Craft Stars: Debbie Stoller and Laurie Henzel, authors of The BUST DIY Guide to Life
A sensation in the United States, the ultra-hefty BUST DIY Guide to Life (published by STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books) is a crafty train that can't be stopped - you just need to get on and enjoy the ride.
Want to make the perfect meal for a summer picnic? The Guide has you covered. Want to redo the tiling in your bathroom? The Guide's got the know-how you need. From perfecting a flapper finger wave to planning the PR for your next project, the BUST DIY Guide to Life has tip after tip to get you through potentially vexing situations with style and ease.
Left: The BUST DIY Guide to Life, in all its glory.
Edited by BUST Magazine Editor in Chief Debbie Stoller and BUST Creative Director Laurie Henzel (and created with input from a bevy of seriously crafty folks), The BUST DIY Guide to Life collects the highlights from over ten years of craft and DIY reporting in BUST Magazine.
Delicious photography and illustration - a BUST trademark - make this book a pleasure whether you're looking for inspiration or in the midst of a crafty mission.
I'm a bit in awe of Laurie and Debbie, both for their work on BUST Magazine and for their service to art and craftiness in general. After all, Debbie is the author of the best-selling Stitch 'n Bitch series of craft books, and Laurie's given BUST a look to die for.
So when they kindly granted me an interview - at BUST's offices, no less! - this longtime subscriber nearly swooned with fangirl joy.
EL: So what was the point when you started thinking about the book that became the BUST DIY Guide to Life?
LH: About six or seven years ago we were thinking about doing an encyclopaedia of all girly things, to be the follow-up to our first book (The BUST Guide to the New Girl Order, 1999).
Then we realized it was just going to be massive. And from the time we started thinking about that, this crafting explosion happened, at least in the United States.
DS: Well, the fact is that we've always had so many things that we'd like to do, including different books, but we never have the time to try and pursue any of those things, because we have a pretty small staff and everyone's super-busy with so many things to do already.
Luckily for us, there was an editor at Abrams who is a fan of BUST. They thought of us doing a book like this, and reached out to us. And then it was like, okay, they're interested already, and if we hire a couple of people to help with some of the day to day things to make it happen...
LH: And they really did help a lot. We wouldn't have been able to do it (otherwise).
DS: And then when we started to talk about what kind of a book we could do for them it became clear that it wouldn't just be a collection of crafts, but ALL of our DIY stuff.
That includes the recipes, and a lot of the other how-to's, like the finance stories, or how to throw your own wedding, or throw your own funeral!
We realized it could be an altogether different kind of DIY book. It could be a whole guide to life.
EL: It's hard to imagine this now, with this massive tome in front of us, but when you first started running craft articles in BUST, you were worried that they wouldn't resonate with your audience - after all, BUST describes itself as a feminist magazine. What was the evolution like, of crafts coverage in BUST?
LH: I think we knew pretty early on that people liked it, because nobody complained. That's usually how you'd know.
And people did say they liked it. They would send a letter and say, I made this thing, you know, that you guys wrote about, and then we'd get all excited.
But I think that another thing that motivated us was that we have a small advertising section at the back of the magazine, called the BUST Shop. It has a lot of small businesses, many women-owned, and a lot of those people were crafters, and so we saw our readers actually doing crafts, and trying to make businesses out of it.
DS: Well, I don't know. That's a chicken and egg thing, because we were doing the crafts for a while before we had those advertisers.
In 2001 we did an issue called the Homegirls Issue, where we did a piece called "The Handmade's Tale". It was about four women who - get this! - make things that they sell. They made things by hand, like one crocheted some iPhone covers, and another girl did some screenprinting on dresses. So those kinds of businesses were just starting out - now we'd never publish an article like that, because where would you even start?
Above: crafty artwork by cutting-edge illustrators like the wonderful Anke Weckmann peppers this edition.
LH: And obviously, these were not women who were doing it in the traditional way - this was a different craft scene, kind of a young, hip craft scene. Because there've always been women who make doilies and sell them at craft fairs, but this had a rebellious vibe. So that was something that reflected what we were into and what the readers were doing, and liking. Back in the old days!
DS: But even though we didn't get that (complaint) letter, there are still lots of people who'll try to dis the magazine by saying, you know, I like feminism but I don't knit, so I don't read BUST - I don't have time for knitting. And it's like, really?
