Crazy Quilting holds a unique place in the history of quilting. According to many accounts, its roots lie in the influence of Japanese art, specifically its "patchwork" crazed ceramics and asymmetrical art styles. The look inspired American women of the later 19th century, as they rushed to reproduce the look in their needlework.
Crazy Quilt print from
TWELVE OAKS by Judie Rothermel
The collection is named for one of the plantations in the classic novel, Gone with the Wind. The prints are reminiscent of those used by the refined lady quilters and stitchers of the South.
In addition to the Japanese influence, the Victorian Aesthetic Movement in England also had an impact in the United States. Among other notions it promoted was the idea that a woman's place was in the home, and that her duty was to provide comfort, elegance and pleasure for her family. One measure of such domestic bliss was accomplished through the lady's "fancywork." Indeed, a gentleman whose wife was at home - and handy with a needle - could feel a sense of accomplishment; such an example of a genteel, tranquil home life proved that he was a good provider!
Women's magazines helped to spread the frenzy of piecing odd-shaped fabric patches together in abstract arrangements. These early crazy quilts were created as show pieces rather than functional objects, used to decorate lavish Victorian parlors with touches of satins, velvets and brocades. Although crazy style designs may appear haphazard, they were usually carefully planned. Hours were spent cutting shapes and trying out various arrangements before the pieces were sewn together.
Often sized as small lap quilts that were embellished with numerous hand stitches, they also became the perfect showcase for a lady's needlework skills. Using silk thread, women carefully worked decorative stitches along each seam. Intriguing names like feather, herringbone, fly and chain describe just a few of the intricate stitches.
These rich fabrics and fine stitches were further enhanced with a variety of embellishments like buttons, ribbons and laces. Because of their purely decorative use, no thought needed to be given to the practicality or laundering of these projects, and the imagination and skill of the seamstress was the only limit. And, like all quilts, crazy quilts reflect a part of someone's life, her emotional commitment to the task, and her quest toward individual expression.
Crazy quilting also gave rise to popular themes, motifs and ornamentation:
- Spiders and Spider Webs -- thought to bring good fortune to the stitcher
- Ribbons, lace & fabric scraps from garments worn on memorable occasions
- Printed silk cigar bands
- Fans, frogs, insects, birds, butterflies -- Good Luck symbols from the East
- Words embroidered to commemorate births, deaths, marriages and other life events
- Tasseled fringe
- Button clusters
As new enthusiasts continue to discover the world of quilting in general, the technique that was so in vogue in the late nineteenth century has been repopularized in recent years, yet has undergone a face lift in the process. Today, quilters can choose from a vast selection of materials, but the old ways are still appreciated as we celebrate the richness of the crazy quilt legacy.