Monday, May 14, 2012

Definitions of a Crazy Quilt

Crazy quilt as defined by Wickapedia:

Crazy quilts
Crazy quilts were named because their pieces are not regular, and are scattered across the top of the quilt like "crazed" (cracked or crackled) pottery glazing. They were very refined, luxury items, not made randomly. Geometric pieces of rich fabrics were sewn together, and highly decorative embroidery was added. Such quilts were often effectively samplers of embroidery stitches and techniques, displaying the development of needle skills of those in the well-to-do late 19th-century home. They were show pieces, not used for warmth, but for late Victorian display. The luxury fabrics used precluded frequent washing. They often took years to complete. Fabrics used included silks, wools, velvet, linen, and cotton. Mixtures of fabric textures, such as a smooth silk next to a textured brocade or velvet, were embraced. Designs were applied to the surface, and other elements such as ribbons, lace, and decorative cording were used exuberantly. Names and dates were often part of the design, and commemorated important events or associations of the maker. Politics were included in some, with printed campaign handkerchiefs and other pre-printed textiles (such as advertising silks) often included to declare the maker's sentiments.

Crazy Quilting as described by the Encyclopedia Britannica:

crazy quilt, crazy quilt [Credit: Textile Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Image #263526] coverlet made by stitching irregular fabric patches together, either by appliqué or patchwork (piecing). Usually the patches are stitched to a fabric or paper foundation. Fabrics vary from cottons and wools to silks, brocades, and velvets, the latter known as “fancies.” The finished top is often enhanced with embroidery, beading, and other embellishments. Crazies are usually tied instead of quilted to stabilize the layers.

Definition of a Crazy Quilt from

Early quilts made in the crazy style were more show pieces than functional and were often made as smaller unquilted "lap robes" that were used to decorate the parlor. They were fitting showpieces for the lavish interior decoration of the day. These quilts were usually made using velvet, silk and brocade fabric, cut and pieced in random shapes. What a perfect way for women to show off their needlework skills! Using silk thread, women placed lovely decorative stitches on each seam. Intriguing names like feather, herringbone, fly and chain describe just a few of the intricate stitches. The imagination and skill of the seamstress was the only limit.

By Betty Pillsbury at

The History of Crazy Quilts, Part I
By Betty Pillsbury in Collaboration with Rita Vainius

Crazy Quilting, that wonderful Victorian pastime, is enjoying an immense resurgence in popularity. However, crazy quilting is somewhat of a misnomer. It is not quilted like a typical quilt, that is, no quilting stitches nor batting are employed in its construction. Also, one's mental balance does not have to be in question to crazy quilt! Rather, a crazy quilt is a unique conglomeration of randomly pieced fancy fabrics with embroidered embellishments on nearly every seam and patch. But it did not start out this way. The evolution of the Crazy Quilt, as we recognize it today, is a journey that illustrates the triumph of women's imaginativeness and ingenuity in the face of unimaginable trials and tribulations.

The random practice of piecing odd bits of cloth together was a money saving habit from Colonial times. In the harsh and unfamiliar environment of the new world, the biggest factors needed to build a strong and enduring society required that the early settlers be hard working with a strong sense of responsibility, first to family and then to community. In the beginning, when the coverlets and blankets the colonists had brought with them began to wear out, they were patched until the cloth could no longer hold thread. By necessity self sufficient and by temperament eminently practical, when clothing and bedclothes wore out they were recycled. Worn parts were cut away and any useful pieces were recombined. From these pieced odds and ends we can readily envision how the crazy quilt came into being. It was indeed "crazy" as far as design was concerned. There was no planned design in shape, arrangement of color or use of materials. Similarly, as the parents' clothes wore out, if there was a large enough area left without holes, these pieces were used to fashion a child's dress or trousers first and only after that was every other usable odd shaped piece left over scrupulously saved and kept together until there was enough left for a quilt. Plaid woolens might be sewed next to a triangle cut from red woolen underwear. As new material was woven, scraps of "linsey-woolsey" and "shoddy" got mixed in with the precious all-woolen material. Linen was also used and later when chintzes and calicoes were imported from beyond the "Horn", these eventually found their way into the quilts as well. Of course, none of these early pieced quilts have survived the more than three centuries that have passed since they were made. Also, no one took the time to describe them in any detail in the journals, letters and wills which mention them. It can only be surmised from what is known of the conditions prevailing at the time how these quilts made by the earliest colonial women must have looked; not very pretty, because they were composed only of the stronger, though already worn pieces of material cut from otherwise unserviceable clothing. They were made more as result of accident borne of necessity, than design.

There were two ways to make a crazy quilt. In the first, each tiny piece was fitted together with others like a jigsaw puzzle and pieces were just as irregular in shape. Sometimes if a piece was too large, it was cut into smaller ones to maintain a sort of average of dimension in a general area. This was the beginning of the organization of design. The second type of crazy quilt was made at a later date and in it were put scraps of silk, velvet, brocade, plush satin, wool, cotton and linen. Bits of a wedding dress might be sewed next to a remnant from a scarlet uniform. These quilts were for the most part made in blocks (the square units of design that make up a quilt). The designer determined the size of the quilt and then decided just how many blocks she wished to put into her "top". When the maker of this type of quilt decided on the size of her block, she proceeded to baste her irregular pieces upon it. These background blocks were usually made of coarsely woven sackcloth.

A lady made pieced quilts until she was sure of her craft. When she felt she had developed enough skill, she would begin a "masterpiece" quilt. These were exhibited at county fairs and testified to the master needlewoman's expertise. A fine quilt handmade by the owner was an enormous status symbol. Elaborate appliquéd quilts were considered so difficult an accomplishment that only they were considered to be masterpiece quilts. Before the electric light was invented, women would often start two quilts at the same time. The utility quilt could be a pieced or crazy quilt, that would make use of scraps left over after cutting the sections for the masterpiece quilt. Also the seamstress could work on this quilt when she was tired or the light too poor for her best efforts.

Ladies, from the very beginning of the Victorian era "fad" of Crazy Quilting, the way of crazy quilting was defined for us.  From the early crazy quilts to today we have to have stitches in our crazy quilts somewhere.  I did not make this up.  The lady down the road did not make this up.  My mother, my grandmother, great-grandmother or yours did not make this up.  It was defined long ago by the ladies of the Victorian era.  The crazy quilt is the vessel in which ladies could show case their stitching.  Crazy Quilting was more interesting than a sampler.  It is a work of art.

The Lion

1 comment:

Pat Winter said...

So true! It is so nice to have the vintage CQ's for our inspiration as we add our own bit to make them our own.My definition~ freedom to play with fabric, thread, color and embellishments.