Social Fabric

Social Fabric

On a rainy Thursday evening in downtown New Haven, people make their way into the Institute Library. They unpack scissors, needles and thimbles, and as they begin to chat, the stories that unfold are connected by a thread.

This is the second Sew Sew Social, a sewing circle or “sewing bee.” Sarah Rosner, the organizer and one of the first to arrive, is using a needle and thread to repair delicate black beading on a vintage garment called a lace cape or capelet, which she believes dates back to the Victorian era. She got the piece from a very old woman, Lucille, while living near her in what had once been a redlined district in Seattle, WA. The backing of the petite garment is buckram, a stiff cotton cloth that looks like burlap, and it’s overlaid with silk faille (pronounced “file”), a fabric both fine and textured. Rosner wishes she knew the cape’s entire story, including what history it saw.

Helped by library staff, Rosner started the Sew Sew Social for anyone who knits, crochets, sews, embroiders, needlepoints, cross-stitches, quilts, makes lace or mends. There are no organized classes, demonstrations or presentations, just a chance to chat and “enjoy a casual evening with fellow creatives.” The group meets every other Thursday, including tonight, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the library, which has occupied the same building at 847 Chapel Street since 1878.

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2022 International Festival of Arts & Ideas

With rain falling harder outside and the sewing bee underway, library volunteer Ann Marlowe sets out a tray of cheese and crackers for the group. She’s an author of three novels, but, she says, “It’s nothing compared to the 50 or so my husband wrote,” referring to the late mystery writer Stephen Marlowe.

As Marlowe places a bottle of white wine beside the cheese, Maryann Ott, Institute Library board chair, unwraps an embroidery piece she purchased recently just for the Social. It’s of the night sky, and her thread will eventually outline the constellations. Ott is an amateur astronomer and an “eclipse chaser,” she explains, a hobby that has taken her to France, Uganda and other lands. In 2001, she traveled to Zambia and saw the eclipse that started the chase. “It’s so mind-expanding,” she says. “As the moon gets closer to fully covering the sun, the atmosphere around you starts to change; it gets kind of a yellowy gray, and animals start to think night is coming so they start making noise—birds and other wildlife get restless—and the temperature starts to drop. It gets really surreal.”

Ott pokes a threaded needle through a star to start her embroidery while, at the opposite end of her table, Scott Schuldt, a library board member and Rosner’s husband, works with his own needle and thread. An engineer turned artist, he dabbles in multiple mediums, but for the Sew Sew Social he carries tiny beads he is hand-sewing onto a 59-by-37 canvas to create a self-portrait that depicts a dream he once had, one in which he is paddling down river in a canoe with several less-than-competent companions who are eventually replaced by a squirrel that drops into the boat beside him to chat about life. Words recounting his dream are pasted around the perimeter of the beaded portrait, which he expects will take him 18 months to finish.

Valerie Guth sits near him, knitting a delicate, multi-colored scarf using stockinette stitches, a simple technique that alternates rows of knit and purl stitches. Her grandmother was a talented seamstress, Guth says, explaining that after her grandfather died and hardship ensued, her grandmother became especially adept at repurposing clothing.

As Guth knits and chats, the library’s operations manager Eva Geertz steps beside her, and there’s a different kind of thread that connects them: The two are friends who haven’t seen each other since 1985, reuniting when Guth walked through the Institute Library doors for the Sew Sew Social that evening. Guth recently moved back to Connecticut and, finding her old friend Geertz on Facebook, learned about the sewing circle.

As the rain falls against the skylight over their heads and the library’s books about presidents, history, politics and so much more watch them sew, Rosner comments on her reasons for creating the series. “Sewing in the company of others is both social and meditative,” she says. “Historically, men and women gathered, sewed and talked. We’re in a historic surrounding doing a historic activity, yet it’s of the moment; it’s now.”

Like sewing itself, you don’t need special access or credentials to engage in a future Sew Sew Social. Just grab your sewing kit and ring the doorbell, and someone will let you in.

Sew Sew Social
The Institute Library – 847 Chapel St (2nd Fl), New Haven (map)
Next event: June 16 (today), 5:30-7:30pm
203 562-4045 |

Written and photographed by Jill Dion. Image 2 features Sarah Rosner. Image 3 features Scott Schuldt.

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