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 QUILT SCHOOL
CR A Z Y Q U I L T S 

C R A Z Y QUILTING

 

A BRIEF HISTORY

Crazy Quilting is fun and creative. You can learn how to quiilt using crazy quilting with very little training in how to quilt crazy quilts.

After the Civil War, in the United States, many things were scarce. It was essential to use everything to its fullest. Waste became a bad word.

From this practical necessity emerged a new kind of quilting, which we call Crazy Quilting. In simplest terms Crazy Quilting aims to use every scrap of fabric. Many different quilting methods and techniques were used in Crazy Quilting, but the most common feature characterizing a Crazy Quilt is its random use of different fabrics (satins, velvets, laces, cottons, wools) and the embellishment of the quilt with fancy stitching, laces, embroidery, and embellishment.

In the oldest Crazy Quilts we note random or irregularly shaped pieces of scrap fabric laid out in a jig-saw puzzle appearance and sewn to each other across the entire quilt. Pieces varied in size, shape, color, and texture. Some larger pieces may be cut down and redistributed to maintain a bit of random order.

In more recent Crazy Quilts, the pieces are sewn onto a foundation or backing material much like paper piecing today in the traditional quilt block style. The foundation was often made of sackcloth or other inexpensive fabric. On to this foundation (often in blocks) cottons, wools, linens, and silks were accompanied with ornate fabrics like velvet, satins, and brocades. Often pieces or remnants from special event items were added as remembrances. These included such items as wedding veil, dress, uniform, or other item of sentimentality.

The Centennial Exposition 1876

In 1876, the United States celebrated its first Centennial. The Declaration of Independence was signed July, 4, 1776, and the nation had withstood all manner of threat and assault. It was still One Nation in spite of a savage Civil War. As part of this Centennial celebration a huge exposition was held in Philadelphia simply knows as the Centennial Exposition. People from around the world flocked to the celebration. From Japan, China, and the orient, came displays of elaborate oriental art. Americans loved it. It is estimated that some ten million visitors visited the Japanese Exhibition.

One of the highlights of the Japanese exhibit, were beautifully decorated tableware known as “crazed china”. These dishes were decorated with elaborate crackeled glaze finish yielding vivid asymmetrical designs. Some authorities surmise that the term “Crazy Quilt” derives from the similar appearance in the “crazed china”.

The influence of the Centennial Exposition, is unmistakable. Within months a frenzy of Crazy Quilting emerged all across America.

In 1887, the Cultivator And Country Gentleman made reference to an embroidered friendship cushion that displayed a crazy random, asymmetrical needlework pattern. The article states, “You will think it a ‘crazy” cushion indeed!” This was one of the first published references to needle work described as crazy.

  An alternate explanation can be found in a report published in a carpet industry periodical some ten years later. In this story, the rise of Crazy Quilting emerged from a British sanitarium when a deranged patient started just sewing quilts in a crazy manner. While this might appear humorous to some, it does not seem likely.

Simultaneous with the exposure to Oriental Art forms, Americans were impressed with the elegance of the Victorian Aesthetic Movement in England. The idea of the English gentleman and Lady strongly appealed to people in the United States.

 

John Ruskin And William Morris

Two Englishmen contributed to this set of the Victorian family ideals, John Ruskin and William Morris. John Ruskin was a well known British art critic and writer. His art, essays, and poetry depicted a society with strong Victorian ideals and views of life as it should be. He was at the pinnacle of his success and influence during the 1870’’ and 80’s yeilding a huge influence on thought in American.

 

John Ruskin (1819-1900) William Morris (1834-1896)

Like John Ruskin, William Morris was a social mover and shaker – “a pioneer of the socialist movement”. As an English writer and artist, his influence shaped a whole generation. He helped found the British Arts and Crafts Movement. One of his greatest contributions was the design of patterned wall papers and fabrics.

This set of ideals is reflected in the popular notion of the time, that a true gentleman provided security, and livelihood for the family, while his Lady remained at home. Her responsibility included creating a comfortable, elegant, pleasurable environment for her family. As a wife and homemaker, it was her duty to insure domestic bliss or tranquility. One the chief signs of this achievement, was her fancy needlework or “fancywork”. Displays of her handiwork, were also a sign that her husband must be a true gentleman.

An European practice of sending children to finishing schools also contributed to this influence. Imitating this practice, many wealthy American families sent their daughters off to seminaries or schools for training to become ladies. Public schools and private schools taught needle arts as a vital part of their curriculums. During this training, girls were taught a wide range of needle arts, decorative skills, painting, and various other forms of art. With the spread of artistic expression, needlework skills, and the status achieved through them, came a wide range of enhancements to ordinary quilts.

