The Craft of Daily Life: Homemaking | Collection Development

By Sarah Holm Norton

Over the past hundred years, homemaking has been caught up in a remarkable pop culture cycle. It began in the early 1900s as an important field of study and an essential part of women’s education. In the 1960s and 1970s it was vilified as a symptom of the subjugation of women. A few decades later it was rejuvenated and exalted by Martha Stewart and others. Now, homemaking skills are undergoing a different kind of revival in response to the economic climate and the sustainable living movement.

Using lessons, tips, and recipes handed down from relatives, gleaned from home economics classes, or refined by simple trial and error, a new crop of homemaking books emphasize the benefits of making room for the tasks and routines that comprise our home lives. These may include grandmother’s techniques but with a new take‚ call it radical home ec‚ that presents every member of the household as a homemaker, rather than just expecting mom to do everything herself.

A new normal for many

Stripped of its cultural context, homemaking can be defined as the tasks and routines that support and maintain home, family, and community, regardless of size or configuration. In addition to the familiar tasks of housekeeping and cleaning, historical homemaking skills overlap with the recent crafting, homesteading, and locavore movements and include sewing, food preservation, and gardening.

Interest in these subjects is growing. Seed and plant supplier W. Atlee Burpee & Co. has reported increased sales in seeds and starter plants over the last several years, speculating that the rising cost of food and fuel may be a driving factor. The National Gardening Association estimates that in 2009 43 million U.S. households maintained some sort of food garden‚ with 21 percent of those new to gardening. In addition, community support for food gardens has burgeoned. The story of Julie Bass facing 93 days in jail for planting a vegetable garden in her Oak Park, MI, front yard went viral across social media this summer; the cities of New York, San Francisco, and Oakland are reviewing zoning laws to facilitate a rise in community gardens and urban farms.

According to the Better Homes and Gardens Food Factor 2010 survey, 86 percent of respondents cooked meals at home regularly to keep food costs down, 81 percent cooked meals from scratch, and 62 percent made their own baked goods. Cooking and sewing tutorials flourish online, as do frugal- living bloggers, whose money-saving ideas often involve running a more efficient and self-sufficient household.

A quick and dirty history

The first homemaking books appeared in the United States in the mid-1800s. Catherine Beecher and Fannie Farmer, among others, sought to educate girls and women on household management. They emphasized sanitation, frugality, and nutrition. Written for broad audiences, these housekeeping and cookery books contributed to early attempts to formalize homemaking into a field of study that could prepare women to run households using up-to-date techniques, rather than depending on poorly trained servants.

Following the 1862 passage of the Morrill Act, land-grant colleges began providing courses in what we know today as home economics. Many early programs taught farm wives to apply scientific principles to domestic labor. To encourage self-sufficiency, they covered such topics as furniture repair, clothing and textile design, and family economics, in addition to cooking, home management, sewing, and child development.

By the early 20th century, home economics programs offered degrees and professional paths for women into prepared food manufacturing, textile manufacturing, public health, and the hospitality industry, in addition to preparing future homemakers. As manufactured items and processed foods became more readily available (often owing to the innovation of home economists), curricula shifted from emphasizing production to consumption, dropping many of the skills that promoted self-sufficiency. The late 20th century saw a decline in the cultural cachet of homemakers and homemaking, first because this work was cited as part of the problem that has no name in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) and was rejected by many feminists. Later, as two-income households became more common due to both economic necessity and an increase in the number of college-educated women with careers, the time spent on homemaking greatly decreased.

Current homemaking books have reintroduced production-based skills, often adapting them for city dwellers and the budget-conscious. While the motivations of today’s homemakers vary from embracing traditional mores to reducing ecological footprints, the techniques these books illustrate are often presented as life skills for all household members, positioning homemaking as a shared task and potentially altering the image of the homemaker in the future.

Homemaking for your library collection

Librarians who wish to develop homemaking collections that reflect the current interest in production-based skills may look to both the crafting (The Act of Creating, LJ 8/11, p. 38) and homesteading movements for overlapping titles. Useful publishers include Storey and Rodale. Also, books on organization and small-space living may provide guidance to patrons looking for concrete examples of how to get started‚ check out the second half of Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan’s Apartment Therapy.

Additionally, take note of the rising interest in nontoxic cleaners and understanding the ingredients in mainstream cleaning supplies, as well as organic gardening. Weeding for cultural considerations is useful, as is ensuring that any book that covers hiring domestic help also mentions tax and insurance issues.

The books below provide a comprehensive look at contemporary homemaking, with an eye toward helping the beginner and budget-conscious homemaker wherever possible.

Starred items ( ) are considered essential for libraries.


