Book review and giveaway: Firefly’s Step-By-Step Encyclopedia of Needlecraft

This post contains affiliate links.

I’m pleased to review Firefly’s Step-by-Step Encyclopedia of Needlecraft today.  I’ll also be hosting a giveaway of the review copy I received from Firefly Booksso read on for details!

Book review

As the name implies, Firefly’s Step-by-Step Encyclopedia of Needlecraft is a comprehensive needlecraft guide with tons of “over the shoulder” close-up pictures.  The book explores knitting, crochet, embroidery, patchwork and quilting, and sewing.  Each chapter highlights one of the crafts by identifying tools and equipment, explaining the basics with step-by-step photos and text, and then exploring additional techniques.  As soon as I picked up the book, I fell in love – or, I should say, I fell in love again.  You see, most of the content is reproduced almost entirely from one of my favorite books, the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Needlecrafts.

There are some notable differences between the two books.  Good Housekeeping includes chapters on rugmaking and needlepoint, which are absent from Firefly.  Firefly includes a sewing chapter, which is absent from Good Housekeeping. The layout of the Firefly guide is improved – it starts with preview pictures of all projects, rather than sprinkling the project pictures throughout each chapter as Good Housekeeping does.  At the end of the book, there is a 60 page pattern section which includes pictures of each project.  The projects have also been updated to reflect more modern styles.  (However, I did recognize a few of the projects too, from other books, so I would guess they are largely archived patterns and not new for this book.)

Firefly is also about 80 pages longer than Good Housekeeping.  Several chapters include additional information.

  • There are instructions for making hand dyed yarn in the crochet chapter.
  • The embroidery chapter includes alphabets in several styles and a detailed section on machines (including equipment, machine stitches, designing for machines, border motifs, machine embroidered fabrics, and freestyle machine embroidery).  The section on cleaning your embroidery has been edited out.
  • The additions to the Patchwork and Quilting chapter introduce lace and insertion applique, making quilting patterns, contour quilting, corded quilting, and trapunto.

It is important to note that this book is aimed at a U.K. audience, so all of the terminology is British.  This is most prominent in the crochet section, where there are substantial differences in terminology.

Overall, I give Firefly’s Step-by-Step Encyclopedia of Needlecraft 5 out of 5 stars.  The pictures are clear, the instructions are well edited, and the projects cover a range of skills.  If you are looking for a comprehensive needlecrafts guide, this one is very strong — unless, of course, you already own the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Needlecrafts 🙂.

Full disclosure: A free review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. Although I accept free books for review, I do not accept additional compensation from the publisher, nor do I guarantee a positive review.  My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions. This also post contains affiliate links. You can read my affiliate and review disclosures here.


I’m giving away my review copy of Firefly’s Step-by-Step Encyclopedia of Needlecraft, courtesy of Firefly Books.  Because the book is over 300 pages long, and therefore ridiculously heavy, this contest is only open to those with a mailing address in the U.S.

Freebie: Care instructions and parody gift tags

As I work my way through my holiday crafting gift list, I thought I would share some freebies with those of you in the same predicament: printable care instructions and priceless parody gift tags.

This post contains affiliate links.

Care instructions gift tags
Priceless parody gift tags

Here’s my technique for using gift tags.

  • My downloads are formatted for pre-scored inkjet business cards (Avery 8371 or Staples 610381), but you can also print on card stock and then cut afterwards.  (To cut the card stock yourself, print on an 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheet in portrait.  After printing, trim 1/2″ off the top and bottom margins and 3/4″ off the right and left margins.  Each tag measures 2″ x 3-1/2″.)  I print both labels the on the same sheet (care instructions on one side and priceless parody on the other).
  • Personalize the tags.
A sample personalized care tag.
A sample personalized parody tag. (I used the U.S. federal minimum wage, though of course I wish that artisan labor was valued higher!)


  • After printing and dividing the tags, I use a 1/8” hole punch to create a small hole in an upper corner.
  • With a yarn needle, I thread a small amount of yarn (very cute if it is a scrap from your project!) through the hole and into my handmade gift.

These are formatted so that you can print 10 of each tag on a page.  Enjoy!

Underground Crafter Parody Tags

Underground Crafter Care Labels


Handmade Holiday Gift Guide 2011: Handmade Gifts to Buy

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the U.S., the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) signifies the official start of the holiday shopping season.  In the spirit of keeping the holidays a little more handmade and small business and a little less mass produced and corporate, I’m sharing several holiday gift guides today.

Handmade gifts to buy

If you’re more pressed for time than money this holiday season, you may want to buy a handmade gift.

CRAFT magazine has a series of Holiday Gift Guides for 2011 which include Gifts Under $20 and pet gifts.

Etsy is an online craft marketplace with many great holiday gifts.  If you are looking for sales, you can browse listings with Black Friday Etsy or Cyber Monday Etsy tags… but then you’d be wading through over 70,000 items.  You can try a curated approach by checking out treasuries posted by Etsy members with Black FridayCyber MondayWinter Gifts, Gifts for Her, or Gifts for Him tags.  Or, you can read the daily Etsy crochet treasuries by Kathryn at Crochet Concupiscence.  My local Etsy team, The {NewNew}, has even put together a series of holiday gift guides (for teachers, for teens, and for her).

