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Button and Needle Sculpture May Be a Sign of the Times

A symbol of hope and renewal in New York's Garment District
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The giant button and needle sculpture in the heart of Manhattan’s Garment District is going through some changes. This iconic sculpture and the information kiosk tucked underneath it became a symbol of hope and renewal in spring 2021, when it was transformed into a giant pincushion.

Public art for sewing enthusiasts

At the corner of Seventh Avenue and 39th Street, the pincushion will remain in place—and continue to delight those who visit and shop the neighborhood for fabric and sewing notions—until July 31, 2021. After that, the sculpture is destined for a more permanent change.

Button and Needle Sculpture as a pincushion

The “Pin Cushion” is the work of Patricia Gonzalez and Carlos Franqui of Floratorium, a flower and art studio. The duo created the installation from more than 50 bales of curly willow, nine wisteria bales, and hundreds of faux hydrangeas, poppies, greenery, and butterflies, according to the Garment District Alliance.

Close-up of button and needle sculpture as a pincushion

A symbol of renewal

It’s one of the visible signs of the Garment District’s efforts to bring businesses and visitors back to the neighborhood after months of inactivity, an increase in crime, and temporary or permanent store closures caused by the pandemic. The Garment District has long been considered the fashion center of New York City. It has been home to many designers and to suppliers of fabrics, trims, and sewing notions. In general, it encompasses the area between Fifth and Ninth avenues and between 34th and 42nd streets.

The Garment District Alliance reported during a June 30 public meeting on Zoom that pedestrian traffic continues to increase as businesses return and new stores open. However, all the openings noted were food retailers.

Effects of the pandemic

Some fabric and notions stores, which attract tourists, designers, costumers, and other sewing enthusiasts, have struggled. Pandemic-imposed business restrictions, dramatically curtailed foot traffic, and the closure of Broadway shows (planning to reopen at full capacity in the fall) may have made it difficult to keep shops open.

Closed storefront Joyce Trimming
Joyce Trimming, Inc. has moved to an online-only retail business.

Joyce Trimming, Inc., for example, shuttered its brick-and-mortar location at 109 W. 38th Street and turned into an online-only business operating out of Randolph, New Jersey, some 40 miles away.

“Come back to the Garment District,” urged Barbara Blair, president of the Garment District Alliance during the Zoom meeting. Her invitation followed discussion with representatives of the New York Police Department about how it is addressing crime in the neighborhood.

A check of several Garment District fabric and trim retailers reveals subtle changes to their operations. They are open but offer slightly shorter hours. Face masks are required in some and are optional in others. Check out store websites or call ahead for details.

One business owner expressed hope that Broadway’s reopening will bring back business in the fall.

Meanwhile, construction continues on a pedestrian plaza on Broadway between 39th and 40th streets. It will give the neighborhood a place to display public art, host public events, and otherwise attract more businesses and shoppers. Completion is expected this summer.

A future for the button and needle sculpture

What’s in store for the button and needle sculpture and information kiosk?

The sculpture was built in the 1970s, then renovated and made into the information booth in the 1996, according to the Garment District Alliance. Now it gets another change.

“The information kiosk, which has been closed for some time, will be demolished because it is unsound. An entirely new design by UAP (Urban Art Projects) is being fabricated and will be placed on that site.”

The new sculpture will still depict a needle passing through a button’s hole, but it will more accurately show the needle threaded.

New design for button and needle sculpture
The planned design for the new button and needle sculpture may bring a sense of renewal to Manhattan’s Garment District. Photo: courtesy of the Garment District Alliance.

Anne Bonacum of the Garment District Alliance said the redesigned sculpture is expected to be installed before Thanksgiving 2021.

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