Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Crazy 'bout my Crazy Quilt!

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I was at the San Diego swap meet, and I was rifling through a stack of vintage postcards.  My family got tired so they went to the car.  I said I'd be right there.  So they took off, and I was making my purchase when I noticed something interesting wadded up on a small table back behind the seller, beyond reach of the public.  I asked her about it and she told me didn't want to sell it.  Apparently, she does estate sales, and when she saw this quilt, she really wanted to buy it herself, and she told herself that if it didn't sell today, then she would buy it for herself.  I guess it wasn't meant to be, because I asked about it and she showed it to me, a bit reluctantly, I think.

When I got a closer look all I could think was "!"  It was an amazing crazy quilt, obviously very old, made from small random pieces of lush fabrics: velvets, silks, brocades, and the like.  I don't think any two fabrics are the same.  And every piece is bordered with fantastic stitch work - a imaginative array of stitches.  Then it had been decorated with embroidered images, embroidered appliques, and bits of ribbon.  There is literally not a 3 inch square that does not have some kind of embellishment.  It is almost overwhelming!

The price tag said "$75 firm" and she was firm. (Of course she was.  She didn't want to sell it.)  But I was so amazed by this crazy quilt and intrigued by the unknown woman, whoever she had been, who had spent so many hours, and poured SO MUCH creativity into this one quilt, that I had to get it.  Good thing my hubby had insisted I hold that cash, huh?  I forked over the dough and tripped off to the car with my newly acquired heirloom.  Whoever this woman had been, I had just adopted her as one of my ancestors - because she had obviously left her treasured quilt to me.

Yes, hubby had a minor heart attack over the $75, but it was very minor and he recovered quickly.

That night when we got home I started to do a bit of research on the Internet, and discovered  what looked like similar quilts that were selling for around $3,000.  We both felt better after that.

So, you wanna take a closer look?

This quilt is too much to take in all at once.  It must be examined bit by bit.

I learned that this quilt was likely made in the 1880s or 90s, and that crazy quilts were all the rage in Victorian America.  There had been a Japanese Pavilion at the world's fair in the late 1870, and the crazy quilt was the quilting world's take on the Japanese look.  The random pieces are reminiscent of the crackled crazing of the ancient Japanese vases on display there.  Many believe that the term "crazy quilt" came not from the erratic style, but from the "crazing" of Japanese porcelain.  When I look at that quilt, though, I have to think it was a little of both.  How many hours did this lady spend on this quilt?
I was surprised to find out that the crazy quilt fad was the scrapbooking fad of the Victorian Era.  Women were really crazy about making crazy quilts - begging, borrowing, and stealing little scraps of luscious fabrics, searching for the perfect little applique or bit of ribbon that they could incorporate, and sharing and inventing new stitch work designs.  Even the women's magazines of the day featured new stitch work patterns.

These crazy quilts were not meant for practical use, but to show off the creativity and embroidery skills of the maker.

The quilts were full with symbolism.  Spiders meant gook luck for the maker of the quilt.  Different numbers and colors of interlocking rings meant different things.

On this one quilt my kids and I had fun counting 38 different embroidered flowers, 19 rings, 15 elaborately embellished circles, 11 snowflakes, 9 leaves, 6 owls, 6 animals, 6 butterflies, 6 people, 5 birds, 5 stars, 5 horseshoes, 5 feathers, 5 hearts, 4 fish and a fishbowl, 4 shoes, 4 fans, 3 spiders, 3 trees, 2 moons, 2 baskets, a fleur du leis, an anchor, a shepherd's crook, and countless star bursts.  That really is crazy!

In fact, women were so obsessed with creating their crazy quilts, it was becoming a problem.  Here is a poem from Good Housekeeping, October 25, 1890. 

Excerpted from: 
The Crazy Quilt

And where is the wife who so vauntingly swore
That nothing on earth her affections could smother?
She crept from your side at the chiming of four
And is down in the parlor at work on another.
Your breakfasts are spoiled,
And your dinners half-boiled,
And your efforts to get a square supper are foiled
By the crazy-quilt mania that fiendishly raves,
And to which all the women are absolute slaves.

And thus it has been since the panic began,
In many loved homes it has wrought desolation,
And cursed is the power by many a man,
That has brought him so close to the verge of starvation,
But make it she must,
She will do it or bust,
Beg, swap, and buy pieces or get them on trust,
Oh, the crazy-quilt mania, may it soon cease to rave
In the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Oooh, that hits a little close to home.  I can get rather obsessed when I am embarking on a new creative endeavour.

I think it is great, and I admire the pure creativity of these Victorian women.  I love creativity, where ever it can be found.  And here it is.

My quilt is signed "A.N."  I wish I knew who she was.

Not a true quilt, most crazy quilts are only pieced, not batted.  Here is what the back side looks like.

Want to know more?  There is an interesting article about Crazy Quilts here.

So that's my find.  Pretty great, huh?  I have no idea what I am going to do with it.  It begs to be seen in its entirity.

So the burning question is: How did A.N. know when her quilt was finished?

Do you have an old object that you just wish you knew the story behind it?


  1. What an amazing quilt! It's incredible. Wow. You really got a great deal.

  2. Wow! That is some quilt. How fun for you and how interesting to know more about crazy quilts. I can't wait to find one someday. Very cool.

  3. How fun!!!! What a cool way to play "I Spy" (See my post tomorrow about I spy :)

  4. Really gorgeous--what an awesome find! You've got a talent for finding the good stuff. I've been to the San Diego swap meet, and the coolest thing I found was a Donny Osmond tape.