LOS ANGELES — As much as crafters hate to admit it, not all craft projects are created equal. Some are absolutely hideous.
Who better to bring this to light than actress and author Amy Sedaris in her new book, “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People” (Grand Central Publishing), a subversive, hilarious take on the made-by-hand movement. The 304-page book, which Sedaris co-wrote with Paul Dinello, features wide-ranging chapters such as “The Joy of Poverty,” “Handicraftable,” “Teenagers Have a Lot of Pain,” “Crafting for Jesus” and “Sausages.”
A follow-up to her 2006 guide to entertaining, “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence,” the new book offers such dubious projects as “stars” constructed with marshmallows stuck with toothpicks covered in glitter; a bookmark made of rows of pennies sandwiched between packing tape; and a sad, painted cotton ball raincloud. In the chapter “Safety Meeting,” readers are warned about all sorts of crafty mishaps, such as severing one’s finger with a pair of pinking shears and getting a foot full of thumbtacks. The accidents are graphically illustrated.
Empty toilet paper rolls are properly represented in “Simple Times” projects. Some of the undertakings in the book, however, are too adult to be mentioned in a family newspaper.
Sedaris spoke with the Los Angeles Times before embarking on her book tour, at which she may be selling her own crafts. Just don’t try to give her any of your own.
Why did you decide to do “Simple Times” as a follow-up to “I Like You”?
The last chapter of “I Like You” has some crafts in it, but I was running out of room at that point. I love crafts, and I thought maybe if I did another book I’d focus on that. When I looked at old craft books, they were so boring, so incredibly boring. But I didn’t know anything about mosaics or welding, so I couldn’t break it down that way. My challenge was, what would the different chapters be about, what do I know about?
Why did you decide to break it down into chapters such as “Craft Yourself Homely,” “Shut-Ins” and “Knowing Your Knack for Knickknacks”?
First, I thought I’d break it into seasons, then months, then I came up with the idea of crafting with whatever disability you have and the challenges you have to overcome. That turned out to be a big chapter. Then I wanted to get into nature crafts. I woke up one morning and thought, “I want to do crafting for Jesus because I love Bible crafts.”
Do you worry that people might misinterpret the “Handicraftable” chapter and find it offensive? (Projects include wrapping a long radiator pole with thin rope for those with ADD, making a rusty-nail wind chime for those with bipolar disorder and creating heel-less socks for the wheelchair-bound, “because they don’t have to worry about their heel matching up with the sock heel.”)
When I was in Second City, I always wanted to do a scene in a wheelchair, and I finally got something in the show. There were people in wheelchairs in the audience, and afterward they thanked me because they could relate to what was going onstage. I’m fascinated with things like making sure buttons are in front rather than in the back — things most people don’t think about. For me, it’s more celebrating it and being fascinated with it rather than making fun of it.
Many of the projects in “Simple Times” seem to reference books from the 1960s and ‘70s that featured really horrible crafts and were big on photos.
This book is really for people who can’t read or who don’t want to read. I just wanted the book to be one big trigger for ideas. I believe anybody can stick pencils into a potato and make a pencil holder, but please don’t give me that.
You credit other people with making some of the crafts featured in the book.
I’d get a craft group together — there would be about seven of us — and I’d say, “This is what we’re going to make.” But it would cost me like $700 in materials, and then I’d have to feed everybody. It was ridiculous. I hired this 9-year-old to do the paper cut-outs, and I paid her $300. I paid my sister $5,000 for doing the nature crafts.
I liked doing the Real Hob Knob Glass Candles. (The instructions read: “Glue dried peas to a glass. Paint the outside, including the peas. Insert a candle. This tactile craft is also terrific for the blind.”) You can tell what I made in the book. But I should have used a smaller pea, that’s why it looks so bad.
I’m lucky, though, that the craft community has embraced me. Some people are really good at what they do, but they don’t have ideas. I have the ideas but not the skills, but I work well with people. I can tell somebody, “Paint a tumor.”
I like crafts that are made out of necessity because they’re a little naive — you made it because you needed it. I did an episode of “The Closer” and the (tailor) had this three-tier pincushion that he made. It was a little dirty and loaded up with pins, and it just seemed to have a story behind it and a personality. I gave him $200 for it, and then he made himself a new one. (It’s featured in the book as a “Pin Tower Cushion” and the instructions are to “eyeball it.”)
You don’t always include detailed directions for projects. For the Shut-In Shuffle Slippers, instructions read, “If you don’t knit, ask a lady who does and have her knit you some pretty house slippers.” To make a planetarium, you say: “Be an explorer and see if you can figure this one out on your own!”
Yeah, just figure it out or eyeball it. That’s what I had to do. In “I Like You” I had to describe how to open a potato and my brain hurt.
Did you grow up making crafts, and do you make any now?
I made ashtrays in first grade, and we did lots of crafts in Girl Scouts and Junior Achievement. I made jewelry and those tissue flowers. I was a Girl Scout through my senior year in high school. I’d wear my uniform to school.
If I do a book signing, I’ll sell things I made. It takes me 20 minutes to make a potholder, and I’ve sold them for $5. This time I’ll sell them for $10 because it’ll come with a tag and I’ll sign it. It’s a lot of work.
I know I’m going to get crafts from people on this book tour like little knitted things. I usually spend time destroying them. I know that sounds awful, but I’ll rip them up and put them in different trash cans. I have to get rid of them.
What do you think you’ll tackle in your next book?
I think it’ll be something with interiors. I really love working with miniatures, so I might want to expand on that. ... It’s hard when someone says, “Let’s do a craft together,” because I hate crafts now. Everything’s in storage and I don’t want to have anything to do with them.
// Channel Surfing
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