Bried, Erin. How To Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew. Ballantine. 2009. 304p. illus. ISBN 9780345518750. pap. $15.
These anecdotes and tutorials gleaned from subject experts and grandmothers who were children during the Great Depression cover a broad swath of homemaking skills. Instead of systematic how-tos, Bried presents these lessons as a means to improve the quality of the reader’s life. Excellent information, but definitely written to a female audience. (LJ Xpress Review, 12/09)

Coyne, Kelly & Erik Knutzen. Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World. Rodale. 2010. 320p. illus. index. ISBN 9781605294629. pap. $19.99.
Motivated to reduce household consumption, Coyne and Knutzen offer 70 projects that reintroduce production-based homemaking skills. Ranging in difficulty from making cleaning products to building a chicken coop, the projects are parsed into segments of time, giving readers an idea of how often a project should be repeated during the year. Well suited to the homemaker looking to expand his or her DIY repertoire.

Fasenfest, Harriet. A Householder’s Guide to the Universe: A Calendar of Basics for the Home and Beyond. Tin House. 2010. 260p. illus. index. ISBN 9780982569153. pap. $16.95.
Part memoir, part homemaking guide, and part screed, Fasenfest’s title introduces the rhythms of homemaking over the course of a year, with emphasis on a slower-paced way of life in which the household is a producer rather than a consumer. Monthly chapters are filled with advice, projects, and reflections for the home, kitchen, and garden. (LJ 10/1/10)

Hayes, Shannon. Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. Left To Write Pr. 2010. 300p. index. ISBN 9780979439117. pap. $23.95.
Hayes examines the cultural context and history of homemaking through a feminist, anticonsumption framework that combines with 20 interviews with self-described radical homemakers to define the motivation and tenets behind one segment of the homemaker revival.

Mendelson, Cheryl. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. Scribner. 2005. 896p. illus. index. ISBN 9780743272865. pap. $21.
Inspired by her grandmothers, Mendelson takes a thorough and systematic approach to homemaking, viewing the home as a living thing that supports the private life of its inhabitants. A section on legal issues addresses liabilities, privacy, and domestic employment. (LJ 8/99)

Payne, Kate. The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking: Decorating, Dining, and the Gratifying Pleasures of Self Sufficiency‚ on a Budget! HarperDesign: HarperCollins. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9780062014702. pap. $19.99.
Payne’s friendly introduction to homemaking covers the basics of maintaining a household, approaching tasks first room by room, then by subject. Her emphasis on keeping homemaking easy and affordable, plus resources at the end of each chapter, makes this an excellent book for new and frugal homemakers. (LJ 3/15/11)

Peterson, Margaret Kim. Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life. Jossey-Bass. 2007. 192p. ISBN 9780787976910. $21.95.
Theologian Peterson examines the cultural context of homemaking and suggests reframing it through the viewpoint of Christian scripture. Her essays acknowledge the diversity of contemporary families and the need for homemaking skills to be shared in a household while elevating the status of these tasks.

Woginrich, Jenna. Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life. 2d ed. Storey. 2008. 192p. illus. ISBN 9781603420860. $20.95; pap. ISBN 9781603425322. $12.95.
Woginrich’s memoir of developing her renter’s homestead contains funny, beautifully detailed essays, with suggestions and how-tos garnered from her successes and failures. (LJ 4/15/10)


Briggs, Raleigh. Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills. Microcosm. 2008. 128p. illus. ISBN 9780978866563. pap. $9.95.
This introduction to making household cleaners, health aids, and beauty supplies is for those whose interests turn to DIY chemistry. With safety guidelines, recipes, and a chapter on gardening basics. The first two chapters originally appeared in zine form as Herbal First Aid and Nontoxic Housekeeping.

Klein, Hilary & Adrian Wenner. Tiny Game Hunting: Environmentally Healthy Ways To Trap and Kill the Pests in Your House and Garden. new ed. Univ. of California. 2001. 275p. illus. index. ISBN 9780520221079. pap. $21.95.
In this excellent guide to identifying, preventing, and eradicating common household pests without using toxic chemicals, Klein and Wenner include background information on the increasing toxicity and inefficacy of pesticides. They offer nontoxic solutions whenever possible and introduce helpful insects, birds, and other creatures.

Sandbeck, Ellen. Green Housekeeping. Scribner. 2008. 448p. illus. index. ISBN 9781416544555. pap. $17.
Organic gardener‚ turned‚ accidental home organizer and housekeeper Sandbeck writes frankly about microorganisms in the home and provides nontoxic solutions for keeping them in check. Includes safe food handling, house cleaning, laundry, and garden pests. Originally appeared in 2006 as Organic Housekeeping.

