I'm Erin. I love to sew pretty things for my children. I haven't bought an actual pattern in over ten years now. Read more...

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Tilly and the Very Old Door

When I create an outfit, quite often a character shows up along with it and wants to tell his or her story.  This is Tilly's.

Tilly volunteered at the library two mornings a week.  She pushed carts full of books to be reshelved, she found books that patrons had put on hold, and she dusted the big books on the dark shelves near the back of the library.  But most of all, she loved to mend the books that had taken a little rough handling before being returned to the library.  This was when she had long conversations with Miss Melvil, who had never left town, but could tell stories as though she’d been around the world.

One Thursday morning Tilly was almost finished with the load of books she was replacing on the shelves.  Just two left, and they belonged in the children’s section.  She glanced down at the titles.  Frog and Toad are Friends.  Sarah, Plain and Tall.  Old friends, these two.  She knew just where they went on the shelves. 

She was running her fingers down the rows of book spines on the “L” shelf when a dancing spangle of light caught her eye.  Where did that come from?  She followed it to its source.  And what in the world?  There was a door in the wall of the children’s room where, she was sure, there hadn’t been one before.  Tilly had been all over the library, and knew every inch of it, even the rooms marked “employees only”.  This door wasn’t painted red, or blue, like the other doors to the children’s room.  It was a soft, weathered gray, so old that light shone through cracks in its wood.  But Tilly could see through the large glass windows into the room.  The lights in there were off.

Tilly clutched the books closer to her chest instinctively.  Doors lead somewhere, she knew, and this one was apparently only temporary.  There was no time to waste.  She reached out her fingers to touch the silvery wood.  The grain stood out in ridges.  She wouldn’t be able to feel ridges in the wood of a door she was imagining, would she?

Just a little push sent the door creaking open.  Daylight poured through the doorway, a little blinding against the fluorescent library lights.  A breeze wafted lazily through.  Tilly bent down, and went in.

She stood in a bright meadow, with a forest’s edge at her back.  On the horizon, she could see the outlines of the buildings of a city.  Something moved at the far edge of the meadow.  There were people moving among huts, and the smoke of a fire rising upward.  The huts and people must be far away, they seemed so small, so Tilly was surprised when a very short walk brought her to the edge of the village.  The huts were only as tall as she was, the people about as high as her waist.  They had all scattered when she approached, and were peeping out from behind the huts at her. 

“Come out,” she called.  “I won’t hurt you.”  Still they cowered, so she sat down on the grass so that she wouldn’t seem so big.  Finally a child scrambled out, overcome by curiosity, and ran boldly up to Tilly.

“What are you doing here?” the child yelped.  His accent was so strange it was almost impossible to understand him. 

“I don’t know,” said Tilly.  “I came through the door…” She pointed toward the trees, but no door was visible, only the gently swaying branches.  When she turned back, several more of the people had gathered around her, so suddenly that she jumped.  They stood in an awed half-circle.  But they weren’t looking at Tilly.  They were looking at the books she’d forgotten she was holding.   There was an excited chattering among them in a language Tilly didn’t understand.

“Come,” said one of the men.  He grabbed a corner of Frog and Toad and tugged.  Tilly stood up, causing the people to scatter in alarm, and stood very still until they had calmed down again.  The man who had spoken didn’t move.  He seemed very secure in his small authority, Tilly thought.

He turned away from her and went straight through the village, toward the city on the horizon.  All the little people fell in behind him as he walked, and Tilly followed too. 

Soon they came to the edge of the city.  How different it looked than it had looked from the meadow!  The buildings were crumbling and grass grew in the streets.  The grass was the only living thing in the broken, empty place.  The people paid no attention to the deserted city, but marched down the main street and up to a tumbledown building.  Great columns held up a sagging roof, and broken statues of small heroes flanked the entrance.

The line of people filed straight through the empty doorway and into the gloomy building.  Cobwebs and dust hung from the crumbling ceiling.  Tall windows full of broken bits of colored glass threw multi-hued shards of light everywhere.  More broken statues and columns stood inside.  A vine had sent a tendril in through one of the windows and was growing rampant over the floor. 