 

VICTORIAN ERA

During the Victorian era, 1876 to 1920’s, the Crazy Quilt became a symbol of elegance, family values, and pride. All across America in mansion, row house, and even log cabin, the home had to have its own Crazy Quilt. These quilts were made into the usual blanket style quilt, but were also widely used for decoration as well as practical applications. It was quite common to find piano covers, sofa covers, throws, comforters, and other applications. It was customary to place a Crazy Quilt strategically on top of, beside, or draped over fine furniture. Priscilla Schrock writes a poem reminiscing about her Grandmother’s Parlor with a Crazy Qult draped over a favorite chair. She writes, “A guilt full of pictures, seen flying above… made with purples and reds and colors so bright…”

 

CRAZY QUILT MASTERPIECE

One might well expect, a woman to work on her “ordinary” quilts for practicality into the dim hours of candle light or beside a fireplace at the end of her long day. She would save pieces, scraps, odds and ends for use in her special creation. When she worked on her Crazy Quilt, it was like a special way to express her inner talents. One might well describe Crazy Quilting as the lady’s masterpiece quilt. This quilt deserved her very best efforts and would be the focus of her prime time efforts.

By the 1880’s the embellishments on Crazy Quilts became increasingly graphic as well as ornate. They often became the means to tell stories, record family histories, celebrate weddings, births, and other important events. Also known as Crazy Patchwork, this phenomenal art form reached its heights in the late 1880’s, but continued to be popular through the 1920’s.

Due to the nature of a Crazy Quilt, it offered the quilter a rare and exciting way to display her skills. The needlework skills displayed became a statement of great pride. The use of silks, satins, and brocades thoroughly embellished with elaborate stitching became the art form of the period. In some circles, the Crazy Quilt became a symbol of leisure and grace even prosperity. Crazy Quilts were popular at county fairs and special showings to highlight the woman’s needle art skills. The Crazy Quilt became a status symbol for the whole family.

What may have started out as a frugal effort to use every piece of scrap fabric, gradually became a dynamic art form in itself. While many Crazy Quilts were actually only quilt tops, lacking batting, or a backing fabric; they evolved from being practical everyday items to becoming show pieces. Surface embroidery, ribbons, special stitches, even photo transfers were added.

 

CHAMPIONS & CRITICS

Newspapers, magazines, and especially publications for women expressed their opinions about Crazy Quilting quite vigorously. Some encouraged Crazy Quilting. Several textile houses and merchants even offered collections of random mixed fabrics and embellished items for easy use by Crazy Quilters.

Crazy Quilting like almost everything else that becomes popular, had its critics and nay sayers. Dr. William Rush Dunton, Jr.( psychiatrist) writes, "Of that dreadful monstrosity, the so-called crazy quilt, the less said the better. It should sink into well-deserved oblivion."

A variety of magazines and other circulars joined the disdain for the Crazy Quilt. The basic position was one of rejecting the petty desire of women to gain approval through gaudy displays of idleness. Some argued that all the embellishment work was a waste of time for not good reason.

 

Why were Crazy Quilts made?

Every conceivable reason. Friendship, memory, trousseau, and a hundred others. Some were made for warmth like other quilts or comforters, while others were made purely for decorative or ornamental purposes.

 

Most quilts today are made of 100% cotton and it is often called quilting cotton. Crazy Quilts, however, are different. In keeping with the traditions dating back to the 1880’s, Crazy Quilts utilize a wide range of fabrics. Indeed, if it is fabric or even like fabric, it may be used in a Crazy Quilt.

Over time some of the Crazy Quilts have suffered decay due to the vulnerability of certain fabrics such as silk. The way fabrics were processed often led to fraying fibers, rot, and decay when exposed to wear, sunlight, or moisture. Antique Crazy Quilts may actually lose some of their value due to decay unless extreme measures are take to preserve them.

 

Traditional Methods of Crazy Quilting

Several different methods were used in Crazy Quilting. Generally, skills and techniques used in many other kinds of quilting are brought together in a free for all approach. Two basic methods were used: fabric pieces sewn to each other with no foundation fabric, and fabric pieces sewn onto a foundation fabric usually in blocks and assembled.

 If we step back in time and look over the shoulder of early Crazy Quilters we might see something like this. A frugal mother is diligently using every piece of scrap fabric to make a warm blanket for her children. Randomly she shapes, cuts, and pieces the bits of cloth together. Fabric was expensive and precious. Worn parts were often patched and repaired. Sometimes there was no money available for batting or quilt filling. An old blanket by be reused in this way. Sometimes odd pieces are sew onto a foundation piece of fabric much like modern paper piecing. To make the quilt look better, the seams were decorated and embellished. It did not matter what kind of fabric was going to be used, just use every bit. The Crazy Quilt is in a sense an art form born out of necessity and perhaps even some desperation.

The amount of embellishment enjoyed an ebb and flow. The 1180’s produced some of the most ornate Crazy Quilts every made. Gradually, there developed a somewhat simpler approach to Crazy Quilting using every day fabrics and less embellishment.

 

CRAZY QUILTING
DEFINITION, RULES, & PRINCIPLES

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia states, “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. Crazy quilts rarely have the internal layer of batting that is part of what defines quilting as a textile technique.”