Stewart, Martha. Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home. Potter: Crown Pub. Group. 2006. 752p. illus. index. ISBN 9780517577004. $45.
Progressing room by room, then by routine, Stewart tackles plaster repair, library maintenance, and compost pile creation, in addition to housecleaning and organization in this highly granular guide.


Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. 100th anniversary ed. Alltrista Consumer Products. 2010. 124p. illus. index. ISBN 9780972753708. pap. $7.99.
This classic guide provides clear steps for canning, freezing, and dehydrating. For not just produce but meat and seafood as well. Excellent for beginners.

Clark, Jean. Cent-sible Homemaking: An Adventure in Frugal Living. Tate Pub. 2008. 336p. ISBN 9781606040645. pap. $18.99.
Via anecdotes about establishing a household in the early days of her marriage and later during a move to Central America, Clark illustrates the basics of a frugal kitchen in this memoir and cookbook combo. References to her faith underscore the idea that community connections can be created without breaking the bank. The shopping and menu planning ideas make this useful for patrons without access to garden space or a farmers’ market.

Colquhoun, Kate. The Thrifty Cookbook: 476 Ways To Eat Well with Leftovers. Bloomsbury. 2009. 256p. illus. index. ISBN 9780747597049. pap. $18.
Colquhoun wants us all to stop wasting food, and this book provides a shop-to-trash approach for thrift in the kitchen. Originally published in the UK‚ comfort food abounds, and the measurements are metric‚ look for a new U.S. edition from Macmillan this fall.

English, Ashley. Homemade Living: Home Dairy with Ashley English; All You Need To Know To Make Cheese, Yogurt, Butter & More. Lark: Sterling. 2011. 136p. illus. index. ISBN 9781600596278. $19.95.
A good introduction to DIY dairy products, English’s guide provides 40 recipes for cheeses, ice cream, yogurt, and dairy-based beauty aids. Safety recommendations for handling dairy products and directions for building your own cheese press are included. (LJ Xpress Review, 3/18/11)

Pennington, Amy & Della Chen. Urban Pantry: Tips and Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable and Seasonable Kitchen. Skipstone. (Mountaineers Bks.). 2010. 176p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781594853463. pap. $19.95.
Pennington’s tips for stocking and making pantry staples teach readers to use kitchen scraps for stock, stale bread for crumbs, and a variety of leftovers for sauces, giving a solid foundation in kitchen thrift. Recipes for pantry items are accompanied by meal recipes, offering an arsenal of options without running to the store.

Vinton, Sherri Brooks. Put ’em Up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook. Storey. 2010. 304p. illus. index. ISBN 9781603425469. pap. $19.95.
Not just for jams and jellies! Vinton provides an excellent introduction to multiple food preservation methods. Organized first by technique, then by fruit or vegetable, this volume contains many easy-to-follow options for prepared and preserved foods.


Bartholomew, Mel. All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space. rev ed. Cool Springs. 2006. 272p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781591862024. pap. $19.99.
Retired civil engineer Bartholomew introduces his high-yield, small-space gardening method. He includes ingredients to what he calls the perfect growing medium and information on the garden size needed on a per person basis. A systematic layout with clear instructions and photographs makes this highly useful to beginners thinking about raised-bed gardens. (LJ 2/1/06)

Markham, Brett L. Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre. Skyhorse. 2010. 240p. illus. index. ISBN 9781602399846. pap. $16.95.
An excellent guide for gardeners wanting to eliminate most of their grocery bills. Markham’s approach combines his own experience with the best practices from several raised-bed methods. Advice includes how to select vegetables that are calorie-dense and budget friendly, how to raise poultry, how to build both a plucker and a thresher, and how to preserve food. (LJ 3/15/10)


OrangeReviewStar.2(Original Import)Friedman, Virginia & others. Field Guide to Stains: How To Identify and Remove Virtually Every Stain Known to Man. Quirk. 2002. 352p. illus. index. ISBN 9781931686075. pap. $15.95.
This well-written manual for removing over 100 different stains from fabric includes a photo section to help identify those mystery splotches.

Mendelson, Cheryl. Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linens. Scribner. 2005. 416p. illus. index. ISBN 9780743271455. $25.
The collected wisdom of fabric care from Mendelson’s Home Comforts.


Pray, Judy. Garden Wisdom and Know-How: Everything You Need To Know To Plant, Grow, and Harvest. Rodale. 2010. 480p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781579128371. pap. $19.95.
A compilation of several of Rodale’s gardening books, this provides readers with the tools to plan, plant, and maintain edible and nonedible gardens.

OrangeReviewStar.2(Original Import)Soler, Ivette. The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-Less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden. Timber. 2011. 216p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781604691993. pap. $19.95.
Garden designer Soler reclaims the front lawn for edible landscaping, providing background information on edible ornamentals and how to plan a front yard garden before going into detail on removing your front lawn and building a new garden. Gorgeous photos abound.