In the center of the room, a shaft of sunlight lit a pedestal with a huge open book on it.  The people gathered around it in an expectant ring.  Tilly waited too.  After a second, the leader impatiently grabbed the edge of Sarah, Plain and Tall and pulled it, and Tilly, around to the front of the pedestal.  He gave her a little shove toward the book, and said, “Read.”  Then he stood back and folded his arms.

In wonder Tilly reached out to touch the big, dusty book.  The edge of a page crumbled under her fingers.  The library needs to order a new copy, she thought automatically, but then, looking around, realized that there was no one to order a new copy of anything here.  Gingerly she hefted the book so that she could read the cover.  In dirty gold letters, barely legible, she could just make out, “Rules”.

She opened the book to the first page.  The people waited expectantly.  Tilly cleared her throat and read. 

“Number One:  Always brush your teeth before bed.”  There were murmurs and exclamations all the way around the group.  The leader nodded his head as though struck by the depth of this wisdom.

“Number Two:  Don’t hit.”  Again the nods and whispers.  One woman gasped and her hand went to her mouth.  There were chuckles among those closest to her.

“Number Three:  Clean up after yourself.”  Tilly was astonished.  This was a very thick book, was the whole thing filled with rules like these?  She made it a point never to read ahead, but in this case she just had to.  Carefully she lifted several inches of pages and looked at one of the last ones in the book.  It was covered with a blueprint of what looked like part of a building.  The facing page had a list of mathematical calculations.  So the “Rules” were progressive.  And there stood these tiny people, waiting for her to read them all to them. 

She paused and thought for a long minute, while they waited politely in the gloom of the ruined library.  Then she remembered the only things she had brought with her.  Of course. 

“Come,” she said to the people, and led them back down the steps of the building, out through the grassy, broken streets, and back to their little village on the edge of the meadow.  There she sat down on a warm boulder on the edge of the meadow and beckoned for them to sit with her.  When they had all settled, quizzical looks on their faces, she opened Frog and Toad are Friends and began. 

Tilly stayed for weeks with the little people on the edge of the meadow, tracing letters in the dust near their cooking fires, showing them how vowels behaved together.  They were slow learners at first, but soon they were reading and re-reading the books Tilly had brought.  Frog and Toad were becoming folk heroes, their gentle antics repeated with wild embellishments in the firelight after dinnertime.

One morning, Tilly realized that if they were going to learn enough to read their big book of rules right through, they would need more, and harder, books.  For the first time since she’d come, she thought of the door in the wall of her library.  Suddenly she felt a twinge of shame.  She had left without telling a soul where she was going.  Would Miss Melvil be worried sick looking for her?  Would her parents?  Her two books must have been marked “lost” by now, not to mention Tilly herself. 

After breakfast, Tilly gathered up her dirty and love-worn books and started back across the meadow.  The child who had boldly walked up to her the first day ran and caught her by the skirt.  “Where are you going?” he asked.  She turned to see several of the people in the village watching her go with astonished or worried faces. 

She held up the books.  “There are more.  I’m going to get more books.”  The people cheered, and Tilly went into the forest to find her door. 

It was there, slightly ajar, and on the other side she could see the library.  She pulled it open, went back through, and paused, holding its handle.  This door had opened for her, but what doors had she opened for her little friends on the other side?  No wonder the door was so old.  Maybe it was the oldest door of all, she thought with a little thrill.

Tilly's library cart still stood between the book stacks, exactly where she'd left it.  Had any time passed at all? 

She had to tell Miss Melvil.  She would never believe this.  Forgetting to be quiet, she raced between the shelves of books to the circulation desk calling, “Miss Melvil!  Miss Melvil!”  Miss Melvil was there, calmly stamping a stack of books.  She looked over her glasses at Tilly, a shushing finger held to her lips.

“Miss Melvil, you’ll never believe it,” Tilly gasped.  “There’s a door, right to another world, right here in the library!” 

Miss Melvil was unruffled.  She smiled.  “Yes, dear,” she said, waving an arm around at the shelves, “Several thousand, I expect."



Tutorial for creating Tilly's blue dotted skirt here.

Tutorial for creating Tilly's white shirt here.

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