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The Library Skirt

Heather Ross20 Comments

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.