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The Library Skirt

Yesterday was the "Modern Women of Sewing" event at the new York Public Library, held as a part of the Crafternoon series, and for those of you that missed it, heres a bit of a re-cap. The idea behind the event was to bring attention to all of the amazing rare books that the NYPL has in its cavernous, multi-level archives (known also  as "the stacks"), specifically the books that an artist or craftsperson would find especially inspiring. Liesl Gibson of Oliver + S, Denyse Schmidt, and myself were all asked to present our favorites from among the vast collection. Considering the selection, this was almost an overwhelming task. In the end, we all gravitated towards very different types of books, but browsed with great interest each-others selections. I showed illustrated (and refutable) proof that a mermaid was once captured off the coast of a place called Ambon, Liesl showed us the vintage fashion and kids books that were the earliest inspiration for Oliver + S and re-introduced us to a few fantastic children's book illustrators, and Denyse showed examples of the works of the modern artists that inspired her to become the artist and quilter that she is today. Then the three of us and about 150 guests sat in one of the loveliest, grandest rooms in the Library, surrounded by the most amazing tapestries and a hundred or so very rare books, and did a little crafting. Afterwards, over a late lunch at the Oyster Bar at (the equally grand) Grand Central Station, we all agreed that it was the most fun we had had in a long while.

In honor of this vast and inspiring collection of books and images and of this grand old building I designed this skirt. The artwork (above, in its original form, and left, printed on fabric and made into a skirt) is from the library's immense digital collection, which is available (and catalogued perfectly, try searching for anything via keyword) to all of us right here. I purchased the rights to use the image and received a password that allowed me to download a high resolution copy, which I then sent to my brilliant friends over at Spoonflower. The sateen is just one of their lovely fabrics available to print on, and was the perfect choice for this skirt pattern, which requires a fabric with a bit of "body" to achieve its festive fullness.

If you have a copy of Weekend Sewing, then you already have the pattern for this skirt. You will need to download these instructions (its a pdf file), which show you how to revise the skirt pattern piece for the Saturday Night Silk Jersey Set to make this skirt, which is 19" long and has a side zipper.

It was tough to choose which artwork to use, but in the end I knew this was the perfect piece. The drawing is of a cross section of the library's underground stacks, showing in great detail how an enormous collection of books could be stored, organized, and made easily accessed by all. It even shows the pulley system that was used to carry the books from deep underground, and up into the hands of a patron waiting in the library's beautiful "reading room". When I took a moment to look at it carefully I realized that our modern data storage systems (such as our computers and the internet) isn't as much of a replacement of the library's system but more an evolution of the same. We may have found a way to compact our data into tiny binary coded bits, but we still organize it in the same way: by guessing what we will be looking for at some now-unimaginable point in the future.

There are at least a zillion beautiful fabric prints waiting for you over at the NYPL's online digital collection, from beautiful paintings of birds, butterflies and flowers to the handwritten (and hand-edited) poetry of Walt Whitman. The hard part is choosing. Once you have fallen in love with something, you can purchase a high resolution copy to download, and, if you like, send it over to Spoonflower. For this skirt you will need about two yards of fabric.

Please be respectful in using the work of other artists and of using the library's digital collection. The images are meant for your personal use and enjoyment, but there are rules and regulations about using them commercially. Take the time to ask questions and be forthright about what you intentions for use are, because even though we have all become accustomed to this wonderful world of free online access, we all need to be respectful of this privilege and of our responsibility to help maintain and protect this wonderful and extremely rare collection of books and images that is our own history.

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Reader Comments (20)

I have bookmarked your website and I check it out every morning while I have my first coffee of the day before getting dressed for work here in Singapore. Reading articles like this reminds me of why I do it. I really love your ideas and learning from the links you post, and I always eagerly await your next new post! Unlike some other bloggers, you have something new and interesting every few days, and this is why your website remains one of my top sites. Keep up the fabulous work, Heather! BTW, you look great in the library outfit!

December 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGina A.Flores

oh Heather, I'm in love with your skirt! such an awesome idea, this is girlie booklover's dream skirt

December 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMariana Newlands

I was lucky enough to be in the city during your event and I am in love with the skirt and had so much fun at the event. I can't wait to try my own. Thanks for such a great idea!!

December 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie | ScarletFig

I didn't get up the nerve to say Hello, but Crafternoon was lovely, as was your skirt, and I enjoyed the chance to peruse various books of inspiration. Thanks!

December 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia

What an amazing archive. Thanks for bringing this to light! : )

December 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine

Libraries, such amazing places - I love looking at the botanical prints and insect drawings - such amazing detail! Thanks for a fab post!

December 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

Thanks so much for joining us for Handmade Crafternoon at the NYPL! You and Denyse and Liesl were such fantastic guests. I adore your skirt and the books you pulled to share with us were just gorgeous. Hope to see you at one of our spring events!

December 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCrafternoon

Oh my gosh, could you be any more adorable?? You had the forsight to create your own fabric to sew a skirt to wear to the library. You? Are an inspiration.

December 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkate

Oh my goodness! It's darling! You are such a genius!

December 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSunni Standing

You look amazing and this article was so inspiring. I will be reading all of your posts . Spoonflower is such a wonderful resource for an artist. Thanks for sharing about this very interesting event.

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRosanna Bernstein

LOVE the skirt. And I ditto Kate - it might just be impossible for you to look any more adorable.

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRic Rac Sister

Gina, truer words have never been spoken.\
I love how you printed that Image on to fabric how neat and treandy!
good going!

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Zucker

I love it!!!! Thanks for sharing!!!!

December 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVera

Loving the skirt, loving the fabric, loving the inspiration!

December 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

you are so damn cool, that you would think to honor and acknowledge an place as magical as the NYPL in this way.

My gramma grew up in NY before she moved to california. she loved the library. before i went east to attend NYU she died, but one of the things she made me promise was that i would get a card for the NYPL. it was one of the first things i did when i moved to NYC. and oddly enough, the reason i chose NYU was because of the school library and the Escher like floor. not exactly how one usually chooses their college but i might have been high...and it all worked out for the best.

now i have to go look through these links of yours. happy holidays. oh, made the boys their christmas pajamas using the kai shirt....me love love love them. http://www.flickr.com/photos/16401019@N00/4196178813/

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermamie

I want that material made into a shirt!!

December 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterInfoSherpa

You have brilliant ideas... The skirt is perfect!!!! Clothes with personality. That´s wonderful. I am tired about everybody using exactly the same things.

Hope you come one day to Brazil. I am sure that brazillian beauties would inspire you even more... The beaches, the forests, the architecture, the animals, the sea...

Weekend Sewing is one of my favorite´s crafts books.


January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterViviane

one of my favorite websites! thanks for your interesting posts_sfjoril

January 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersfjoril@yahoo.com

Such an inspirational idea. Thank you!

January 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCat

What a cute skirt. Thanks for the post (and the pictures too!)

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOne Second Needle

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