Infinite Variety

At the American Folk Art Museum, they are having a year of the quilt. I have already seen the first phases of their exhibitions, which have been wonderful, and last weekend I was thrilled to go and see a five day long showcase of a phenomenal collection of red and white quilts in the Park Avenue Armoury, which is destination enough itself. Entitled ‘Infinite Variety’, it shows the remarkable array of patterns and effects available when using just two colours to create works of art.

On walking into the colossal old drill hall of the armoury, I was greeted by beautiful, intricate, amazing quilts that hung from the ceiling and were strung across walls, all of them remarkable and none of them alike, making a magnificent effect and producing a feast for the eyes. Stars, geometric shapes, religious texts, figurative images, plants and flowers, even aeroplanes; each quilt was worthy of much attention and study, and I only wish I had have had time to stop and appreciate them all as they deserved.

Being in this space and seeing how two simple colours (red and white as a combination became popular in the 19th century because of the colour fast-ness of turkey red dye compared to other colours, not for patriotic reasons as commonly believed) can produce so much variety made me meditate on how often, keeping things simple produces the best results. If I were a quilt, I certainly wouldn’t be a beautiful patchwork of simple red-and-white checkerboard. I’d be a jumble of all different fabrics, vying for attention, clashing and competing and confusing the eye. I am impatient, highly strung, too ambitious with my time; I try and fit too much in, exhaust myself, burn my candle at both ends. As Andrew Marvell would say, I am ever aware of time’s winged chariot drawing near, ever conscious that my time in New York will come to an end, and ever afraid that I will leave this city without having fully appreciated and explored everything that was laid at my feet.

But thinking on those quilts, and walking through the budding daffodils in Central Park a couple of days ago, I came to the realisation that the reason the quilts exhibition in the Armoury had been so arresting was because of its use of two simple colours in so many various ways. Keeping things simple created a beauty that would have been diluted if more elements had been added. As I stopped in the park to gaze at the daffodils and watch people run around the reservoir, I realised that what I will take away from this year in New York is not how much I have done and seen, but how much this experience of leaving home and forging a new life in a new city has changed me. It’s been seven months now, and like the flowers in the park, I am beginning to truly blossom. I’m not the girl I was a few months ago. My horizons have been expanded, my dreams and ambitions have sky rocketed, and my courage and confidence have developed to the point where I am doing things I never believed I would or could do just a few months ago. Yes, I have been to lots of museums and seen lots of architecture and learned a lot about New York history, but ultimately, the most valuable things I have learned have been about myself.

So, like the quilts in the armoury, from now on, I’m going to allow myself to keep things simple, to take a step back, to smell the coffee rather than greedily gulp it down before it’s snatched away from me. If I don’t get to do and see everything, no matter. New York isn’t going anywhere.


  1. Thanks Rachel for some beautiful images. Some of your readers may remember Judy Chicago’s International Quilting Bee, commemorating over 700 individual women and women’s organizations standing as a monument to womankind by honoring the accomplishments, personalities, individualism, and importance of women throughout history and the world. The professional and non-professional quilters were from the United States and Canada, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Japan, Scotland, England, Lithuania, Russia, and France. the link is here…

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Dawn! That link was fascinating! I love how quilting is having a resurgence and rather than just being seen as pretty objects, they are being studied as important and fascinating vessels of women’s history. About time!

  2. Laura says:

    I love your personal response to the exhibit. As a faithful reader it’s been wonderful to see you getting so much out of your experience. You will remember and treasure this for the rest of your life!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you, Laura! I really will, and it’s great to have this record of it all on my blog!

  3. Mumsy says:

    A great insight to have gained. But I just want to say: while I love the simplicity of this sort of quilt (and I love how they make a bare white-walled room look), crazy quilts are still my favorites.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Oh crazy quilts are beautiful!! I quite agree. I think if I were a quilt, that’s the type I would be! πŸ™‚

    1. bookssnob says:

      Gorgeous! Thank you Mumsy!

  4. m says:

    I was wondering if you’d been to see this, Rachel … it looks stunning. What a birthday present for his wife!

    1. bookssnob says:

      It really was, Mary! A treat for the eyes!

  5. Kate says:

    Those are just beautiful. It never fails to amaze me how quilters can use just a few tools to create such beautiful and unique art.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I know – I was in awe at the intricacy and fantastically neat stitching on display – it just showed me how little chance I have of ever getting my own quilting displayed anywhere! Ha!

  6. Susan in TX says:

    Good for you – savor the time. (And thanks for sharing the quilts with us!)

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you, Susan! I’m glad you enjoyed looking at the quilts!

  7. Darlene says:

    How beautiful! I love the quilt that is in the photo second to last that looks like it has an airplane motif repeated on it.
    Has it really been seven months already!? I’m just starting to get used to the idea of you being in the States.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Yes I loved that one too! Little tiny aeroplanes – how adorable!

