Sunday, March 27, 2011

What's Red and White and at the Armory?

651 Quilts.
Presented by the American Folk Art Museum this exhibit of predominantly 19th century quilts defies the imagination. Joanna S. Rose collected American red and white quilts. These are being displayed within the Armory's massive and historic Wade Thompson Drill Hall for six days. They are arranged into intimate circular rooms so viewers are able to enter the space and share the staggering experience.
Before the doors opened on Saturday
and the crowds arrived.


A fellow quilter who had traveled down from Boston said to me that she was struck by the number of hours the hand work in the quilts represented. As I considered the magnitude of that sum, my eyes filled with tears.  For surely, these "ordinary coverings" made by so many unidentified women represents  an escape from daily routine into a realm where something more becomes possible. That resonates with me today.

These are not scrap quilts. 

Producing red cotton cloth using Turkey Red dye made from madder root was a complex and expensive process. Cloth made this way cost more, but it was desirable because of its light and colorfast properties. When, in 1868,  a synthetic version of the dye was developed, American mills were able to produce more affordable red cloth. Patterns followed and there was an explosion of red and white quilts, a variation on an infinite theme.

They are strong, striking and graphic.

They are spectacular.

In the absence of any color other than red I was freed to focus on the quilt pattern and the quilting.  This pattern, Jacob's Coat or Peeled Orange, is one of my favorites.  It's a perfect hand project. There's a quilt along out there that may need a new member or two. 

I also love the swag and bow border. I've been hand quilting an applique quilt with a border like this. I can see now what's been missing. It needs that graduated chain and then will feel exactly right.  

hand quilted detail from a strip or bar quilt
I don't know why I love this quirky Irish Chain so much but I just do. 
There is something extra comforting about it.

The American Folk Art Museum has a catalog in the works. Meanwhile, they encouraged photography at the show. There's a flickr page with lots more photos for your viewing pleasure.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Infinite Variety

This weekend I am going to volunteer at the American Folk Art Museum's show, Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts. I must have been hiding under a rock all winter, because I had no clue that this is being billed as the largest exhibition of quilts ever shown under one roof. The Park Avenue Armory must have a pretty big roof because the Wade Thompson Drill Hall where they will be displayed is 55,000 square feet. 

For six days, from March 25 - 30, there will be more than 650 red and white quilts on display. They are from one collection. When Joanna Semel Rose's husband asked her what she wanted for her eightieth birthday she decided to pass her gift forward to the City of New York. The exhibition is free of charge. Happy Birthday, Mrs. Rose. Thank you.

The concept for the installation is by Thinc Design. It looks to be a work of genius.

Maria Ann Conelli, the Executive Director for the Museum says the installation is magic, hundreds of quilts tossed "into space like so many playing cards, where they hover weightlessly, seemingly frozen in midair." I think I will feel like Alice, after falling down the rabbit hole.  I can't wait.

P.S.  As if this isn’t enough, The Museum has mounted the exhibition, Quilts – Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum, at their West 53rd Street location. It is the first of a two part show and runs through April 24th. If you can’t visit, Channel 13 - PBS NY has video of Elizabeth V. Warren, Guest Curator, describing some of the highlights of the exhibit. More about the exhibit later.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

One Step at a Time

I am amazed that our Civil War Quilts group is in its 12th week already. How time flies. 
Barbara uploads the block of the week on Saturday mornings and most weeks I have been at my machine before 9 a.m. I love the discipline of sitting down to sew early each week.  It sets the tone for the day.  

This week the block was Louisiana. It was first published in Hearth and Home about a hundred years ago. 

I have discovered that it is a bit difficult to choose the right fabrics for my blocks. It usually takes longer than cutting and sewing them.  Because the daffodils and crocus are blooming here in Brooklyn, I knew I wanted to use yellow and purple. I laid out the fabrics I was considering and looked at them through the camera in black and white.  I could instantly see what to eliminate.  I thought that the small scale dark print would work for the background and that there would be enough contrast between the yellow and floral print for the flying geese.     
I like this one a lot.   

I said to a friend the other day that if a certain task felt overwhelming she might think about laying an imaginary grid over it and only allowing herself to work on it in ten foot squares at a time. Sort of like how I approach beginning a new hand quilting project.  I think I should listen to my own advice and tackle the garden now.  There are still leaves from last fall to be raked.
Look what was hiding
I think I'll prune a bit tomorrow.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Like Linus, I had a relationship with a blanket. I guess I still do. For at its most basic, isn't that what a quilt is?

I went into my local deli one morning to get coffee and bagel before going to work. The woman who worked behind the counter was almost due to deliver her first baby. She was alone in the store,  She looked particularly uncomfortable and I became concerned.  I  began to suspect that not only weren't the contractions she was describing Braxton-Hicks but that her water had broken already. She wanted to wait for the store owner to come later that morning and keep her scheduled appointment.  She seemed so uncomfortable so I told her that I was going home to get my car keys and would take her to the hospital. I suggested she make a phone call to her husband, put a sign on the door and close the store.  An hour and a half later she delivered her baby girl.

That weekend, I went away to sew with friends to sew.  I had some fabric that reminded me of the colors in huipils from the new mom's country of birth. I fussy cut the large flowers and reset them in simple borders. I made a blanket for a new baby and gave it to the deli owner to give to the mom.

It was odd, and I often wondered why she never thanked me. Hadn't she gotten it?  Did she not appreciate it?  What was wrong? Then one day a few years later the mom greeted me, with, "You know the blanket you gave
Janelle is her favorite. She takes it everywhere.  She sleeps with it at naptime in her daycare. She loves the blanket."

I was thinking about this quilt last week when I walked into the deli for my morning coffee. Janet looked up at me and grinned. " Can you believe it," she said, "she is five years old today and she still plays with the blanket."

My own  lovie was made of a thin white wool with a sunny yellow satin binding.  I loved running my fingers over its cold smoothness.  As a child I was prone to strep, and my throat felt like sandpaper when I swallowed.  My feverish dreams were always about finding my way back to some significant place. I was convinced that the texture of the riibbon was magical and when I found it in my sleep, the fever would break. 

Janelle's blanket doesn't have a satin binding but I think it is magical nonetheless.