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She and kitsch go way back

If the 1950s and '60s left any significant legacy, in the view of Brookline's Leah Kramer, it would be a genre of improbable arts and crafts projects.

Think of knitted toilet-paper cozies in the shape of poodles. Macaroni jewel boxes, spray-painted gold. Popsicle stick purses. Bleach bottle piggy banks. Domestic artifacts championed by publications such as ``Pack-O-Fun" or ``Decorating With Macaroni," most of which found their way to thrift shops and flea markets, if not the trash.

But now they have been given new life in Kramer's book, ``The Craftster Guide to Nifty, Thrifty, and Kitschy Crafts" (Ten Speed Press), a compendium of 50 retro or retro-inspired projects originally found in midcentury craft magazines. Among the works she celebrates and recreates are cigar-box purses, baby-food-jar snow globes, crocheted doll-face fridge magnets, and pleated lamp shades made out of computer punchcards.

Kramer, 31, is a self-described ``craftster," or as she sees it, ``a hipster obsessed with making things." The kinds of things she has in mind are not -- she can't emphasize enough -- the stuff found at ``your grandma's craft fair." They do not smell of cinnamon sachet, nor are they embellished with stenciled ducks or geese.

But they do pay homage to the crafters of the '50s and '60s, whose outdated, though heartfelt, handiwork now strikes a lot of their grandchildren as gloriously tacky and camp.

Kramer, a former software programmer, is the founder of, a popular online forum for crafty hipsters like herself; and one of five owners of Magpie, a ``hipster craft store" in Somerville's Davis Square. She's part of a movement of 20- and 30-something crafters who take retro craft ideas or vintage materials and recycle them ironically.

This generation's legacy will include old-fashioned cross-stitch patterns that say ``You Suck" or ``Whatever" (found on Texas designer Julie Jackson's ``Subversive Cross Stitch" book, website, and blog) and Jenny Hart's Gothic needlepoint designs, at

Locally, they'll include lamps made out of vintage blenders, and bowls made out of records by Dave Sakowski, 40, of Somerville, a rock guitarist who works for Zipcar. Also faux fur collars with a 1950s pin-up girl look to them, by Jennifer Corbett, 26, an East Cambridge event planner. And recycled junk flowers and robots by a 36-year-old Somerville bicycle welder who goes by the name of ``Skunk."

Kramer is not the only one mining this territory. Last month, two books by New York craftsters hit the stores: ``Hardwear," by Hannah Rogge, a guide to jewelry from a toolbox; and ``Alternacrafts," by Jessica Vitkus, featuring such projects as knitted chain-mail wrist cuffs.

``I've been a crafter forever," says Vitkus, a writer and TV producer who has developed craft projects for Martha Stewart magazines and television, and has worked as a producer for Comedy Central's ``The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." ``I sort of made things on the sly. I thought I was the only one."

Now there's a nationwide community of like-minded crafters, linked by chatrooms and websites such as or, which has more than 63,000 members. In the non-virtual world, they frequent events like Boston's annual Bazaar Bizarre or the Punk Rock Flea Market, or craft nights at T.T. the Bear's Place in Cambridge.

Kramer, who left her job as a programmer to run, says, ``I started it just for fun and now it's off the charts," she says. ``It's insane."

CALLING ALL CRAFTSTERS To see a video clip of craft expert Leah Kramer, visit after 1 p.m. today.

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