      I know! It’s all gone far too quickly! But with much joy, which is the important part!

  8. Linda says:

    What a lovely post. It makes all of us Americans happy that you are getting so much out of your stay here–but I am pretty upset that it is more than halfway over. Hope your last five months more than fulfill your hopes.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Linda! You are so kind and lovely. I am planning on getting up to lots of mischief during my final five months so I will certainly be making the most of my time!

  9. Merenia says:

    Hi Rachel,
    Thanks for sharing the red and white quilts, and what an amazing building the Armoury looks. I agree that travel and living abroad is such a deeply broadening and defining thing, especially for reflective, thinking souls like yourself, who get rich depths (or should I say heights ) from their experience. I think travelling and living overseas is the most important thing to happen to me in my self development, along with parenting. Enjoy the rest of your time in NYC, and maybe you will find a way to stay on a bit longer? I keep thinking your blog is so impressive that you’ll be offered a book contract or publishing job any day now!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Hi Merenia! Lovely to hear from you, as always. I’m glad you enjoyed the quilts – the armoury is indeed an amazing building – and very impressive from the outside too. Rather odd, slap bang in the middle of posh apartment buildings and shops on Park and Lexington, too, but that’s New York!

      I quite agree – this experience has been the richest of my life so far and I look forward to seeing the results of what I have learned through my experiences when I return home. I don’t think I will be staying any longer, but I am more than happy with that – I miss my family and friends and England and I feel like my year here will be sufficient to have enabled me to achieve what I set out to, which is wonderful.

      Oh Merenia! I wish! You are far too kind to imagine such an illustrious career for me! πŸ™‚

  10. You have such a wonderful perspective, Rachel, and it is exemplified in this post. Good for you! I applaud your attitude and know you will enjoy the coffee as you say for the rest of your visit.

    These quilts are beautiful and so interesting as to why so many are red. The American quilt was not so long ago relegated to the chest in the attic. It was so wonderful when we began as a country to truly appreciate the work so many, many women did to keep their families warm, give of themselves for new marriages, and do it while creating remarkable pieces of artwork. You might want to read How to Make an American Quilt. I can’t remember the author, but, it is an enjoyable read. There was also a movie.

    I was in the American Folk Art Museum many years ago when there was a display of Amish quilts and I loved it. A friend, a quilter herself, was my personal tour guide that day and I have never forgotten it.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you, Penny! You are lovely. I certainly hope I can continue to remember to keep enjoying that coffee!

      Yes I quite agree – the resurgence in interest of quilts and their study as serious carriers of social history is wonderful. I so enjoy looking at them and thinking about where they came from and what they represent. I have read and seen How to Make an American Quilt – a lovely book and even lovelier film!

      How fantastic – the American Folk Art Museum is brilliant at bringing this sort of work to the foreground and giving it a legitimacy that otherwise it wouldn’t have. I can’t wait for their next phase of the quilt exhibitions!

  11. Rachel, reading this post reminds me of the quilt exhibition at the V&A and reading about how you could pop and gaze during your lunch break. So lovely to read about your experiences in NY. Off to think about what kind of quilt I would be.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Oh, those were happy days! I LOVED that exhibition, and I also loved working on it and learning so much about quilts, for the first time. Such special memories! Thank you – I wonder what quilt you would be?!

  12. ashley says:

    Your perspective of the quits is wonderful, and how you related yourself to a quilt. I agree that it is good to take things simple sometimes, too. Oh, and the pictures of the quilts are so pretty.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you, Ashley! Glad you liked the photos – the lighting in there wasn’t amazing but I did my best to show them off as attractively as possible!

  13. Hillary D. says:

    It is so true to take things slow and simple now and then. Some weekends I think “Wow that was a fast week,” and I never really relect on what I did and now as a high school senior about to graduate I wonder, “Where did the year go?” Time really does fly and we need to remember that we only have one life to live, and it’s a short one.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Oh, it only goes faster as you get older, Hillary! School seems like yesterday to me, and I left school nearly eight years ago! It doesn’t seem possible!

  14. Sarah says:

    What a unique way to display the quilts, we’ve just had an exhibition here in the UK of quilts at our Victoria and Albert museum, it was a lovely day out exploring the stories. Savour the rest of your NY time, celebrate being a colourful, crazy cornucopia! Never beige and boring.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I know, I found it so impressive. Obviously it couldn’t be on for any longer than a few days due to the damage the quilts would sustain from the exposure, but it’s a shame it couldn’t be a more permanent exhibit so that more people could have got to see it.

      I used to work at the V&A and actually did the fundraising for the quilts exhibition so I knew it very well indeed and used to visit it most lunchtimes! I worked very closely with the curator and got to see the quilts up very closely – it was what triggered my interest in the first place! I’m so glad you got to see the exhibition and enjoyed it so much. It was a true labour of love for all of us involved!

      Thank you! I certainly will!

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