LH (laughing): How dare they!
DS: The whole vibe of the magazine is really celebrating women and women's culture, which has been long derided - celebrating it, not apologizing for it, not trying to make it something else.
There's plenty of other kind of content in the magazine, too... we do these long features about historical things about women or women's culture that people aren't aware of, that challenge people's stereotypes, that challenge the way people think about things. We have tons of reviews. It's all really important to us.
EL: Debbie's craft exploits are well known - she's got her own line of knitting books, her own line of yarn. In fact, she's a knitting celebrity. Laurie, do you identify as a crafter?
LH: You know, I'm a bit embarrassed to say...I wouldn't call myself a crafter. I mean, I'm an art director, I went to art school. I feel like when I work on an issue, when I think about who to hire to do the drawings, and who to hire to do the photography, I get a lot of creative fulfillment from that.
DS: Maybe a lot of these craft articles aren't things you would do, but there's a lot of other stuff about style and especially about food, that are all things that you've long been interested in.
LH: I don't know if you put cooking in the craft department, but I love to cook and bake. If I had more time, I'd definitely go back to silkscreening. Knitting too - I used to love to knit. I wasn't very good at it..so I got frustrated. When my kids were little it didn't matter very much that a sweater wasn't perfect. But as they got older, they were like "I'm not wearing that!" And it was like, I just spent two months on that. I figure when I retire, maybe I can go back to knitting.
DS: Laurie's husband knows how to knit AND sew...I like that! When one of her daughters wanted to learn how to sew, it was her husband who was the one to teach her.
LH: What I want to say about crafts that I think is important, and Debbie talks about this in her intro, is that it's really hard sometimes! It's not like you can say "I'm going to do this amazing craft on Saturday." You have to prep it, you have to learn it...especially something like crochet or knitting. It's not something that you're going to bang out in a weekend, and have it be perfect.
EL: I've noticed that celebrities interviewed in BUST often cite their crafty credentials. Who's the craftiest celebrity who's ever appeared in BUST?
LH (with an air of finality): Amy Sedaris (American comedian, actress and writer). She sells her crafts, and she makes the funniest stuff - it's really creative, weird and goofy. But I do notice that the people we interview who read actually read BUST - they'll either say, 'oh, sorry, I'm not a crafter', or they'll say 'I made so-and-so', or 'I like to do this'.
EL: So Amy Sedaris wins?
DS: Well, Mo Rocca (American comedian and TV personality) is a celebrity to me, and I personally taught him how to knit. He kept coming to our office for follow-up instructions... he couldn't remember how to bind off.
LH: You know who's a crafter? The woman who's going to be on our next cover, Krysten Ritter (Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls). We haven't done our shoot or our interview yet, so that's for the future. But she's crafty.
EL: So now that you've done this massive collection, what is the next frontier for the crafty ladies of BUST?
DS (deadpan): The BUST DIY Guide to the Afterlife.
LH: We'd like to do some television. That would be fun - hopefully that's on the horizon for us.
EL: Specifically craft oriented?
LH: I'm not sure. We're still trying to figure out what would be good. I think it would make sense to have some craft element.Right: A gorgeous gardener by BUST DIY Guide to Life contributor Susie Ghahremani.
DS: What I said on our US book tour and what I still think is true is that food is the new craft. Food crafting is the new crafting - canning and pickling and all that.
LH: Yeah, all that home farming stuff is very popular right now - gardening and farming. I was on the subway the other day and these girls were talking about their chickens!
LH: "Was Bobby one of your first generation?" They're talking about these chickens. It's really cute, actually.
DS: Yeah, urban homesteading -
LH: We both know that's going to be popular.
EL: So, Laurie, Debbie - it's time to answer the most pressing craft question of our time. When the inevitable zombie invasion occurs, what craft tool - or DIY tool, in Laurie's case - will you use to repel the hordes of the undead?
LH (unhesitatingly): Shovel.
DS: What do zombies want? Brains? I would take my giant canning pot and put it on my head. It's huge! I could probably fit my whole entire self under there, but at least I could protect my brains.
[Images © Laurie Henzel and Debbie Stoller, and the respective contributors to the BUST DIY Guide to Life.]