Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Make-It Book

Welcome to Eleventy, a new blog dedicated to handmade design. Since this is the first post, I'd like to invite you to read more about the blog and about me, and also to subscribe to email updates if you're interested.

When I was thinking about how to kick off the blog, I began trying to remember what got me started making things in the first place. Of course I have to give the shout-out to mom and dad (and step-mom), who raised me to be creative, to see possibilities in everything, and to pursue any and all interests without fear of failure. But this post is about a particular object that has inspired me, from about as early as I can remember. (Most recently, you might notice, I chose to borrow heavily from it to create the color scheme for this blog!) It’s a book: The Make-It Book.

This book was a hand-me-down, I think from my dad. (It’s from 1961 – almost twenty years older than me!) If I remember correctly, my grandparents still had it from my dad’s childhood when I was little. I read it so many times on visits to their Hill Country home in Kingsland, TX, that they eventually sent it home with me.

The book photographed here is not my original copy, though it is the same edition. Once I began planning this post and thinking back on these memories, I had to do some research online and find a used one. When I got it in the mail it was such an experience to flip back through the pages that I hadn’t seen in decades. I remember every single illustration. Some things about it I forgot, or never quite realized when I was little: mainly, its incredible (and endearing) kitschiness. The book was first published in 1953, and the Fifties-period illustrations are priceless. It’s also amusing to appreciate the old-fashioned gender roles implicit in what types of crafts are geared toward little girls versus little boys. I had also completely forgotten that the book had anything to do with McCall’s, or the Golden Books series.

I love how the front and back inside covers are patterened in these adorable shapes and drawings:

I plan to steal a few for my next project! (Though only under fair-use, of course…heh heh.)

The table-of-contents spread gives you an idea of the different types of crafts in the book:

Birdhouse? Check. Clothespin People? Check. Pot Holders? Helicopter? Disguise Kit? Check, check, check. Four Good Toss Games? Two Kinds of Stilts? Check-check-check-check, check-check! Chemical Garden…? You got it!

This must be what ignited my inner-typographer’s flame:

Another key spread in my childhood development:

This is a project I specifically remember doing:

I totally made that moustache! (And yes it, it was kind of gross to stick the little bits up into your nose.)

I also find it hilarious that they have fairly advanced (for children) woodworking projects, complete with sawing, hammering, and other activities involving sharp objects, and yet none of the text includes a word of warning about safety.

They don’t even suggest that you have an adult around when you’re wielding these tools capable of removing small appendages. We’ve come a long way in our over-litigious society! (Counterpoint.)

Thanks for tripping down memory lane with me on my first Eleventy blog post, this eleventh day of February! I’d love to hear what got you started on your creative passions early on – post about it in the comments section below if you like. And don’t forget to subscribe if you want to receive email updates.


  1. Hey, so great to see the site up and running!

    One of my biggest childhood inspirations was The I Hate Mathematics Book. I loved how engaging math became within those pages (which I read cover to cover, even as a lowest-track math student.) When I taught a remedial math class to talent college students struggling to get there GRE scores up, I found a re-issued version of the original to use as one of the textbooks for the class!

  2. Sunshine contacted me since I posted about this book too. My brother made that cat cradle. In some burst of insanity one day, I gave it to Amvets when I was in one of my decluttering moods. What was I thinking?! But I LOVED this book when I was growing up, and treasure it still.

  3. There was a companion book to the Make-It Book. There as a Do-It Book also. I seem to remember it being loads of fun too. Check it out Niecy.

  4. @woof nanny:
    I actually ran across your post when I was looking for the book online! It helped me in my search, as that's how I figured out it was from McCall's, and a Golden Book. I hadn't been able to get it to come up in any searches until I had that info, so thanks!

    @Uncle Barry:
    I think I've found what you're talking about:. I don't think I've read that one! Good, something to keep me busy the next 29 years...

  5. Great pictures. Thanks for taking the time to scan those. Very cool!

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  7. I dearly loved this book, and lived by it as a child. It was NEW when I came along, and I did most of the projects in it. Yes, I learned to knit from this book. And I still make the little cross woven valentine baskets. What a wonderful world it was. Thanks for posting this.