Tuesday Review

The Ooo! Shiny! team was talking the other day and we decided that we wanted to do some reviews. We don't want our blog to be a "review site" but we'd like to occasionally share our thoughts on stuff that we've tried. Thus, the "Tuesday Review" was born.

Starting today, the second Tuesday of each month will feature a review of some sort. It might be a product, a book, a website, or even a movie. Feel free to let us know what you'd like us to try - we'll happily be your guinea pigs (within reason!) Regardless of the review, it will be something that both of us have done/used/read/etc. and we'll both weigh in with our opinions. Oh...and we're going to use an "...out of 5" system. Not terribly original, we grant you, but a tried and true method of ranking stuff.

With that, let's begin with a book review:

Embroidery Companion: Classic Designs for Modern Living by Alicia Paulson

Cassandra's score: 4 out of 5

I’m going to just come out and say that I’m a big fan of this book. It has all the components that I look for in a reference book. A little history, a comprehensive section on tools and techniques, and some practical, simple projects.

I am embarrassed to admit that one of the issues I have with a lot of reference books is that they supply too much historical information. Unless I’m writing a research paper on crewelwork, I really don’t want to read 40 pages on the aristocracy of the Middle Ages and their wall hangings. As interesting as that may be… dude, I just want to put some needle to cloth and make something pretty today. This book has the emphasis on technique, and I love that. This is how I get inspired to design my own projects.

I am also impressed with the variety of schools of embroidery covered in this book. Ms. Paulson includes all of the more well-known techniques like basic decorative embroidery and counted cross stitch as well as covering the less-known crewel and blackwork. This is really helpful because I have some project ideas in my head right now and it makes it so easy for me to be able to choose the perfect technique to execute my designs.

The last thing I would like to mention is the projects. While the style of the author may not be 100% in league with my own, that’s really not that important to me. Most of the projects can easily be modified for my taste, with this said, however, a lot of them I do find quite lovely. I am particularly taken with the Karin Curtains, Harvest Apron, and Country-Time Quilt. The projects are practical and interesting. I think I can get a lot of inspiration and fun from this book.

- Cassandra

Alex's score: 4 out of 5

This "four out of five" rating didn't come as easily for me as it did for my blog-mate. I had to dig through my personal preferences to discover the true value in this book. And, I'm still not entirely sure that Ms. Paulson doesn't deserve one fewer star for the bits that I, personally, don't care for. But I will use my super-power of objectivity for the sake of the review.

Here's the deal... The book kicks off with a long auto-biographical preface about Ms Paulson's path to embroidery. I'm not a fan of her long-form writing style - she's entirely too enamored of twee craft metaphors like, "...when I unravel the skein of my childhood memories..." (ugh) Plus, I feel that taking three full pages (six columns) in an instructional craft book to tell your personal story is a tad self-indulgent. Of course, this is her book and if she wants to tell the entire world about her life and her health issues, that's her right. Based on the popularity of daytime television talk shows, I'm sure that most people find this kind of thing "inspiring"... I'm just not one of 'em. Frankly, I  can't believe her editor didn't suggest paring it down a bit.

My other struggle is with the patterns themselves. They're very folksy, "olde tyme" styles that are, quite simply, not my taste.

All this said, once Ms. Paulson gets into actual instruction, the book's beauty begins to unfold. This is, no kidding, one of the best instructional books I've ever seen. From the introductory pages in which we learn basic terminology, tools, and technique to the closing pages containing a resource directory, everything is clear, concise, and well-written. The accompanying illustrations are equally admirable. They're lovely and simple and they dovetail beautifully with the overall book design, which says "crafty" but it doesn't get in the way of the book's purpose.

The other thing I really appreciate is that Ms. Paulson includes a short history of, and patterns for, four methods of "embroidery" - classic embroidery, cross-stitch, crewel, and blackwork. Each style provides a different character to the needlework being done and it's fantastic to have all four in one, convenient book.

So, regardless of my personal feeling about Ms. Paulson's narrative writing style and the designs included, I would highly recommend this book for both the beginner and intermediate embroidery enthusiast. There's a ton of valuable content and it's presented in such a clear and concise way that you simply can't go wrong.

- Alex

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