Monday, August 6, 2007


Okay, it's time to Do It Yourself. Below are some interesting places to find out How to Do Stuff.

The Treatises of Benvenuto Cellini on Goldsmithing and Sculpture is a quite amazing book about fine metalcraft by one of the world-class egos of the Italian Rennaissance. Cellini, aside from the detail and astonishing clarity of his highly personalized descriptions of how to do things with precious metals and gems, is so stuffed full of raconteurism that it makes for a highly entertaining read, even if you don't plan on ever making anything out of precious metals.

I first found Shire Books when I was on a short course in Blacksmithing at West Dean College, a conservation and art center in West Dean (in the Southwest of England) where you can get certificates, BAs and MAs in such things as Stringed Instrument Making and Antique Clock Restoration (yes, you do learn to cut your own gears and things!). Unbeknownst to me, there was also the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum right next door, where you can go and walk around in restored buildings from all over the country that have been taken down from their original settings and brought in pieces, numbered and archived, to the grounds of the museum, where they are carefully stored until they have the money to reassemble and restore them. It's quite an interesting place, West Dean.

In any case, on exploration I finally discovered the amazing Open Air Museum and found that their little gift shop was stuffed with these amazing little books.

In my opinion, Shire Books has the most amazing selection of little paperback "albums" on history, culture and collectionism. Their stated mission when they started in 1962 was "to offer books at low prices on subjects on which there was very little information in print." This is done in the most inimical British style, with titles such as Laundry Bygones (illustrating traditional washing-aids of the past), Old Gramophones and Other Talking Machines, Deserted Villages, Haunted Inns and Taverns, Old Lawn Mowers, and the Gothick Guides to various locations. There are also many very useful books on things like thatching, bellfounding, lime-burning and other soon-to-be-lost crafts, describing and therefore immortalizing the traditional techniques. I cannot stress how much I love this company; their range is so unique, so unsurprising yet full of wonderful discoveries, and so occasionally random that it is hard not to love them.

The Patterns of Fashion series by Janet Arnold, including Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen's Dresses and Their Construction C.1860-1940, Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860, and Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women C1560-1620, are the result of dedicated research and meticulous analyses of real antique clothing. Ms. Arnold's drawings and patterns are directly transcribed from original specimens, and while the series does not contain an enormous number of patterns, the drawings and discussion are fascinating. Patterns are laid out on a grid for easy expansion to actual size, and construction techniques of the time are described in detail. Even if you do not plan to sew these amazing costumes, they are worth looking at for the artistic and cultural value.

Country Wisdom and Know-How: Everything You Need to Know to Live Off the Land is a surprisingly interesting book, considering I picked mine up at Costco (gasp!). To be honest, I can't figure out how this odd and fact-filled book came to be at such a venue. Who on earth would buy it? It describes how to build a doghouse, how to start a beehive, how to look at a horse to see if it is worth buying, and other odder parts on diatomaceous earth (to eliminate bat parasites) and herbal lore, and slaughtering rabbits, feeding pills to a cat and debeaking baby chicks, as well as pickling and canning recipes, bread-making instructions, and more (Plumbing! Pruning! Home remedies!). It is hard to describe the tone of this book, printed on incredibly cheap paper in tiny print, with useful little diagrams; I can't figure out what kind of person wrote this thing. A survival nut? A sort of muddy-booted Martha Stewart? Or someone trying to do the world a favor for when the infrastructure starts to fall apart? It's sort of like the Whole Earth Catalog meets Five Acres and Independence. Which, by the way, are both classics in themselves.

Basic Bookbinding is an excellent, step-by-step instruction book. I love Dover Books, too. They reprint all kinds of cool stuff that was nearly lost. Who couldn't love that?

This volume, published by Unesco, is chock full of fun stuff which, interestingly, intersects nicely with some of the ideas in Connections, discussed here recently. 'Nuff said, I think.

Then there's a couple of interesting links:

- Plans and instructions from The Boy Mechanic for making a Wondergraph, a sort of old-fashioned adjustable homemade Spirograph thingie; very cool.

- From same, how to make a Tellurium, an orrery-like device that shows the movements of the earth and the moon.

If you've found some fabulous ancient treatise or other non-standard how-to text that other people can easily access and you think would be good on this blog, I'd like to invite you to send me a link and I'll file it away for possible use next DIY time.

Soo...until the next post (which is soon): don't try this at home, kids.


Anonymous said...

Yes. they're terrific little books. I was a bookseller and bookshop manager for 17 years and one of the small disappoinments was how few of these we could sell. They're too small to shelve with other books in appropriate sections because they just disappear between larger volumes, so the only way to promote them is on a spinnig stand, where no-one looked for them and the plastic shelves damaged the spines. They just ended up looking tatty and unloved.

Heather McDougal said...

Interesting. The place I bought my first ones they had them out on those library display shelves: those wooden ones where the books are facing outwards.

Just a note to everyone: Thanks for your suggestions on good DIY sources. I will be saving them for a future post - so don't be disappointed if they don't appear here!

spacedlaw said...

Bought two volumes of Patterns of Fashion some years back in Amsterdam.
The pieces are really too daunting for my summary sewing skills but the plates are truly gorgeous indeed.