For nearly a decade of her 30-year writing career, White Plains resident Carol Sterbenz had an ambitious goal in mind. A prolific and accomplished author on crafts, Sterbenz wanted to pen a detailed and exhaustive book on the subject, a how-to guide and history of the most prominent crafting practices rolled into one.
“I think in 1998, I started understanding that there was this universe of information that wasn’t in one volume anywhere,” said Sterbenz, 67. “I created a book proposal. I created table of contents. And the project was very expensive.”
Sterbenz was trying to figure out a realistic way to bring her project to fruition when in 2006 she received a phone call from Alexis Gargagliano, an editor at Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster. Gargagliano, who had never worked with or even met Sterbenz, had an idea for a project – a comprehensive book on crafting.
“It was clear we were looking at sort of the same project from different perspectives,” Sterbenz recalls. “I realized I was in this conversation about this book that I had always imagined and loved, and it suddenly had a heartbeat.”
From that point, “Homemade: The Heart and Science of Handcrafts” took five years to write and on Oct. 18 finally hit stores. The nearly 800-page book has chapters on beading, floral arts, paper crafts, hand printing, decoupage, decorative embellishing and children’s arts and crafts. Each chapter contains a memoir from Sterbenz, a history on the particular technique and up to a dozen projects, with the difficulty escalating as each chapter goes on.
“This thorough, inviting, and lucidly written book deserves a place on a shelf in every home,” Cheryl Mendelson, a crafts author herself, wrote in an Amazon.com editorial review. “What makes this book special is its highly knowledgeable update of tradition through contemporary materials and techniques by someone full of ingenuity, who really knows her stuff and has plenty of exciting ideas for projects.”
In a sense, Sterbenz says her entire life has been preparing her to write Homemade. A retired elementary and middle school teacher and the daughter of a German carpenter, Sterbenz’s affinity for crafts goes back to her youth.
“My family believed that we should know how to cultivate a garden, how to embroider, that there were home arts that were very important,” she said. “We were curtailed in terms of TV so handwork was very important.”
Her career in publishing began in the 1970s, when she started submitting her designs to a magazine. Immediately, she was encouraged by the feedback she received.
“I got covers, I got assignments every month,” she said. “It appeared that I had something to offer the reading public. So I started my first book.”
Published in 1980, the book focused on one very specific subject: gnomes. Titled “The Gnomes Book of Christmas Crafts,” it featured everything from how to decorate a Christmas tree the way a gnome might to designs for a gingerbread house. In her writing, she looked to give people guidance but let them do more than follow a blueprint. She wanted to give crafters the technique to make what they wanted, but the freedom to make it their own.
“I thought the format would be fun to work in,” she said. “I think what was sort of interesting to me, and I think what has sort of borne out, is that there’s an emotional component.”
In the three decades since, Sterbenz has published 25 books and even founded a magazine, called “Handcraft Illustrated.” She hoped everything she had learned in a lifetime of crafting – both the successes and the failures – could be put to use helping her readers.
“Every technique has been tested 30 or 40 times,” she explained. “So the mistakes that I make are not ones that the reader will need to make.”
Her work has seen growing success over the years. She’s appeared on ABC’s “The View,” NBC’s “The Today Show” and CBS’s Early Show, both promoting her books and lending her crafting expertise.
Her newest book contains around 200 techniques and 75 projects. Sterbenz said she did each one no less than four times, which helps explain why Gargagliano’s original timetable for the book’s release ended up being pushed back. Originally imagined as containing photographs for each piece, Sterbenz instead had the book illustrated by Harry Bates.
When she finally held the finished product in her hands, Sterbenz recalls being speechless.
“It was hard to catch my breath,” she said, and not just because at 775 pages the book is rather heavy.
Sterbenz has launched a website, http://www.makeithomemade.com/, which will soon have tutorials and videos on any kind of craft one can think of. A retired teacher, she’s now looking for ways her two careers can merge.
“I think my mission, definitely, is to teach,” she said. “It’s interesting how life sort of comes full circle, but I think I am sharing what I have learned.”
She already has one success story; her daughter, Genevieve Sterbenz, is also a published crafts writer. Moving forward, Carol Sterbenz plans to work with The Child Care Council of Westchester and hold community crafting events for children in her One City Place apartment building.
“I’ve heard it said that a carpenter with a hammer sees nails everywhere,” Sterbenz says in her book’s introduction. “I say a crafter with imagination sees handcrafts everywhere. I know I do.”
For more information or to purchase Homemade, visit www.makeithomemade.com.