Gathering to make crafts may seem more suited to the Midwest than to our steel and concrete city. But tell that to the dozens of henna-haired hipsters, Starbucks moms, silver tops and Michelle Obama look-alikes (and a few men) who showed up April 17 at the New York Public Library’s main branch to chat and knit, and cut and paste. According to Rare Books librarian Jessica Pigza, co-host of “Handmade Crafternoons,” these do-it-yourself salons “bring people into the library, build community and provide a space for creativity.”
Pigza, who blogs at The Handmade Librarian (handmadelibrarian.com), calls herself a dabbler, a “dilettante,” but she’s pretty accomplished. She wears dresses, tops and even a cape that she sewed from vintage patterns. By day, she’s in the rare books division, devoted to reader services and fielding remote reference questions by email. But one Saturday a month, she and Maura Madden, author of Crafternoon: A Guide to Getting Artsy and Craftsy with Your Friends All Year Long, co-host a crafting commune.
By coordinating events and sharing her curiosity about crafts and books online, Pigza is one of many librarians keeping the New York Public Library relevant in a time of flux.
“Jessica has been particularly effective in using blogging to more directly connect with the craft and design enthusiasts among our patrons,” wrote Ben Vershbow, the library’s digital producer, by email.
Her library blog channel Hand-Made (www.nypl.org/blog_series/hand-made; not to be confused with her personal blog) encourages artists and other creative types to tap into the wealth of research material and ephemera at the main branch. Treasures include vintage valentine collections, textile samples, maps, menus and photos.
“It’s an interesting time at the library,” said Pigza, who lives with her husband and their dog in Washington Heights. “There is a lot of open thinking about what we can do.”
Each Handmade Crafternoon is two hours long and moderated by a local craft book author. Esther K. Smith, who wrote Magic Books and Paper Toys, taught attendees to make pop-up paper garland books last year. Kata Golda, author of Hand-Stitched Felt, demonstrated the art of stitched felt mice. At the April 17 session, Madden introduced books from the library’s collection, followed by a show-and-tell session among attendees.
I made a birthday card for my sister, snipping the letters of her name from the bridal magazine pages. My 14-year-old contentedly pressed and pulled cotton into a swirling tornado, which, sadly, got squashed in our bag during the two-mile walk home. The atmosphere was chummy and relaxing (halfway through I was filled with a sense of technology-free well-being). Some of the individual projects were inspiring, especially a knit baby blanket in rich red, orange and gold connected squares.
The last event before a summer hiatus is scheduled for Saturday, May 15. Moderator Natalie Chanin, founder and head designer of Alabama Chanin, will share some of her Southern sewing and sustainable fashion techniques.
Pigza and Madden plan to run the series for at least another season and hope to take the model to branch libraries in the future. It is easy to imagine how craft gatherings sprouting from the main branch to libraries all over the city (and beyond) might connect us to more than just crafts and books.
May 15, New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwartzman Building, 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, 917-275-6975; 2 to 4 p.m., Free.