Our Collections Committee recently conducted an inventory of its quilt collection, documenting more than 40 quilts, comforters and quilt tops from the Society’s collection.
Among the many quilts are a few known as “Crazy Quilts”, which is not really a quilt at all. It is made from brightly colored silk and rayon, probably somewhere between the years of 1920 and 1930. The seemingly random shapes are stitched on to squares of a foundation fabric to provide stability. Then each seam is covered with hand embroidery and the top and bottom layers are tacked together.
“Crazy Quilts” began their heyday during the late 1800’s or the Victorian era. This period was a time where women in the home were encouraged by publications of the day to engage in “fancywork” and thus decorated many of their home pieces with beads, feathers, flowers and lace.
With the growth of mass production of sewing machines and the growing use of silk in the United States, these crazy quilts became something of an art form well into the Great Depression and onwards.
In this particular piece, one can see that many of the squares have small symbols stitched onto them. If you look carefully, you can see a flower, butterfly and the three-ring symbol for the Odd Fellows Organization.
The first IOOF (International Organization of Odd Fellows) formed in 1819 and grew rapidly to have 132 lodges, which has dwindled to 22 or so as of the 2020’s. Why might a woman have included a fraternal organization in her “fancywork”? Perhaps her husband or family member was involved in the organization or perhaps the maker could have been part of the Odd Fellow’s sister organization, The Rebekahs.
The quilt’s small size – only 60” x 70” and the lack of filling between the top and bottom layers indicate that it was used to cover a table or chair rather than a bed, echoing its decorative roots. As is often the case, many of the silk pieces have deteriorated with age and exposure to light.
Sadly, we do not know who made this lovely piece, but perhaps someone viewing this post will recognize it. If there is something familiar to our readers about this “Crazy Quilt”, please don’t hesitate to send us your comments.