Thursday, March 26, 2015

Crazy for Crazy Quilts

Well, maybe we aren't CRAZY, but we do have a slight obsession with crazy quilts.  Both Teri and I (Kara) are fascinated with crazy quilts of all kinds, and we have our good friend and author Janice Vaine to thank for it. At the end of the 2013 Elly Sienkiewicz Appliqué Academy, Jan showed us her latest quilt purchase and her thoughts and ideas for it to be the subject of her next book. When we saw this quilt, it was love at first sight.

Embroidery and Patchwork Revisited, by Janice Vaine.
See for more about Jan.
We immediately volunteered to help Jan stitch some samples, and much to our joy (and trepidation) she took us up on our offer. Thus, our fascination with crazy quilting began.  Oh, the threads, the stitches, the combinations, the colors!  So many options were there for our choosing that sometimes we just had to put it down and walk away.  At the next Appliqué Academy, Jan unveiled her beautiful book Patchwork and Embroidery Revisited, and we were able to see the fruits of our labors put into a splendid quilt.

Last spring our local quilt shop mentioned that they had some customers who were looking for a crazy quilt class and asked if we would be able to put something together. We of course said yes and put together a couple of samples for the new class that would take place in the fall.

Kara's crazy quilt sampler

Teri's crazy quilt sampler
In both samplers, we used a few motifs from Jan's book, and found inspiration for others from pictures or in our gardens.
During that summer, we were at Quilt Odyssey in Hershey, Pennsylvania, perusing the vendors when we came across a booth selling vintage items.  Our eyes were immediately drawn to an all velvet crazy quilt hanging on the wall.  The velvets were all in the most gorgeous jewel tones, yet the embroidery was simple, which only enhanced the velvets. As we were drooling gazing upon this beauty, the vendor approached us and asked if we needed help (most certainly we did). We asked where she had found the quilt and if there was any information as to its provenance. All she knew was that it came from a small town in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and probably was old. That was it; no more details about such an amazing quilt. Teri asked the price and seriously contemplated purchasing it but wanted to think about it first. After all, we were teaching a crazy quilt class soon, and what a great teaching tool it could be! We walked away from the booth and I tried to play the devil's advocate (her husband doesn't believe that part), but we didn't even get two booths away before the decision was made. We walked back to booth and the quilt was gone! Fortunately, the vendor had set it aside with thoughts of keeping it for herself, but relinquished it into Teri's loving hands.

All velvet crazy quilt, approximately 72-inches square, dated around 1930.

Detail: each block is about 18" square.
Note the tree embroidered in the center, found in the
center of each block, always placed on a red patch.
Since there was very little information about the quilt we began to get creative, wondering how someone could acquire all those different velvets. Did they work in a violin case factory, or better yet, did they work in a place that lined caskets? Those were just a couple of the crazy ideas that we suggested, (because it seems that if one doesn't know the story of a quilt, making up its history is the logical result.) Upon further research, we found out that packs of velvets were able to be ordered, and we also discovered that the pattern for the tree design embroidered in each block was published by Singer around 1930.  Those questions were answered, but many more still remained.  Who made this quilt that had such thoughtfully placed embroidery and colors?  Was it made for anyone in particular? Did the maker nearly lose her mind while piecing all that velvet?  We will probably never know.

Our crazy quilting class was such a success and the demand so high that we ended up teaching two classes this past fall and have another one scheduled this month.  We were both surprised at the response to our class, but shouldn't have been surprised that many others shared our love for this particular quilt genre.  What is it about these quilts that catches our attention, and how did this style begin?

Piecing small pieces of worn out garments into blankets had been a practice since the Colonial times, but it didn't become an art form until the Victorian era.  Some crazy quilts were made with nostalgia in mind and might have scraps of garments that brought thoughts of special people or special days.  Other crazy quilts were made by wealthy ladies as a way to showcase there needlework talents. Japanese art greatly influenced the motifs and settings in these Victorian-era quilts.

When I was in Maine this past fall, I was fortunate to see an amazing crazy quilt. The stunning quilt was a fine example of a Victorian-era quilt.  The embroidery was mostly done in vibrant shades of silk perle, and the motifs and edge stitches were clever and creative. That quilt was a splendid example of why I think crazy quilts are so intriguing—that you almost always see something different every time you look at them.

Carla's quilt, detail
Yesterday, Teri and I stopped into Patches, our local quilt shop, and saw this gorgeous quilt hanging. It was made by Carla Fultz, who works there and took our class last fall.  We were stunned by the beauty of her quilt and loved her color selections.  Carla's creative motif choices add quite a spark of interest to her quilt.  We were honored that she allowed us to share it with you.
Carla's crazy quilt

Given our penchant for stories, we found this adorable reprint of a Victorian postcard that depicted Little Red Riding Hood at Grandma's house and have pieced this block using more embellishment. At some point in the future, this will be another class and will allow our students to broaden their repertoire of skills that can be used on their crazy quilts.
Little Red Riding Hood, as stitched by Kara
The sky is the limit nowadays as to what a crazy quilt can look like and what fabrics, fibers and details can be used.  Some are simple with just embroidery, and some have fantastic embellishments throughout.  A crazy quilt can be themed with a story, or with color elements, or even using one type of fabric such as silk or velvets. Every crazy quilt is unique to its maker and his or her tastes, and not necessarily a reflection of the maker's mental state . . . well, okay, we may be a LITTLE crazy!


  1. I can tell you one reason I love to make crazy quilts: they are totally mine. I'm not following anyone's pattern, so I can't "do it wrong". When every other part of life feels out of my control, I can design and execute a CQ and it is totally under my control, from foundation to finished product. CQs are therapeutic in this way, and stash items should be paid for by one's health insurance company.

  2. You are SO right! How wonderful it would be if insurance companies would recognize the value in such therapy.

    Thanks for stopping by our blog!

  3. So happy we shared this crazy journey together. We learned lots of new stitches and combinations along the way! It's a continuing adventure discovering more stitches and techniques! Stay stitching, Jan