Crazy Quilts and Mad Women

Crazy Quilts and Mad Women

“Nothing has taken a stronger hold on the women —
Crazy quilts have engulfed us.”
- Dorcas magazine, 1884

Arising in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century, the high-style crazy quilt trend incorporated motifs from Japanese art and decor, English embroidery, and fairyland, among others. Like many textiles, however, the legacy of the crazy quilt is complicated. Women were urged by magazines to create crazy quilts, the more elaborate the better, yet they were mocked in newspapers and periodicals for doing so.  

The Industrial Revolution made silks cheaper and more readily available, which meant that many more women were able to take part in the crazy quilt trend. However, the cultural changes that accompanied this massive economic shift had impacts that are also reflected within these quilts. Women created crazy quilts in an era when male medical “experts” were widely pathologizing women’s normal physical and emotional experiences as hysteria and madness. 

This tension is evident in the pieces shared here. Unlike the generally light-colored, symmetrical block and applique quilts popular in the preceding decades, crazy quilts are characterized by irregularity in piecing, dark and saturated tones, and often odd embellishments. In an era obsessed with female hysteria, it is no surprise that crazy quilts were the order of the day.  

Works in the Exhibition

Works in the Exhibition

Crazy, coffin cover
Maker unknown
Probably made in Florida
Circa 1880 - 1900
Ardis and Robert James Collection, 1997.007.0360

 

"My Crazy Dream" 
Mary Hernandred Ricard 
Dated 1877-1912 
Made in Boston and Haverhill MA, United States
Robert and Ardis James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0541

 

Crazy
Maker unknown
Possibly made in Ohio
Circa 1880 - 1900
Ardis and Robert James Collection, 1997.007.0670

 

Crazy
Maker unknown
Made in the United States
Circa 1885 - 1900
Ardis and Robert James Collection, 1997.007.0698

 

Crazy
Maker unknown
Possibly made in Pennsylvania
Circa 1880 - 1900
Gift of Lindsey Miller-Lerman, 2007.041.0012

 

Crazy
Maker unknown
Made in the United States
Circa 1880 - 1900
Ardis and Robert James Collection, 1997.007.0608

 

Works in the Exhibition

Virtual First Friday Lecture

Virtual First Friday Lecture
Virtual First Friday Lecture

World Quilts: The Crazy Quilt Story

World Quilts: The Crazy Quilt Story
World Quilts: The Crazy Quilt Story

Born in the second half of the nineteenth century from a variety of influences, Crazy quilts were a reflection of their era, but they lived on to change with the times and with the people who adopted and adapted the style.

The origins and development; expressions of beauty and innovations of format, materials and symbols; and enduring popularity of Crazy quilts form a story as varied and rich as their embellished surfaces. Discover this fascinating history on "World Quilts: The Crazy Quilt Story."

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Event Date
Friday, May 1, 2020