West Philly has a new free arts and crafts supply library

Yoshiko Yap

Philadelphia is home to all sorts of little free libraries — while many of them are filled with books, there are also ones that focus on movies, yarn, and even kits to naturally dye fiber.

As of this week, there’s a new one in West Philadelphia, full of craft supplies that can be used for creative projects. It’s called the Supply Library and anyone can drop off materials or take what they want.

“You can’t be creative if you don’t have stuff to be creative with,” said multimedia artist Cassie Jones, who created the box, which sits in front of the Black Hound Clay Studio on 50th Street. “I’m super psyched about this happening…people are [already] putting stuff in and taking the stuff.”

The box itself is reminiscent of one of those old newspaper dispenser containers, but with a colorful twist. It’s primarily painted in a bright mustard yellow with the sides are covered in a bright and funky scale shell pattern. It was designed by Jones and installed by local company, YouWraps. The front reads: “Supply Library: Leave what you don’t need. Take what you want.”

The library was officially installed this week, but the idea for it has been years in the making.

Cassie Jones finds oil pastels, an ornament starter, a wood frame and other items in the Free Supply Library in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Covens and crafty ideas

Creativity has always been a core part of Jones’ life. From painting rocks to sewing Halloween costumes with her mom while growing up, the Montgomery County native always had a knack for arts and crafts. She continued to explore her interests in high school and eventually, it led her to study fiber arts and accessory design at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

“I’ve had a lot of time and surrounding environments that flourish in creativity and support my creativity,” Jones said. She makes it a point to share her skills and offer support to others. “It feels so important to pass on the information, the knowledge that I have.”

When Jones graduated in 2010 and moved to Philadelphia, she was looking for ways to connect with others, while also balancing her personal creativity with the work that she was now getting paid to do. Jones was working at a specialty leather accessory shop at the time and joined a local community group on Facebook to help people with minor mending projects, like sewing buttons or hemming garments. But Jones wouldn’t simply fix the issue, she would teach others so that they could do it themselves in the future. After members expressed so much interest in learning these skills, another Facebook community group formed in 2013 with Jones at the helm: The South Silly Craft Coven.

“I guess I had no idea what it was really, other than a way for me to make stuff and share that stuff with other people without involving dollars,” Jones said.

But it grew to be so much more than that.

The Craft Coven became both an online and offline space for creative people (or creatively-curious people) to get together, learn skills, work on projects, and have a good time. It was also a way for people to give away items and materials they were no longer using. Jones eventually started hosting supply swaps at South Philadelphia’s Black Cat Tavern, but then another issue presented itself.

“People would just show up and drop stuff off and I expected more people to be picking up,” Jones said. “So we would just end up with boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff.”

Some of it would be donated to schools or teachers, sometimes people would say they were interested and never show up to pick it up and other times, Jones would store some of it in her basement. All options required some level of coordination and none of it was ideal.

After living in South Philadelphia for a decade, Jones moved to West Philadelphia in 2020, where she encountered little free libraries regularly.

“It just clicked,” Jones said. “Why can’t this also work for supplies and tools and these things that people are giving away for free and other people want.”

The idea for what would become the Supply Library was born.

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