My love of fabric seemed to just be part of me, until I discovered my grandmother’s crazy quilt that was falling apart (or “shattering” as is common on silks from the turn of the century). As I began to dissect this crazy quilt to repair it, I realized how far back in my family the love of textiles, buttons, and everything that goes with it goes.
As I went around to shops to ask how they would go about tackling this task, most shop owners looked at me as if I had completely lost my mind. I was offered cottons and told that I could take a basic sewing class. They had no idea why I would want to work with “slippery” and thick fabrics.
However, I never really felt the “call” of a sewing machine—says she who now owns a Serger and a regular sewing machine and uses them regularly. However, I really never wanted to learn to sew or to make that the focus of my creative life. I have always enjoyed handcrafts where I use my hands and create something lovely. I adore textures and different feelings of fabrics. In essence, I think it’s all a tactile addiction. Why bother if you can’t fondle!
My deep and irrational love of crazy quilting came from this addiction. What’s better than joining together a bunch of fabrics in a haphazard way to create something beautiful and exotic.
Oh, and I hate to measure!
Crazy quilts were “born” at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. One of the most popular exhibits was the Japanese pavilion with its fascinating crazed ceramics and asymmetrical art.
With the birth of the industrial age, women had more time and more money but still could use scraps from what were now fancy gowns instead of casual ones. Handwork was considered a valuable skill and “ladies” learned it along with other fine arts. Many popular women’s magazines started featuring the designs and techniques needed to make crazy quilts. Creativity was wide open with women sewing asymmetrical pieces of fabric together in abstract arrangements. Enthusiasm for this quilting fad continued until about 1910.
Crazy quilts weren’t usually useful pieces as much as decorative and are pieced on top of a piece of muslin in seemingly haphazard placement. The pieces are then embellished with embroidery, appliqué, beading, and many other techniques. They range from having a single embellishment on all the seams to being almost encrusted with embroidery, beading and other techniques to make them fabulous and … well, crazy.
One of the most appealing parts of crazy quilting is its historical depiction of the times. Since it takes fabrics used in decorating and apparel of the period as well as embroidery of motifs that have historical significance. Women also used cigarette silks and political ribbons in their work to create a woven pattern of history.
The followers of crazy quilting today have one thing in common, they love every hand (and machine) technique imaginable. Find a crazy quilter and you’ll find someone with a love of fabric (of course), beading, appliqué, tatting, lace making, doll making, needle felting, Brazilian embroidery, silk ribbon embroidery and about anything else you can consider putting on fabric.
I don’t know how my Grandmother would feel about my love of something that she did when it was in “vogue” but I hope she’s proud!
Photo courtesy of Rhonda Perry, Roger Reynolds photographer, and Frequently Wrong but Never in Doubt