Monday, October 5, 2015

A Pincushion Homage (Arlene Cohen)

Arlene's Pincushion and Ribbons

Recently Arlene and I realized she'd never shared her red and white pincushion with Blog.  She exhibited this at the 2013 ANG Seminar and won two major ribbons for it, too.    This is an original design, worked in sections on linen and assembled according to the plan Arlene worked out for it.

Arlene wrote this about the photographs she sent me:

"What a thrill that a long awaited book has finally been published!  In 2011, an extraordinary exhibit of 651 red and white quilts, all collected by Mrs. Joanna Rose, was on display in the Park Avenue Armory in New York City for six days.  It is an amazing collection and was an amazing display of it and I was so very fortunate to be able to see it in person.

We needleworkers find our inspiration in all sorts of places – sometimes in the beauty of a design created by others and sometimes in the stunning display of work in another (but related) medium.  Attending that exhibit and the ability to allow it to “live on” with me through an iPad app at the time, I evolved into the planning and creation of a needlework piece.  

Sadly, the iPad app stopped working a few IOS upgrades ago and it is no longer even available in the App store. But, lucky for us, the book of all the quilts, with some wonderful accompanying essays, has finally been published!  Getting it in my hands has encouraged me to share a bit about my pincushion project all over again.  I entered this in the 2013 ANG Exhibit in Anaheim and was thrill when it won both a first place ribbon (for Adapation, Non-Professional) and the Small Masterpiece ribbon that year."

I found a series of photographs of the quilts that inspired the pincushion on display here.

Here is the book Arlene refers to.

Here's Arlene's Artist Statement that she wrote for the ANG Exhibit.

A Pincushion Homage to
Infinite Variety:  Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts

In March of 2011, I walked into the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, lookedp 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.

Even while still there, 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 iPad 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.

I was not alone in my reaction and response to this truly extraordinary exhibit.    In the two years since, I have 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 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 iPad 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.

Finding the right thread was its own challenge.  The precise shade of red and the requisite fineness for the 32 count linen fabric were my guiding principles.  After some trial and error, I settled on a Gutermann silk thread.  I started with the hexagons on top using mostly cross stitches, anxious for the vision in my head to come to life on fabric.  However, even as I stitched, I knew it just didn’t look right:  I was stitching the hexagons right next to one another.  As at the Armory display, the layout of the individual pieces was critical – it might enhance or, in this case, detract from the overall effect.

Wisely, I set this pincushion project aside for several months.  The graphed designs held my imagination, but it would take some time before I could commit my mind and my fingers to taking up that red thread again and starting over from the beginning.

But, commit my mind and my fingers I did.  Spreading out the hexagons made all the difference for visual breathing room on the top.  I then realized that the diamond shaped areas in each “corner” of the hexagon needed attention.  There was already enough variety in the hexagons on the top and so I chose to stitch a simple skipped cross stitch to fill each diamond. When I began stitching the rectangles for the sides of the pincushion, I realized the size I had planned was just wrong.  If I stitched them as I originally intended, the height of the pincushion would be out of scale to the width.  At this point, I decided to make a three-dimensional paper mock-up of the finished product. The graphs of the rectangular sides show how my thinking evolved.

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 or a forthcoming book have come to fruition.  The answer for now is not yet.

My pincushion is my homage to Mrs. Rose’s collection of red and white quilts and the extraordinary exhibit of them.

Thanks for sharing, Arlene!

Written by Jane/Chilly Hollow
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