Crazy Quilts Then and Now
Crazy quilt, patchwork quilt, and scrappy quilt all have similar beginnings. These quilts have come in and out of fashion over the centuries because they are unique and fun to make therefore they always make a comeback.
Ancient quilts of the middle to lower classes were often made of recycled cloth from clothing, rags, flour sacks, and just about anything they could get their hands on. These quilts were made due to necessity and were handsome but not the elegant quilts of the wealthy.
The Crazy Quilt trend in the late 1800’s was inspired by the Centennial International Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876. Upper and middle-class women admired the Japanese art of cracked-glaze pottery and decided to incorporate the cracked look into their quilts. They also admired the British needlework and wanted to incorporate these into the quilt as well.
Victorian crazy quilts utilize different shapes and sizes while mixing colors and textures. In contrast to standard quilts, crazy quilts are more likely to use exotic pieces of fabric suck as satin, silk, and velvet. Another unique feature of the Victorian Crazy quilt is that there are only two layers, the backing, and the top. Batting was typically not used. These quilts were more ornamental than utility. These quilts were often adorned with embroidery, ribbon, buttons, and lace. These quilts appear to be arbitrary, but they were carefully planned by rearranging pieces over and over to get the perfect look.
The style eventually fell out of fashion with the wealthy and moved to the rural areas and small towns. Again, women would return to using whatever fabric they could find but kept the same style. The fabric was more practical and sturdier. They also abandoned the elaborate embroidery and embellishments.
Today, we have several quilts that are similar in concept but adapted to current trends. There is the Scrappy quilt that is often made from leftover pieces from other sewing projects. The scraps are of irregular sizes and shapes and most often pieced together by machine. Unlike the Victorian quilts, Scrappy quilts are three layers, top, batting, and backing.
Scrappy quilts or crazy patchwork quilts can have an asymmetrical pattern over the entire quilt or may be made of blocks containing crooked patterns within each block. Creativity is unlimited with these quilts.
Crazy nine patch quilts are made to look crazy but there is a simplistic pattern approach. Nine layers of fabric are placed one on top of the other. Then four cuts at different angles are made to create 9 pieces. Placing the different fabrics into random order, never repeating, you are able to sew nine blocks that look crazy but are in fact planned.
Due to many of us being in lockdown this last year there seems to be a resurgence of the Crazy Quilts. That stash of fabric you have saved over the years but don’t know what to do with, works splendidly for this project. These quilts are easy, often the top can be machine stitched in one day and they allow the quilter to use their imagination freely.
I encourage you to join the trend and see what you can make this month with all your scraps. Send us a picture and we will feature your quilt!!
Georgia Maltbie, Crazy Quilt, ca. 1895-1910, cotton and silk, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Martha McKenna in honor of the artist Miss Georgia Maltbie, 1999.90