Still overwhelmed?  Here’s my short list of holiday Etsy picks.

Perez Gillton Flounder Amigurumi from Cheezombie. (Image used with permission.)
Vintage Dad (any year) t-shirt from BRANDED. (Image used with permission.)
  • Unique and marvelous (more expensive) woodcrafts gifts for someone special can be found at rusticworker.
  • Bottlehood has great glassware and jewelry made from upcycled bottles.  They also offer gift certificates.  A variety of “eco-fabulous nifty gifties” for kids and adults are available from Ivy Lane Designs.
Recycled Dr. Pepper Juice Glasses from Bottlehood. (Image used with permission.)

Artfire is another online craft marketplace for handmade gifts, and you can view their Black Friday sales here.

Perhaps you prefer an in-person shopping experience.  CRAFT magazine’s list of events and the Sunshine Artist website are great resources for finding holiday craft fairs.  (My besties and I plan to wait until the last possible moment and then shop the Lyceum Holiday Market and Brooklyn Craft Central’s Holiday Market the Saturday before Christmas.)

Enjoy the second gift guide, and feel free to share your favorite handmade gifts to buy in the comments!

Handmade Holiday Gift Guide 2011: Handmade Gifts to Make

This post contains affiliate links.

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the U.S., the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) signifies the official start of the holiday shopping season.  In the spirit of keeping the holidays a little more handmade and small business and a little less mass produced and corporate, I’m sharing several holiday gift guides today.

Handmade gifts to make

This time of year, many crafters are using every spare moment to make holiday gifts for their loved ones.  Tracie Barrett‘s Gift Giving Guide on the Fibers by Tracie blog gives some great suggestions for quick-to-make holiday gifts and Fearless Leader recently posted a teaser for the Crochet Liberation Front‘s upcoming Official Guide to Super Awesome Gift Giving.

My personal favorite last minute crochet gift projects are scarves made with bulky yarns (or multiple strands of yarn), hats, and cotton washcloths.

For scarves and washcloths, I turn to my stitch guides for inspiration.  Don’t have any stitch guides?

Not sure how many stitches to start with?  This post in my Crochet 101 CAL explains how to use your gauge to figure out how many stitches to start with if you want to make a project of a specific size.

Some of my holiday 2011 washcloths.

Hats make wonderful, quick holiday gifts.  Some of my favorite crochet hat patterns:

Stocking Caps. (Photo (c) House of White Birches.)

I just reviewed 60 More Quick Knits, which has some great knitted hat patterns, as well as patterns for mittens and scarfs.  My favorite crochet mitten pattern, amazingly available in 8 sizes from infant to XL adult, is Heart Strings by Cathy Pipinich.

Amigurumi can make a fun gift, too.

Filled with great gift ideas!

Speaking of books I haven’t had a chance to review yet, there are three great patterns in Little Crochet: Modern Designs for Babies and Toddlers by Linda Permann that would make speedy children’s gifts: Cozy Crawlers Leg Warmers (6 mo – 2 years, and available here as a free excerpt), Tiny Tee Appliques to add to store bought or hand sewn clothes, and Beanie and Bonnet (in baby, toddler, and child sizes).  (Beanie and Bonnet errata available here.)

handmade gift bag can be a wonderful addition to a handmade or store bought gift.  These bags can be also reused, unlike conventional wrapping paper, making them more eco-friendly.Kathryn from Crochet Concupiscence has a great list of crochet patterns for bags in this blog post.  The Mel Stampz blog has a list of 50 templates and patterns for papercrafts gift bags.

Deborah Atkinson from Snowcatcher has excellent crochet patterns and tutorials in her Snowflake Monday posts.   (It would be great if you could contribute to her charity of choice, Bike MS, so that she can send you a PDF of her 20 most popular designs.)  These snowflakes would make great holiday decorations or embellishments for gifts.  Some of the patterns would also work well as a set of holiday coasters.

With all of this holiday crocheting and knitting, you may be running low on yarn.  So why not stop by your Local Yarn Shop to celebrate Small Business Saturday?  You can even register your American Express card in advance to get a $25 credit on your statement if you spend at least $25 at a small business on Saturday, November 26.  Your LYS employees are guaranteed to have some additional project ideas and maybe even a few new patterns or yarns for you try out.  (If you’ll be yarn shopping in NYC, check out my Visitor’s Guide to New York City Yarn Shops.)

