THE BEST how-to stitchery books should be lush and enticing enough to let your ambitions soar. You should feel that you can do it if you really, really try. But, above all, the instructions should be clear, complete and concise. Failing to tell exactly how will, in the end, leave the wildly frustrated would-be craftsperson with a desire to commit mayhem and a heap of unfinished material hidden on a closet shelf and forgotten forever:
"American Quilts and How to Make Them," by Carter Houck and Myron Miller (scribner's, $9.95, soft cover), is mercifully direct and free of whimsey. There are mouthwatering photos of quilts in their natural settings which make you want to run righ t out, get the needed materials and start today. There are chapters on equipment (surprising how little is needed), structure, design, pattern making, sewing-it-all-together, and the care and restoration of quilts. Many historical houses and the quilts therein are described. Along with an index (important) and names of suppliers, there is a short list of places where quilts may be seen, including a number in the Washington area.
"Quilts of America," by Erica Wilson (Oxmoor House, $17.95) is a well-organized whopper, especially valuable for its sumptuous photographs and patterns of contemporary designs. The designs, historical and contemporary, are so well shown that a craftsperson working in another field could borrow them. Chapters on materials, tools, frames, patterns and putting-it-together will be interesting to the advanced quilter and concise enough for the novice. In addition, there are sections describing special techniques, such as transferring images to fabric by photography and photocopying. Also included are a list of sources of supplies, bibliography and index.
"The Art of Judaic Needlework," by Ita Aber (Scribner's $17.50), is a handsome book offering a brief history of Judaic needlework and a large number of specific projects. Among them are embroidery for the Sabbath, the Ark Curtain, the Torah Breat Shield, wallhangings and needlework for Passover and other holidays. The author has included hard-to-find information such as Hebrew alphabets, calendars and needlework terms. Pictured are antique and contemporary designs.
"More Needleplay," by Erica Wilson (Scribner's, $17.95 to Dec. 31, 1979, $20 thereafter), includes chapters for the advanced needleworker on tapestry teasures for the Far East, patchwork, quilting, one-color spectrum, 3-D collage, smocking, crewel, bargello. The book is crammed with fresh ideas and illustrated with good photos and diagrams.
"More Needlework Blocking and Finishing," by Dorothy Burchette (Scribner's, $14.95). The author (of Annapolis) has decided that we may have made enough pillows and pictures. Her projects include lunchbox, pet bed, sleepmask, tennis racquet cover, umbrella cover, bottle carrier and hatband. You may not feel the need for such things, but those who want to make a tea cozy or a yellow pad cover, for instance, the instructions are step-by-step illustrated and clear enough for anyone. In addition, there is a super list of recommended products (mat cutters, interlinings, steamers, acrylic sprays, etc.) and where to get them.
"Bargello Antics," by Dorothy Kaestner (scribner's, $14.95), presents 24 new four-way designs for ambitious, advanced bargello addicts. The instructions are explicit enough. There are lots of charts and small color photographs of each design.
"The Boat Buff's Book of Embroidery," by Carter Houck and Myron Miller (Scribner's, $12.95), shows for nautical needleworkers designs of insignia, pennants and boats from Hobie Cats and Bristol 4s to the Queen Elizabeth 2. Patterns for these are included. It's probably not for the begining embroiderer.
"The Star of David Needlepoint Book," by B. Borssuck (Arco, $10.95). Some of the projects might be interesting to carry out, but the instructions are not detailed enough for the beginner and the total effect is lackluster.
"Early New England Wall Stencils, a Workbook," by Kenneth Jewett (Harmony Books, $8.95, soft cover). Basic tools and materials and basic stencil techniques are described with clarity and no attempt at cuteness. Everything you need to know is here, including nine patterns.
"Sewing to Decorate Your Home," by Joanne Schreiber (doubleday, $6.95, soft cover), assumes you have a sewing machine and some knowledge of how to use it. All other instructions are extra lucid. There are helpful diagrams and photographs of interiors showing window treatments, bedcoverings and canopies, slipcovers, table cloths and cushions. None of it is very innovative but good tips on preplanning, use of color, kinds of fabrics and sources thereof, curtain hardware, how to measure, and a good index are included.
"Design and Sew Children's Clothes," by Bomie Halpern with Kathryn 6arson (Farm Journal-Doubleday, $5.95, soft cover), offers complete pattern making and sewing guide for sizes T-2 to 6X." The descriptions of simple, pleasant designs are straightforward and professional. The designs covered are smock dreww, yoke jumper, pullover dress, reversible A-line jumper, pinafore and bloomers, jump suit and hop suit. There is also a chapter entitle "Paper Doll Clothes" -- paper dolls and cutouts of the complete wardrobe to keep the kiddies happy while Mom does the sewing.
"Making Your Clothes Fit," by Patricia Burkhart Smith (Doubleday, $8.95, soft cover). This "step-by-step illustrated guide to custom fitting" could come in very handy. The subjects include "Swayback, Too Tight All Over, Hips Too Tight, Waistline Too Loose," etc. The illustrations are clear and the instructions concise.
"Pass It On: How To Make Your Own Family Keepsakes," by Marguerite Ashworth Brunner (Sovereign-Simon & Schuster, $5.95, soft cover). This short book includes quilts, samplers, braiding, pressed flowers, dried flowers, decoupage, velvet painting, painting on wood, whittling, shadow boxes, dough items, and much much more. It's a clear case of attempting to cover too many subjects in too short a space. How-to-them? There are, however, two good lists: shops that sell crafts on consignment (in this area: Appalachian Spring, 1655 Wisconsin Ave., D.C. and Woman's Industrial Exchange, 333 N. Charles St., Baltimore) and where to get mail-order craft supplies.
"Custom Made," by Leslie Linsley (Harper & Row, $14.95). More than fifty "personalized" craft gifts are included. Pratically all the book is devoted to the people who make the craft items and the shops that sell them. Not helpful to the reader who is trying to find out how-to-do-it.
"The Complete Encyclopedia of Stitchery," by Mildred Graves Ryan (Doubleday, $14.50), works quite well as a reference book and could be helpful to the advanced needleworker. The crafts included are crocheting, embroidering, knitting, macrame, rugmaking, sewing and tatting. Within these broad categories sub-categories are also arranged alphabetically. The small, drawn diagrams of stitches and patterns are clear but there are no illustrations of finished work to help the novice visualize his goal. And it would have been handier if needlepoint had been separately treated instead of grouped with embroidery.