BOOK REVIEW: The Needlecrafter's Computer Companion

The Needlecrafter's Computer Companion
by Judy Heim
No Starch Press, Daly City, California, 1995
460 Pages, $29.95

Judy Heim's book, "The Needlecrafter's Computer Companion," is just what every computer-using quilter (and other needlecrafter), whether a newbie or a veteran, has been waiting for. It is the definitive book about the role computers play in our sewing, quilting, needlepointing, crocheting, tatting, or knitting lives, and a rich mine of information about the resources available to fiber artists on the commercial online services and the internet. It contains dozens of reviews of and tutorials for a wide variety of sewing-related software. And if that isn't enough, the book is beautifully designed and printed, superlatively written, honest and funny. It also comes with two floppy disks of needlecraft-related shareware and demo programs.

Ms. Heim is a regular columnist on online issues for PC World and writes for a number of national computer magazines, so she is thoroughly knowledgeable of the arcane world of computing. But she hasn't forgotten what it's like to sit in front of a computer monitor and keyboard for the first time, nor lost sight of the fact that many of us don't own the latest and fastest Pentiums and Power Macs.

Her first chapter is devoted to the issue of owning a computer, whether it be that old, clunky 286 your son left at home when he took his new machine to college, or a brand new turbo multimedia model right out of the box. She tells you what will work on your old junker, and what won't, and provides the specs for the system she would buy "For My Aunt Agatha (the One Who Tats)." It's this kind of information that makes this book valuable not just to those who are already computer-literate (like the readers of TVQ) but for those trying to make the basic preliminary decisions about introducing computers into their lives.

In her chapters on quilting and computers, Judy covers an awesome amount of acreage. There are, as you would expect, reviews and buying recommendations on the major quilt design programs (she likes Electric Quilt and Quilt-Pro, as well as VQuilt). But beyond that there are extensive tricks and tips for designing quilts in regular drawing programs such as CorelDraw! and SuperPaint. She tells you how to use your computer to transfer photo images to fabric for remembrance quilts, and how to make quilt labels with your computer printer. Completing her virtuoso performance is a tongue-in-cheek section in which the deepest and most well-hidden secrets of Sunbonnet Sue are revealed through the process of graphic transformation known as morphing.

Other sections for embroiderers, knitters, and wearables makers have similar information, and there is also very good coverage of the links between computers and sewing machines which continue to become more sophisticated and widespread.

About halfway through the book Judy switches gears and acts on the premise of Chapter 9: "The Very Best Thing You Can Do With Your Computer Is Get On The Information Highway." Still mindful of beginners and the potential frustrations involved in setting up modems and getting online, she spends considerable time explaining these arcane subjects in enough detail to be helpful, but not so much as to be confusing. She covers the etiquette of e-mail, the intricacies of downloading, and stresses the supportive nature of electronic fibercraft communities everywhere.

After this general introduction, "The Needlecrafter's Computer Companion" then provides an amazingly detailed rundown on all the major online services and their needlecraft resources. Instructions are provided on how to find other needlecrafters on CompuServe, Prodigy, AOL, GEnie, Delphi, and the Microsoft Network.

While Judy shows enthusiasm for and gives generous coverage to the fibercraft communities on each of the services, she is not afraid to be forthright about a service's weaknesses. For instance she cites the dearth of downloadable needlecraft software on Prodigy except through Ziffnet. "You'll pay princely extra fees for this service ($7.50 per month, plus $7.80 /hour); and since Prodigy is so slow, getting software here is not advised. You're better off heading to America Online or CompuServe if you want software."

The book also gives generous coverage to internet resources with rundowns on craft maillists, newsgroups, FAQs, and web pages, and rounds out the survey with a look at crafts BBSs. The final chapter addresses craft-related business opportunities online.

As you may have gathered, I can't find enough good things to say about this book. Not only is it the single most informative book on this subject available anywhere, it is beautifully designed for easy and enjoyable reading. Generously illustrated with whimsical Victorian-style drawings, plenty of screen shots (some in color) and attractive typography, it is a pleasure to lay your eyes on.

The two disks of shareware and demos that come with the book are a nice extra. The demos include QuiltPro and VQuilt quilt design programs as well as many other needlecraft programs. They are neatly packaged with an automatic installation program that places them all together in one place on your hard drive. Installation was step-by-step and virtually effortless.

Whether you are just beginning your cyber-journey into the world of online crafts or are a veteran of a thousand AOL block swaps, this is a book you must have. Not only will it give you hours of pleasure but it will probably save you its $35 cover price many times over. It's also an ideal gift for a quilting friend or relative who is contemplating that fearsome first leap into the world of computing.

"The Needlecrafter's Computer Companion" is available at book and fabric stores nationwide. You can also order the book by mail order from Planet Patchwork Our price is $29.95, $5 off the cover price, plus $4.50 shipping and handling. Georgia residents should add 5% sales tax. Click here for order form.

(c) Copyright 1995-2012 by The Virtual Quilt Company. All rights reserved.


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