Friday, July 13, 2012

The History of Crazy Quilts

Tamar Horton Harris North. “Quilt (or decorative throw), Crazy pattern”. ~1877. 54 ½ × 55 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
      The term "crazy quilting" is often used to refer to the textile art of crazy patchwork and is sometimes used interchangeably with that term. Crazy quilting does not actually refer to a specific kind of quilting (the needlework which binds two or more layers of fabric together), but a specific kind of patchwork lacking repeating motifs. A crazy quilt rarely has the internal layer of batting that is part of what defines quilting as a textile technique.
      Regular patchwork combines the pieces of fabric into a predetermined and regular design, but crazy patchwork uses irregular pieces of fabric without pattern on a foundation fabric or paper. This may create haphazard-looking and asymmetrical designs, or the designer may use some control in placement. Patches can be hand appliquéd onto a base fabric. This method gives the most variety as every patch is unique. There are also block patterns designed for crazy quilt that can be sewn by machine. Sometimes part of a crazy quilt is haphazard while other parts are placed in a planned pattern. A common example of this the placement of patches is a fan pattern. The patches and seams are then usually heavily embellished.
      Crazy quilting created a stir in the 1880's when it became quite a fad in the United States. The Japanese Exhibit in the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition inspired the crazy quilt with its asymmetrical art. Articles encouraging crazy quilting, or condemning it, could be found in women's publications. Women could purchase packages of random fabrics, as well as already embellished pieces, to use in their own crazy quilts. During the first several years of the crazy quilting fad, fine fabrics and heavy embellishment were the norm. As time passed quilters began to make simpler quilts in the crazy quilt style. Thrifty housewives used everyday fabrics like wool or cotton and little or no embellishment to create more serviceable quilts than the original fancy crazy quilts with the added benefit of using up small or odd-shaped scraps left over from making clothing for the family or other household sewing projects.

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