Reader’s Digest Manual of Handicrafts – Retro Book


As I mentioned last week, I was lucky enough to stumble upon an old book in one of my local charity shops. This book was the Reader’s Digest Manual of Handicrafts. I’m a sucker for these big old books, with the charming illustrations and lovely paper stock, so I had to have it. This was the first time I’d seen this particular book and it was full of short sections on lots of different crafts, some of which I’d never even heard of. This is the front cover – the book weighs in at a hefty 432 pages in all.

The Reader's Digest Manual of Handicrafts

This is the sort of book that I would (probably erroneously) refer to as a “coffee table book”. Not so much because it would look nice on my coffee table, but because it’s substantial enough to be a coffee table, if you gave it some legs.

Some 1980's Reader's Digest Books including the Manual of Handicrafts

The Manual of Handicrafts alongside some other “coffee table” Reader’s Digest books from the same era

The Manual includes information on 33 different crafts, including what tools you will need and some basic projects. There are crafts that you would perhaps expect in the home – Bonsai, Preserving and Macrame come to mind. But then, there are crafts which are… somewhat more specialised. In this category comes: Lapidary work, Pottery, Metal Working and Enamelling which all need some heavy duty gear.

The Table of Contents page for the Manual of Handicrafts

The Table of Contents page for the Manual of Handicrafts

Before discussing the crafts themselves, the Manual lays out some basic safety information – ventilation considerations, toxic materials etc. These are written in a brief but comprehensive manner and are well worth looking over before you begin.

An illustration of a work bench from the first section of the Manual of Handicrafts

An illustration of a work bench from the first section of the Manual

The sections on individual crafts are necessarily brief, but seem to cover all the basics. I looked over the Patchwork section (which I am familiar with) and I think with a little practice a beginner could manage some simple designs.

A sample page from the Quilting and Patchwork section of the Manual of Handicrafts

A sample page from the Quilting and Patchwork section

The Manual is, as with all these books, filled with some delightful illustrations.

Illustration of a loom - I've always loved these drawings

Illustration of a loom – I’ve always loved these drawings

Many projects also includes step-by-step photographs and patterns drawn on grids to get you started.

A sample page from the Reader's Digest Manual of Handicrafts

Probably best to ignore the advise about asbestos here…

Whilst I bought the Manual of Handicrafts as a curio, I think it offers a good overview of the crafts covered. It’s certainly given me some interesting ideas for future projects. That said, I think that many of the crafts listed would benefit from proper tuition, especially where there are dangerous machines or materials are involved. There are also some pieces of advice that are somewhat dangerous with hindsight – such as using a glove made of asbestos. Even the crafts that aren’t actively dangerous would be best researched on the internet to get some Youtube tutorials. The Manual of Handicrafts. though, does place a lot of information into a compact format and will allow you to gauge your interest in different crafts. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to study the Woodworking section so I can make some legs for my new coffee table.

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