A Fairyland of Fabrics: Crazy Quilts

What Makes a Crazy Quilt?

Range of Fabrics

You will find silk fabrics of all kinds on a Crazy quilt: plain and pattern weaves in a variety of densities, striped and textured novelties, painted and marbled surfaces, and “watered’ (moiré) varieties, to name a few. Also look for three-dimensional and textured plush fabrics, including chenilles, corduroys, and bouclés.

Lavish Embroidery and Appliqué

The number of different stitch patterns on the most elaborate Crazy quilts is staggering - sometimes in the dozens. While piecing and appliqué took a great deal of time, the embroidery certainly took the longest to complete. Harper’s Bazaar estimated in 1884 that a full-size Crazy quilt might take 1,500 hours to complete!

Fairyland Imagery

Images of actual fairies are rare, but on a Crazy quilt you’ll find many winged creatures associated with the fairy kingdom, including dragonflies, hummingbirds, owls, and butterflies. Fairy tale and nursery rhyme imagery is common, as are depictions of the popular Kate Greenaway children’s books illustrations.

Influence of the East

Another component of the fairyland aesthetic is Asian-influenced imagery. Look for embroidered motifs referencing a romanticized Orient: images of fans, kimono-clad figures, pagodas, and exotic birds; these seemed sensuous, dreamy and far-away, like fairyland.

Technological Advances

Manufacturers were happy to cater to makers of Crazy quilts. They supplied heat-transfer patterns for embroidery, pre-made embroidery decals, lithographed patches, “cheater” (pre-printed) cloth, as well as the spangles, shells, beads, and tassels that women liked to incorporate into their Crazy quilts.

Fabric Damage

In the late 1800s, naturally lightweight silk fabrics were often “weighted” with metallic salts to give them more body. These corrosive metals have damaged fabrics over the years, evidence of which is frequently seen in Crazy quilts. That is why so many of the quilts in this exhibition are displayed flat or supported at an angle.

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