what happens!) and “live plants and fresh flowers will give your space a clean-feeling atmosphere, which will, in turn, stimulate your creative mind.” Oh, please.

There is a decent section on determining the set-up of your craft space. It includes recommendations about budgeting and so forth, and recommends the use of paper templates to use in the precise design/layout of your craft space. However, the snazzy pre-printed templates the author uses are not explained. Nor are you provided with resources where you can get your own snazzy pre-printed templates. You’re simply told you can cut out your own – from colored paper. I don’t know why she thinks colored paper is necessary, but those are her instructions.

The first thing that made me groan was learning that the author “organizes” her books by the colors of their spines. Having worked for nearly 15 years in libraries (public and academic), and being well aware of the fact that a misfiled book might as well be on Mars until someone accidentally locates it, I find this practice to be both ridiculous and the absolute opposite of organization. For those of us who use our books, we need them to be easily found. Unless you have a photographic memory that will allow you to instantly recall the spine color of any given book, shelving by spine color is going to cost you time when you need to find something.

Since I don’t do scrapbooking (hate), and I haven’t yet jumped into stained glass (want to), I basically skimmed these chapters. The author devotes far more space to both of these topics, while skimping on quilting, and yarn crafts and needlework. Lumping yarn crafts and needlework together, in my opinion, is a major mistake. They each deserve their own section.

In the Paper Crafts chapter, which talks about using “cute paper-crafted tags” as “a great way to label jars and drawers while illustrating your talents in the art of paper crafting,” there is a photo of a closet outfitted with hanging canvas closet organizers, artfully arranged with glue bottles and ribbon-bedecked glass jars.

Glass jars…in a hanging canvas unit that’s going to swing the instant you touch it. Unless those suckers are glued down, they’re going to topple over and out of that organizer. Also, I suspect the paper stacked in those units will slide around when the unit is disturbed, thus crunching the corners and edges.

I said three words upon reading the following on page 125: “Arrange embroidery flosses and ribbons by color and store them in single layers in shallow drawers.”

My first word was “What.”

My second one was “the.”

I’ll let you guess the last one.

Arrange not by the manufacturer’s color number, which is how it will be listed on your pattern, but by color! DMC Corporation produces thousands of flosses and threads in more colors and hues than you ever knew existed. How can this author recommend storing flosses by color, when it means that you’re going to waste time searching through a maybe 50 different shades of green in order to find the #3345 required by your pattern? She says nothing about the many organizing systems on the market. Just “Arrange…by color.” Unbelievable.

Equally ridiculous are her recommendations for storing the fabrics upon which one stitches. Although she does recommend storing them rolled to prevent creases that form when fabric is stored folded, she advocates rolling them up and tying them with “a pretty bow.” No mention of how one is supposed to keep track of which thread-counts each fabric has once you’ve pitched the packaging so you can roll ‘em and tie ‘em up in the pretty bow. Just tie ‘em up and store them in a shallow box or drawer.

As for yarn storage, she recommends using hanging shoe organizers or hanging canvas organizers. I guess for a dust-, child-, moth- and pet-free home, this might work. But that’s it as far as her yarn storage recommendations. Nothing about wools and other fibers being at risk for moths or other insects; nothing about lighting – especially sunlight - possibly fading some hand-dyed yarns. Also, no mention of machine-knitting at all. Oh, and your tools – needles, hooks etc. – can be stored in a shallow box or drawer.

For pattern storage, she again recommends drawers. Not file drawers. Just shallow drawers. The accompanying photo shows some piece of antique furniture with tags dangling from the glass drawer pulls, identifying the category within. In order to find the specific pattern you’re looking for, you’d have to remove the entire stack from the drawer and sort through it.

The quilting chapter is as scant as the yarn/needlework chapter. The photo that made me laugh out loud is on page 135, where a tall, brightly colored storage unit with a plush bunny peeking out of the roof sits maybe 10 inches behind the sewing machine, directly in the path of the fabric that you would feed through the machine if you were trying to quilt. Machine quilting takes a lot of room – a damn sight more than 10 inches of clearance behind your machine. Yes, I know these photos were arranged for the visual appeal – and that’s precisely what irks me about this book. Almost all of the photos are visually striking but do precious little in regards to showing you that the space works.

Instead of offering crafters of varying disciplines genuine, usable advice in regards to organization, the author consistently goes for pretty over functional. For those who find inspiration in fussy little tags dangling off jars, drawer pulls, and boxes, maybe this will appeal to you. But I just find it hugely impractical. A big collection of vintage cigar boxes (another of her recommendations) is pretty, especially if you arrange them face-out so you can see the cool vintage designs. But without labeling, how are you supposed to know what’s in those boxes? I guess you’re supposed to engage your photographic memory – you know, the one that allows you to instantly recall the spine color of every book you own so you can find it on your colorful shelves. If you don’t have a photographic memory, you’re hosed.

There are some very elaborate shelving/drawer systems shown in this book, but the author offers absolutely nothing in the way of a suppliers’ index.

In my mind, being organized is supposed to save time. No time is saved in this book. I like a nice-looking space, of course, but I want to spend my time working on projects, not searching for materials or artfully arranging ribbon-wearing antique mayo jars containing supplies.

If you’ve got Martha Stewart or HGTV coming to film your home crafting site, then, yes, this book could be helpful in creating a pretty, vibrant-looking studio. But for a working studio of any nature, I find it next to useless. I’m glad I didn’t pay cover price for it. I’ll be putting it up on very soon.

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