Threads Through Time-Crazy Quilt

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Unknown artist
Crazy Quilt, around 1890
Velvet, cotton, taffeta, silk, brocade, chenille, commemorative ribbons, pieced blocks with thread embroidery
On loan from a private collection, Little Rock

Crazy quilts are named so because of the erratic, miscellaneous shapes and materials used to create one. It is probably the oldest quilt pattern known today, due its resourceful use of fabric. A crazy quilt employs all fabric types, cut into irregular shapes and sizes, then pieced together. Intricate embroidery is then stitched around the shapes, adding to the visual chaos.

During the Victorian era, crazy quilts like this one became more decorative and less utilitarian. They were designed more for display in parlors, or as occasional throws. Delicate fabrics like velvet, silk, brocades, satins and taffetas were preferred, usually in the rich, dark colors popular at the time. These fabrics could be scraps from making clothes, or recycled from old clothes and home furnishings. A variety of embroidered stitches, in different colors, disguise the raw edges of the shapes, and served as a testament to the skill of the maker. It was common that Victorian quilters used fabrics with sentimental meaning, such as a wedding dress or a father’s silk tie, or commemorative ribbons, like the ones here that promote President Grant. Thus, these may also be memory quilts as well.