If you aren’t in the mood for knitting, crocheting, or papercrafting, handmade food gifts are another option.  I like to make jar mixes:  I don’t exhaust myself with last minute baking, the mixes last longer and can be used after the holidays end, and the jars can be reused in the kitchen or for craft storage.  Nestle‘s Very Best Baking is a good site for finding classic gift recipes.  My favorite jar mixes to give are the classic Toll House cookies mix, the chewie brownie mix, and the hot cocoa mix.  For those who don’t like chocolate (and there are some of them out there), I like the pumpkin cranberry bread mix or the oatmeal chip cookie mix (substituting butterscotch chips, raisins, or craisins for the chocolate chips).  You can also check out the Best Cookie Mix in a Jar Recipes and Dry Soup Mix Recipes pages at for more ideas.  If you can’t find canning jars in your area, there are many online options for ordering these days.  Just remember that if you are shipping jar mixes, you need to be careful about packaging.

Enjoy the first gift guide, and feel free to share your favorite gifts to make in the comments!

Blurring the distinctions: An interview with LUKE, quilt artist

I recently discovered the work of LUKE Haynes through this post in Katharine Watson‘s blog, The Printing Press.  I contacted LUKE after reading Katharine’s post and checking out his website, and he graciously agreed to an interview.

For those of you who aren’t already familiar with LUKE’s work, he is an architect turned quilter.  LUKE’s background includes strong preparation in art and design which he uses to make quilts to “discuss utility in aesthetics.”  Like all quilters (that I know at least), he loves fabric.  He works with a lot of upcycled and repurposed materials and his website references the Quilters of Gee’s Bend as an influence.  Currently, LUKE is living in Washington State, but he was once a resident of my dear City and even attended the illustrious Cooper Union for graduate school.  His work has mostly been displayed in fine arts settings and textile museums, but he has also exhibited at quilting venues.  In addition to his website, LUKE can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Etsy, and Flickr.  (All the pictures I’ve posted here have been used with permission and are available for viewing on LUKE’s Flickr photostream.)

Self Portrait #2, Tradition

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to quilt?

LUKE: I faked it.  I started my first quilt in Arts school during a break from classes and went from there.  I took a sewing elective in middle school and learned a bit about sewing then, so I had a working knowledge around a machine.  I have also been knitting and crocheting for a lot of years, which adds to craft dexterity. (UC comment: LUKE’s sewing class sounds as useful as my middle school typing class.  I’m not sure I would have made it through college without it, and I certainly wouldn’t be writing a blog now!)

American Nostalgia #3, Abraham Lincoln

UC: You describe your recent work as being an investigation of nostalgia and function.  Tell me more about this and why you are working as a quilt artist.

LUKE: Quilts have implicit nostalgia in them.  I have found that more and more as I work with fabric and get responses from viewers, all art has within it a certain nostalgia for the artist.  They imbue the work with some idea or question which is then evocative for them in the future.  I want that to extend to the people who see my work.  I want to call memories and tactile experiences into mind as people experience my works and exhibitions.

The function is actually a means to that end.  An object with implicit function can call to mind its use.  You know intuitively and subconsciously what a blanket feels like and its importance in your everyday.  Clothes and fabric are the same.  So when those items are used as the media for an exhibition, you as the viewer have an existing response to the materiality.  This is the same way for me as the maker, which breaks down the gap between artist and viewer.

Gifts #17, Micala

UC: Do you quilt as a hobby as well, or do you have other creative pursuits in your down time?

LUKE: I quilt for myself and friends and family, though I wouldn’t describe it as a hobby as any project I make is a furthering of my own work and knowledge of the media.  (I haven’t had down time in a lot of years, though I would say that there are other projects that I create that are tangential to quilts, like rugs and clothes and installations.)

(UC comment: In retrospect, the intent of my question wasn’t that clear, but LUKE’s answer seems to get to the point.  Those of us who work at a craft are always creating and learn through everything we make.)

Man Stuff #1, Hammer

UC: What are your favorite quilting/sewing tools?

LUKE: I enjoy a lot of the process, but I would have to say that my favorite tools are the ones that have changed my method and helped me make better and faster work: the roller cutter and the long arm sewing machine.  Those two tools have streamlined my process and added years to my life I would have used with scissors or a domestic machine doing the tasks (that) those make easy and quick.  (UC comment: I have long dreamed of owning a long arm quilting machine, but alas I live in a New York City sized apartment.)

Bed Clothes #1, Log cabin reverse (made with upcycled clothes seamed outside)

UC: Where do you find your creative inspiration?

LUKE: From other designers I appreciate, or in my own experiences as a person or a practitioner of the creative process.

Causes #1, Bra (for Simplicity Creative’s breast cancer awareness campaign)

UC: What are your favorite techniques to use?

LUKE: I don’t have a favorite.  I have ones that I use to get a result I want at any given time.  I use any and all to execute to the best of my ability the project I am working on.

Flightless Birds #3, Penguin

UC: Do you have any favorite craft or art blogs or websites to share?

LUKE: I am a designer.  I draw most of my inspiration from the design community, so the ones I turn to are today and tomorrow and Design Fetish (All Things Design.  All Things Fetish.).

Self Portrait #6, Stitched

Thanks for stopping by for the interview, LUKE!  If you haven’t already, please check out LUKE’s website, his Etsy shop, his Flickr photostream, his Facebook page, or on Twitter to see more of his work and learn more about his inspirations and methods.