CONSUMED WITH: The first edition of the book Perfect Needlepoint Projects: From Start to Finish, cowritten by her mother and published in 1977. At the time, Archer's mother, Kathy, was a junior editor in a special-projects imprint at Doubleday.
THE DESIGN: From its topic to its typefaces, Perfect Needlepoint is totally of its time. The art-deco-revival fonts inside are surpassed only by the swoopiness of the serifs on the cover. Archer describes the aesthetics of the projects as "?'70s WASPy." Jonathan Adler might die over some of the projects, including the monogrammed, green-and-gold tennis racket cover.
THE CAREER PATH: The book makes Archer think about her mom's professional life. After years in publishing, she got a degree in arts administration and now works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "People can have chapters in their lives where they're working on different projects," says Archer. "They can learn from that and move on to something else." It's also a reminder that creativity can be a part of your life even if you're not a designer or artist.
THE CULTURAL CONTEXT: "My mom had a wardrobe made from Vogue Patterns," says Archer. "That's a vanished world." Buying off the rack wasn't nearly as common as it is now — a lot of people knew how to sew. But neither of her grandmothers was crafty. They came of age in the '20s and '30s, when crafting seemed antiquated. Society's acceptance of craft and its popularity ebbs and flows — it goes from being thought of as old-fashioned to being reclaimed by new generations. Archer connects its popularity right now to the public's interest in tracing its food back to its origins and in its tiring of consumerism. "But there's also a ticky-tacky, Michael's association," Archer says. "I get wildly different reactions to my job based on who the person is and what age they are."
THE PERSONAL CONTEXT: The book hit stores the same week Archer was born. The projects — her dad's needlepoint desk set, the dining room chairs with lattice-patterned bargello cushions her mom still uses — are familiar because they were in her house growing up. Her parents bought an apartment in 1970 on the first floor of an Upper West Side brownstone. After her father repaved the garden, there were always bricks around. One of them is in the book, transformed into a decorative door stop with a needlepoint brick cozy featuring a rendering of the brownstone.
THE SENSE OF PLACE: "New York at that time was so different," says Archer. "It had more of a DIY spirit. It was grittier, not quite as polished." There's an element of Philadelphia she likes because it reminds her of the pre-Giuliani New York of her childhood. Her Upper West Side neighborhood was all writers, dancers, and artists. As a kid she'd wear the Indian war bonnet given to her by an uncle to the grocery store, and no one batted an eye.
THE TIE-IN: "I probably first became aware of my mom's relationship with craft and that not everyone had the skill and inclination to make things by hand when I started going to school and wearing things she made," says Archer, "because teachers would comment."
In retrospect, this early connection with craft probably foretold her recent career move. (She started at the Art Alliance in July.) "I've talked with other curators of craft, and we all have this connection to making things," she says, "or to someone in our life who made things."
Caroline Tiger is a design writer in Philadelphia. Visit her blog at design-phan.com.