THE NATION this Christmas seems divided between those who are giving video tape recorders and home computers and those who are giving homemade textiles. Pity those of us who haven't enough money to give the first and not enough talent to give the second.
There is an alternative: You could give a book about fiber crafts to show you heart's in the right place, even though your hands were put on backwards. Publishers are doing their best this year, as last, to help out. It sometimes seems as though there must be more crafts writers than crafts practitioners. What follows is therefore only a skimming of the production:
"The Quilters - Women and Domestic Art" by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Buferd ($12.95, Doubleday & Co. Inc.) is one of the finest books to come out of the craft revival. Most books on crafts are only recipe books. They may tell much about the crafts, but nothing about the crafts worker. "The Quilters" are all from Texas and New Mexico, and the book constitutes a valuable record of life in that area.
For instance, the story about the woman who made quilts in a dugout house built half underground and topped with lumber and sod and tarpaper:
"The first time Mama was left alone was when Papa hitched up the wagon to go after firewood . . . Mama had her garden in and she was plowing more land for corn when the first dust storm came up. The wind blew for three days so hard and the air was so full of dust that she had to tie a rope around her waist to get out to feed and milk the cow . . . She used to say, 'If I hadn't had the piecing, I don't know what I would have done. There was nobody to talk to and nowhere to go to get away from the wind except underground.' She got to worrying about freezing to death in winter. She used to laugh when she told it, how you never saw anyone quilt so fast in your life . . . Mama's best quilts were her dugout quilts because that was when she really needed something pretty."
Needlepoint wins as the craft with the greatest number of books. And bargello, the larger, faster stitch, is the subcatagory winner.
"The Quickpoint Book" by Susan Iglehart and Barbara Schwizer ($10.95, Holt, Rinehart, Winston) is really bargello in disguise. The authors are two Baltimore women who make and market kits. The book includes directions and patterns (full-size) for 40 projects for beginners.
"Bargello Borders" by Nancy Hall and Jean Riley ($9.95, paper, Needlemania, Inc., distributed by Charles Scribner's Sons) provides intertwining borders and ornamental corners to be used to frame original designs. The book discusses design elements, so you can work out your own patterns rather than slavishly having to follow others.
"Four-way Bargello" by Dorothy Kaestner ($7.95, paper, Charles Scribner's Sons) explores methods of using the bargello technique in horizontal stitches as well as the customary all vertical direction. A great number of handsome geometric patterns, some pictured in full color, are included.
"Free-form Bargello" by Gigs Stevens ($14.95, $7.95 in paperback, Scribner's) is not for your Aunt Lucy because it eggs you on to try to don needlework in much the same way the dribble artists work. I liked the dissertation at the beginning:
"I think that a good lond mechanical task that requires a minimum of attention, and the soothing action of the hand as it dips over and under the canvas, is the very best means of pinning down our weaknesses and chloroforming them. Stitch the horrors down, my dear, and they shan't return to plague you; they are killed by a stab of the needle."
"Needlepoint, Designs From Amish Quilts" by Laura S. Gilberg and Barbara B. Buchholz ($14.95, Scribner's) would be worth having just for the gorgeous full-color portraits of the quilts, even if you never put needle to canvas. The color combinations - purple, orange and blue for instance - are splendid.
"Mosaics in Needlepoint, From Stone to Stitchery" by Xenia Ley Parker ($14.95, $7.95 in paper, Scribner's) points out that since mosaics are put together of small squares they translate well into needlepoint, and explains how to transfer one to the other. Fourteen patterns are also included.
"Needlepoint Letters and Numbers" by Carol Cheny Rome and Donna Reidy Orr ($10, Doubleday) is one of a growing genre - the craft book on a narrow area of the craft, for those who already know the work but wish to go further. The book includes decorative alphabets and numbers in all sorts of languages from Greek to Morse code.
Embroidery, one of the older and more beautiful of the textile disciplines, has a good number of books celebrating its techniques this year.
"100 Embroidery Stitches" and "50 Needlepoint Stitches" by Coats Sewing Group, ($1.95, Scribner's) are nononsense, back-to-basics handbooks.
"A Primer of Left-Handed Embroidery" by Carole Robbins Myers ($5.95, Scribner's) started, as she writes, when she was doing a crazy-quilt patchwork kimono and got tired of translating all the different stitches into left-handed instructions for herself.
"Ask Erica" by Erica Wilson ($6.95, $2.50 paperback, Scribner's) is a collection of the Qs and As from her popular column (which appears in the Living section).
"The Craft of Silk and Gold Thread Embroidery and Stump Work" by Erica Wilson ($4.95 paper, Scribner's) is a reprint of two sections from Wilson's big "Embroidery Book."
It has all the basics but lacks the color of the big hardback.