Patchwork as we commonly think of it uses carefully predetermined usually symmetrical designs with pieces of fabric carefully arranged. Crazy Quilting or crazy patchwork , however, avoids rigid predetermined designs in favor of a more free flowing random often asymmetrical pattern often appearing almost haphazard. Both patchwork and Crazy Quilting may use a base or foundation fabric, but Crazy Quilting may not always use foundation. If you are making a Crazy Quilt and including stretchy fabrics, it is a good idea to use a foundation fabric to maintain block integrity. 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 in a fan pattern.

 

From this and other similar definitions, we discover what Crazy Quilting is and is not. Crazy Quilting is a free flowing expression of color, texture, shapes, and forms. There are no rules. Any pattern is ok, and none is wrong. Crazy Quilting embraces the widest variety of fabrics, stitches, techniques, threads, beads, buttons, pieces, and stuff imaginable. There is no improper mix of stitches, threads, colors, textures or any other element. Everything is permitted. Anything goes.

NO RULES!

CAN NOT GO WRONG!

ANYTHING GOES!

WIDEST VARIETY POSSIBLE!

Crazy Quilting is not the same old quilt stuff. It is not restrictive expression. It is not rule bound.

Crazy Quilting may draw from a hundred different sewing and quilting techniques and patterns to freely if even randomly express the beauty and wonder of fabric and thread.

 

 

CRAZY QUILTING TODAY

Crazy Quilting is a medium of its own. It is distinctly different from other forms of quilting. In recent years, Crazy Quilting has experienced a huge resurgence. Now with the easy of machine quilting, there are virtually not limits to the creative potential of Crazy Quilting.

The Crazy Quilting remains a medium loved by some and hated by others. The old ways are giving way to exciting modern methods and applications. While it was once all sewn by hand, the advent of the modern sewing machine with hundreds of decorative stitches gives Crazy Quilting a big come back.

 Today the availability of specialty trims, embellishment materials, and machine embroidery has revolutionized Crazy Quilting. The potential for creating gift items, clothing items, decorating items, and other items is virtually limitless. Today we have better fabrics, threads, and materials than ever before. Today we have a wide array of threads like cotton, poly, metallic, rayon, and silk threads. Modern resources are a boon to Crazy Quilting, and Crazy Quilting is an ideal way to express our creativity utilizing the greatest variety of materials.

Among the contemporary leaders promoting Crazy Quilting are Judith Baker Montano a well known fabric designer, Josephine Ruth Paine, Eileen Johnson, Ann Johnson, Penny Mc Morris, Dixie Haywood and Janet Haigh, J. Marsha Michler, and Carole Samples. You will find many books, magazine articles, and websites dedicated to Crazy Quilting.

A few of the internet resources available include:
Quiltropolis Chat List at: http://www.quiltropolis.com;
Crazy Quilt Central at http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/6531/
Vintage Vogue at http://www.vintagevogue.com;
The Kirk Collection for Crazy Quilt at www.kirkcollection.com/ ;
The "Quilting Show to End All Quilting Shows" at http://www.aqs.com.

  Today most Crazy Quilts are machine pieced and quilted. The basic principles of Crazy Quilting for today are very simple: Crazy Quilting is a free flowing expression of color, texture, shapes, and forms. There are no rules. Any pattern is ok, and none is wrong. Crazy Quilting embraces the widest variety of fabrics, stitches, techniques, threads, beads, buttons, pieces, and stuff imaginable. There is no improper mix of stitches, threads, colors, textures or any other element. Everything is permitted. Anything goes. Just make it beautiful.

 

POSSIBILITIES
 

Crazy Quilting may be expressed in a traditional blanket style quilt or in a hundred different quilt projects. Whatever you can imagine, you can achieve! Remember, anything goes! Crazy Quilting offers unlimited possibilities for one of a kind creative products and projects.

Here is a short list of some of the possible Crazy Quilting projects:
Christmas Projects (gift bags, ornaments, stockings, tree skirts, wreathes,);
Practical Projects (baby bibs, bags, book covers, clutch purses, evening bags, exercise mats, needle holders, pin cushions, purses, sewing pouches, sachets, tote bags, card bags, treasure bags);
Clothing Projects (bodices, capes, collars, cuffs, doll clothes, jackets, pockets, scarves, stocking caps, vests, wedding dresses, appliqué);
Household Items (basket lid tops, chair covers, coasters and trivets, eye glass cases, landscape pictures, picture frames, pillows, pot holders, sofa covers, tea cozies, soft jewelry, teddy bears, toys,)

When considering your own Crazy Quilt, try to imagine all the different possibilities for fabrics, ribbons, lace, threads, buttons, charms, embroidered pieces, cords, photo transfers, etc. Collect all the different items and get ready to quilt. Some of the other things you will need include, a good sewing machine, sewing needles, muslin, scissors, quilt binding, and batting if desired.

 
AUTHOR:
Donna Trumble is a professional designer, seamstress, author, sewing educator, and sewing business owner. She leads several Sewing Show And Tell groups in her stores guiding participants to shop sewing machines and learn about sewing and quilting.

RESOURCE:
For more information on sewing show and tell groups, check out "Sewing, The World's Greatest Hobby" by Donna and David Trumble. And check out the local Sew And Quilt Stores in Killeen, Temple, and Waco, Texas or at www.sewandquiltstore.com.

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