Thursday, May 17, 2018

Tattered Elegance

If you read our blog on a regular basis, you know that Kara and I (Teri) love a quilt with a story. Okay, we know that every quilt tells a story, so it would be accurate to state that we just love quilts. But figuring out the story in a quilt is half the fun of studying one. Sometimes we know the history—it's always a blessing if we have some written provenance—but then there are the quilts that find their way into our hands about which we know nothing. This gem is one of those. And so the fun begins!

A few months ago, we received an email from a regular attendee at the Academy of AppliquĂ©, Ann D'Hondt. She made our day, to say the least! 

Hi Teri! I'm a "regular" at Barbara's Academy and a follower of your website, on which I love the wandering variety of subjects! Keep having fun and sharing with us! So, now I know who to gift my very vintage but a tad fragile crazy quilt! It has a lot of life and love to give and will be fun to study for sure! It was gifted to me as someone who appreciates and restores, but crazy quilting is not in my skillset. Will put it in your hands at the Academy! Ann

We were incredibly honored that she had thought of us, as we have been intrigued by crazy quilts since we helped our friend, Jan Vaine, re-create a crazy quilt for her book, Patchwork and Embroidery Revisitedseveral years ago. We were indeed hooked and have taught several classes on crazy quilting as a result. We have both purchased several for our collections. Ann's generosity was an amazing gift—this stunning, earth-toned (my favorite!) crazy quilt to examine and study. Yes, it is a bit tattered, but within those tatters are some elegant stitches. Let's take a close-up look together, shall we?

While many of the fabrics around it have deteriorated, the embroidered silk Forget Me Not ribbon is intact. I love the use of the blanket stitch at the top and bottom, as well as the stitch combinations on either side, with just the colors reversed.

Here, the stitcher just outlined the motif on the velvet print with a fine embroidery thread.

Name this motif! Often, the stitched motif is the only thing that has remained; but here, the embroidery threads have broken down, leaving just a hint of the design on an intact velvet background. What do you think it is? A hunter? Soldier? What is on his head??

Another mystery motif... Flowers? What do you think?

This one, above, is an example where the silk fabric has shattered, but the embroidered frog motif is hanging on for dear life. Below, our jump-roping girl has survived on only the warp threads of the silk background, while the fishing boy resides on the pieces of background silk that have not yet fallen away.
Aren't these two dear?

The velvet has stood the test of time much more successfully than the silk. Notice how the detailed embroidery is in nearly pristine condition, compared to some of the other motifs we have seen.

Even the velvet motifs held up well, as you can see in the leaves above. The stitcher has created some lovely seam treatments using interesting combinations of fairly simple stitches. While most of her threads were pearl cottons, the variety of thread thickness adds variety and interest.

Is it worthy of noting that the two examples of painted motifs on the quilt both happen to be daisies? Intentional or accidental? 

This leaf motif might have gotten lost in the midst of this silk patch, but the surrounding stitch combinations help to give it balance. Still, it could have been centered a bit better. With such attention to detail throughout the quilt, I'm certain there was a good reason for the motif to be so close to the edge, with nothing below. 

I love these seam treatments! And that star in the middle (above) is made of carefully couched threads. Note the creative use of basic straight stitches to create some lovely combination seam stitching, below.

These urns are probably my favorite motifs of the quilt. They are so detailed, and each one is about the same size, yet unique. There was actually another, but like some of the above motifs, the stitching on the red velvet disappeared. I had in fact missed that urn the first few times I examined the quilt. Now, the one in the lower right corner above...I think might be an urn with something in it. I have a hard time seeing anything but the top of a king's face with a crown. I'm pretty sure that's not what it is, though. Any thoughts?
Two opposite sides of the quilt have what appears to be silk ribbon stitched along the edge, as at the top of this photo above. The other two sides were folded under and stitched, as below, though most of that has come undone. I couldn't visualize how the quilt would have looked finished, or why the ribbon was only on two of the sides. But then . . .
. . . I pulled out the beautiful piece of lace that was in the pillow case with the quilt. Thinking it was "just" a piece of lovely lace, I had set it aside and thought little of it, except for that is was exquisitely elegant. But then I laid it out and took a closer look.
About half of the lace has the same "ribbon" edge as that on the quilt sides, and the other half does not—probably not a coincidence. Then I noticed that the lace was pleated to create a corner, below. 
This lace had at one time been the border of the crazy quilt.

Oh, to have seen this quilt in its heyday! It might have rendered me speechless, in all its beauty!! (And that's saying a lot.) The warm colors, matched by the stunning three-inch wide lace trim, and its masterful embroidery must have made quite a statement to those who visited the home where it was displayed. For surely it was a piece that was proudly exhibited, for all to see. Such artistry should not be hidden. Unfortunately, we do not know the story behind the making of this quilt, but that doesn't mean it isn't full of stories!

Can you see the beauty amidst the tatters and shattered silk? I know I can!

With humble gratitude to Ann D'Hondt for her generosity in gifting us this stunning quilt.
May it live a long and happy life, bringing joy to all who see it,
until we someday must pay it forward and gift it to another,
who can continue to share its beauty.
Thank you, Ann!!

Afterword: I learned some interesting things about shattered silk as I researched this topic. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, silks were treated with metallic salts so that they would have more sheen and weight, which broke down the fabric. Silk was sold by weight rather than by the yard, so the heavier the fabric, the more that could be charged. Laws against weighting silk were passed in the 1930s, so if you come across such shattered silk, it is likely to be older than that decade. To read more about this fascinating topic, read Shattered Dreams: What Makes Antique Silk So Fragile? and Caring for Your Textiles (Victoria and Albert Museum).


  1. Great inspiration to Crazy Quilters in this story. Thanks for the FYI on antique silk.

  2. I inherited a crazy quilt from my maternal grandmother, and it has shattered silks, wools, and maybe some velvet. On the back is Cheater Cloth as in Mariners Compass which has bled some when it got accidentally damp. They are such a joy to look at and discover new things that were added.

    1. I know! It seems every time I look at a crazy quilt, I see something new. How much more fun it would be if it was made by a family member!