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What Is a Crazy Quilt?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Theo Malings, Africanway, Eldadcarin, n/a
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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A crazy quilt is a quilt made from irregularly shaped pieces of fabric, arranged with no discernible pattern. The height of the era was between the 1880s and 1920s, after which quilters moved to other techniques and styles of quilting. However, many examples of stunning crazy quilts can be found on display in American museums, and in private collections. Some modern textile artists also create crazy quilts which are usually designed as display pieces.

The roots of quilting can be found in the quilts and coverlets made by early settlers in the United States. As the quilts began to fall apart, they were patched with scraps of other material, slowly obscuring the original pattern. Quilts were also made from small scraps of material, often making it difficult, if not impossible, to create a standard pattern. These quilts made by enterprising pioneer women were one of the primary inspirations for the crazy quilting craze, which began in the mid 1800s among upper class women.

In the 1870s, crazy quilts were also influenced by Asian art, especially from Japan. The asymmetry and multiple points of focus found in Asian art were incorporated into many Western “oriental style” designs. Asian art also used irregular shapes and strange composition, which intrigued some Western artists. Many quilts include Asian design motifs, such as fans, embroidered flowers, and ornamental birds.

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There are several ways to make a crazy quilt. In general, the quilt has no insulating layer of batting, although it will be backed with a solid piece of material. Many of these quilts were designed to be ornamental throws, rather than functional quilts, and the techniques used to make them were also sometimes used to create dressing gowns and other garments.

In a basic crazy quilt, pieces of fabric are pieced together to create a single solid quilt. The pieces are stitched once they have been laid out to satisfaction, and then the quilt is embroidered and ornamented. Some quilters simply applique pieces of fabric to an already finished piece for the quilt look, a trend which was popular in the early 1900s. Others use odd bits of fabric to make blocks which are assembled into a crazy quilt. Sometimes each piece is made by a different quilter, to create a friendship quilt.

If you are interesting in making your own crazy quilts, you can look up quilting classes in your area to learn the basic techniques. A regional art center often offers textile classes, or you can apprentice with an experienced quilter. After learning the basics of quilting, including stitches and piecing techniques, you can work on projects such as crazy quilts.

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