OrangeReviewStar.2(Original Import)Trail, Gayla. Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces. Potter: Crown Pub. Group. 2010. 208p. illus. index. ISBN 9780307452016. pap. $19.99.
A good choice for the frugal and the beginning gardener alike. Trail introduces readers to small-space organic agriculture with beautiful photographs of edible gardens and clearly written projects for producing, cooking, and preserving food. Projects are rated for difficulty and suggest using salvaged materials where applicable, thus helping keep start-up costs low. (LJ 11/1/10)

Wilkinson, Renee. Modern Homestead: Grow, Raise, Create. Fulcrum Pub. 2011. 256p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781555917487. pap. $26.95.
Wilkinson offers a community-centered homesteading approach, including gardening, beekeeping, and raising poultry and goats within city limits. Long on how-to, this title is full of instructions, recipes, and photos.


OrangeReviewStar.2(Original Import)Bown, Deni & others. The Complete Book of Sewing: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Sewing Techniques. 1st American ed. DK. 1996. 320p. illus. index. ISBN 9780789404190. $40.
A solid resource for both first-time sewers and accomplished tailors, this book guides readers through the not-so-mysterious techniques of sewing, starting with identifying tools and reading patterns and ending with couture dressmaking. Out-of-print, but both it and the 2003 edition can be found used.

OrangeReviewStar.2(Original Import)Couch, Peg. Illustrated Guide to Sewing: Garment Construction; A Complete Course on Making Clothing for Fit and Fashion. Fox Chapel. 2011. 176p. illus. index. ISBN 9781565235090. pap. $19.95.

OrangeReviewStar.2(Original Import)Couch, Peg. Illustrated Guide to Sewing: Tailoring; A Complete Course on Making a Professional Suit. Fox Chapel. 2011. 288p. illus. index. ISBN 9781565235113. pap. $24.95.
Not for the outright beginner, these books provide in-depth instruction on creating classic wardrobe basics and professional clothing for both men and women. Readers learn how to select patterns that fit their body shape and measurements, choose fabrics, and construct seams, cuffs, collars, and waistbands.

Fox Chapel. Illustrated Guide to Sewing Home Furnishings: Expert Techniques for Creating Custom Shades, Drapes, Slipcovers and More. Fox Chapel. 2010. 144p. illus. index. ISBN 9781565235106. pap. $19.95.
Readers interested in giving their homes a makeover will find this excellent resource for creating furnishings full of projects like professional-looking covers and cushions for windows, chairs, sofas, and beds.

Mullin, Wendy & Eviana Hartman. Sew U: The Built by Wendy Guide to Making Your Own Wardrobe. Bulfinch: Little, Brown. 2006. 212p. illus. index. ISBN 9780821257401. spiral. $25.99.

Mullin, Wendy & Eviana Hartman. Sew U Home Stretch: The Built by Wendy Guide to Sewing Knit Fabrics. Little, Brown. 2008. 256p. illus. index. ISBN 9780316118378. $25.99.
Self-taught seamstress Mullin demystifies the process of clothing construction and encourages new sewers to tackle made-to-measure projects. Techniques and tools are discussed, and each book includes three patterns for women’s clothing‚ to modify to size and shape‚ but the techniques can be used for any commercial pattern.


Backyard Chickens
Resources and community for folks who keep chickens.

Bee Culture: The Magazine of American Beekeeping
The digital edition of the magazine includes 16 years of archived articles.

Bee Source
An online community for beekeepers.

Cheap Healthy Good
A group blog devoted to frugal and healthy meals.

Good Housekeeping: Inside the Institute
This product-testing blog provides reviews and homemaking tips.

Grow Your Greens
A YouTube channel devoted to edible gardening in urban environments.

National Center for Home Food Preservation
A clearinghouse for research-based recommendations for home food preservation methods.

Simply Stated
This blog from Real Simple magazine provides homemaking tips ranging from cleaning to crafts. Sew-lutions Guidelines
A directory of PDFs covering tools and techniques for the home sewer; maintained by the Sewing and Craft Alliance, originally created by the Home Sewing Association.

30 Bucks a Week
A Brooklyn couple blogs about their attempt to eat well on $30/week.

The Urban Farming Guys
A video blog, permaculture wiki, and online community shares the insights of families building a sustainable community in a Kansas City, MO, neighborhood.







The complete schedule can be found at To submit titles (new and/or backlist), contact Cynthia Orr four to six months before issue dates listed above (email:

Author Information
Sarah Holm Norton, a librarian and parent in her forth year of a long homemaking apprenticeship, recently launched, where she writes about information issues and family life. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area
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