This past weekend, I was at my LNS (local needlework store), which currently has my trunk show of models. While there, I was talking to a couple of the customers/stitchers about one of the pieces and so it has just been on my mind the last couple of days.
While, yes, the pattern for this is available for purchase in my Etsy store (here for the paper pattern and here for the pdf version), the story behind the creation is very different than nearly all the other cross stitch pieces. Come along for story time!
In March of 2011, I walked into the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, looked up and all around, and was simply amazed. Six hundred and fifty-one red and white quilts collected by Joanna S. Rose were on display in the most creative and stunning quilt exhibit that I have ever seen. Along with the thousands of other visitors who poured into the Armory during those five days the display was up, I was simply enthralled.
I had never been to that space before – it is huge, but not in your typical inner city convention center huge. There is history in the building, in the soaring ceilings, in the walls around you. And what was done to display these quilts, the thoughtful design process…well, I’ll try to let these pictures speak thousands of words (they are just a handful of the many photos taken that day):
If you are interested in knowing and seeing more about this exhibit, some simple google searches will bring up plenty of pictures and videos.
Here is the website from the Folk Art Museum about the exhibit . You can follow plenty of links from that page, including press articles from the time. There is also a book that came out about the quilts and the exhibit, although it took until 2015 for it to be published.
It was only on display for five days, likely never to reoccur in that format again. I consider myself so lucky to have seen it in person. Even while still there, walking around that amazing space, eyes scanning in all directions, I knew that I wanted to find a way, in my own needlework, to relive and reinterpret the experience. In the days that followed, I was able to revisit each quilt individually since the organizers had created an app for all to download and enjoy. Yes, it was such a unique experience to have witnessed the display, but I also recognized the beauty of each individual piece, be it humble or dazzling. (Sadly, the app is long out of use – too many updates have passed.)
I was not alone in my reaction and response to this truly extraordinary exhibit. In the years since, I read about a number of quilt guilds that were inspired by this show and created their own red and white quilt challenges. I am not really a quilter. How then might I create a way to pay homage to this quilt exhibit using needle and thread? I began to make sketches in a graph-paper notebook, breaking down many of the quilt designs to penciled-in squares. What to do with these graphed designs? I imagined something simple, in keeping with the spirit of the collector and most likely the quilt makers themselves. Mrs. Rose found most of these quilts in flea markets decades ago. As written in the exhibit’s materials, these quilts “are not prizewinners at fairs nor ones that have been passed down in families, cherished by several generations. They are, rather, ordinary coverings, the creators largely anonymous, their provenance obscure, not meant for company beds or best use.”
In my needlework, I often enjoy working on a small scale. And so I chose the humble pincushion as the means to gather and recreate some of my favorite geometric designs from the quilts in the Armory display. A small sampling from that magnificent exhibit, it is my homage both to the quilts and to their makers.
In the design process, I began by looking carefully at all 651 quilts on that app, spending hours studying the entire collection and making a list of those that caught my eye both for the inherent beauty of their design and their geometric qualities. I narrowed my list to about fifty quilts, took screenshots of them, and printed them on paper. This allowed me to see them all at the same time, with papers spread all around me in an array.
Somewhere in my research on pincushions, I happened upon a hexagon shaped design, familiar to me as a quilt pattern often called Grandmothers Flower Garden, and the vision of the three-dimensional end product began to take shape. I began to draw quilt designs on graph paper, some lending themselves to the hexagon shapes for the top of the pincushion and some better left for the rectangular sides. I graphed many more than I knew I could use, although did not graph all fifty that were printed.
I stitched this on 32 count linen fabric over 1, just needing the small size because of how much I was trying to fit into a small space. I knew how I wanted all these pieces to come together, but I struggled to make the finishing of my little pincushion precise and crisp. Then again, a pincushion is supposed to be a functional item and sometimes function and beauty can go hand in hand in less than precise ways.
To this day, I am intrigued and fascinated by the magnificent exhibit that inspired me to create this piece. From time to time, I search on the internet to see if the vague plans for a future mounting of the exhibit have come to fruition. The answer for now is not yet.
In 2013, I entered my little pincushion in the ANG (American Needlepoint Guild) Annual Exhibit. It won not only a first place ribbon for its category, but also the Small Masterpiece Award (by definition, a piece no larger than 6″ by 6″). I loved that. It also won a first place ribbon at the Woodlawn Needlework Exhibit in Virginia in March of that year.
About a year ago, as I was just sharing about the various needlework projects that I had completed over the years, I realized that I had all the graph paper and research and such that was involved in the creation of this little pincushion. I recognized that there may be an interest in others stitching this little piece and I could produce it as one of my patterns available to anyone for purchase. And so I did.
My pincushion is my homage to Mrs. Rose’s collection of red and white quilts and the extraordinary exhibit of them.
There you go…the story of my inspiration for this piece.