To a growing wave of artists, makers, fashion insiders, and other lovers of antique fabrics and handmade crafts, Blue: The Tatter Textile Library, in Brooklyn, is paradise found. Get a glimpse of its inspiring collection and welcoming workshop—and take a deep dive into creativity.
Just as its name promises, Blue: The Tatter Textile Library, in Gowanus, Brooklyn, is saturated in large swaths of cerulean and sapphire. Japanese indigo fabric is draped over cabinetry; spools of azure silk thread stand in a row.
The shelves are lined with more than four thousand books and crafting journals, all carefully kept and cataloged. Open to the public by appointment, the library, which is tucked into a modern mixed-use building, is the brainchild of Jordana Munk Martin, an artist, patron of the arts, and lifelong fabric enthusiast. "Anything you want to know about the history or making of textiles around the world, we probably have it," she says, beaming behind her cobalt glasses. An academic tome about Guatemalan backstrap weaving? Check. An illustrated overview of five centuries of Indonesian cloth? You bet. A 1920 booklet for American housewives on clothing stain removal? Right over here.
This passion runs deep in Martin's family. Her grandmother, Edith Robinson Wyle, was an influential collector who in 1963 founded the Egg and the Eye in Los Angeles, which later became the Craft and Folk Art Museum. "Edith didn't believe in the separation of folk art from the high arts," says Martin. "She argued that crafts were in some ways the most authentic act of creativity." Wyle taught her children and grandchildren how to sew, embroider, and knit, and to appreciate far-flung cultures. By the time she passed away in 1999, she had amassed an extensive collection of not only books but also artifacts—from garments and baskets to weaving combs and knitting needles.
Master of the Arts
Martin, who studied art at Rhode Island School of Design, became the caretaker of this unusual legacy in 2008, and has acquired on her own nearly two thousand more books and unique objects. She painted the walls, shelves, and floors of the library blue, to create what she calls "an immersive experience." The oil painting is a self-portrait by her grandmother, Edith Robinson Wyle. Adjacent to it hangs a checkered antique Japanese sakiori; the vests on display are from Turkey and China; and the paint on the walls and shelves is Benjamin Moore Bell Bottom Blues.
Left: Martin stands in front of swatches she crowdsourced for a project devoted to the work of American knitting expert Barbara Walker, which also includes personal stories from the crafters.
Since it opened in June 2017, the library has attracted a steady stream of students, curators, artists, and designers (from the theater world and brands as varied as Ralph Lauren and Patagonia), many of whom discovered it through its Instagram feed, @tatterbluelibrary. And they're not coming just to do research: In a light-filled adjoining studio, Martin hosts workshops on techniques such as stump work, sashiko, indigo dyeing, and tatreez, Palestinian embroidery. "The classes activate what's in the books," she explains, and reinforce her core philosophy for the place: "We want you to come and touch."
Left: In the studio where Martin makes her own art and hosts crafting workshops, a sashiko-stitched kimono from mid-20th-century Japan serves as inspiration, while handmade baskets hold her tools and materials.
I want to promote the consciousness of cloth. Textiles are an extension of our bodies and an essential part of human life—they connect us to our past, and to each other."
A Common Thread
Weaving combs, calligraphy brushes, and other domestic items from Japan.
Stump-work thread flowers by artist Verónica Fuentes.
A Victorian lace-and-sewing kit with a glove stretcher.
Skeins of blue silk yarn from late New Jersey fiber artist Carol Westfall.
A handmade knitting-needle case made out of antique Japanese fabric.
Vintage zōkins or Japanese cleaning cloths.
Bobbins and spools of thread with antique thimbles from France.
An American doll's dress with smocking, from circa 1950.
Try a Technique: Sashiko
Pictured here: a bookmark with sashiko stitching. Once used for repairs and reinforcements, sashiko originated as a practical method for mending clothes. Today, it's also used to stitch striking designs—often as white thread on dark indigo cloth.