Antique crazy quilts arrived in the United States with inspiration from the colorful Asian ceramics on display at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876.
When the British Royal School of Needlework arrived at the exhibition, they brought a new way of turning scrap fabric into luxurious works of art. It gave women an opportunity to be creative with scraps, according to The crazy or cracquelure quilt closely resembles the look of crazed or crackled porcelain and therefore, a suitable name for this quilt. The quilt was made up of asymmetrical pieces of rich dress scraps in silks, velvets and satin, brought together with fanciful embroidery, bead work and bits of lace.
Antique Crazy Quilts in America
Women across the United States soon followed this “craze,” adding embroidered signatures, poems, flowers and family mottoes. Embroidered pictures emerged. Commemorative silk ribbons were added. The works became sentimental with scraps from christening gowns and wedding dresses. Even bead work was incorporated in some. The finishing stitchery became an essential part of the completed quilt. Attention to fine detail was important.
It was free-for all. If it was a scrap of silk or lace and could be embroidered into the piece, it would be added. The results were usually stunning. And many of those old quilts have survived the following century.
With the Victorian age, came complicated and intricate fashionable garments. And those garments for women required the rich textiles from the orient and elsewhere. There were always remnants left over from the yardage and the women of the day were not wasteful. The crazy quilt was an easy solution.
Crazy Quilt and Aesthetic Movement
At the same time, the Aesthetic Movement in England was in full force – an idealistic view of beauty, bringing hand-made artistic items into the interior of the home. And when the women of America discovered this trend, they embraced it. Sunflowers and lilies were symbols of the Aesthetic Movement and these motifs show up embroidered into many of the antique crazy quilts found today.
Crazy Bed Art
The crazy quilt isn’t technically a quilt. It doesn’t traditionally have an inner layer for warmth, but is simply two layers front an back. The crazy quilt was used primarily as coverlets in the parlor, as piano shawls, or simply placed on the back of the sofa for decorative reasons.. They were primarily artful.
The crazy quilt was most often designed in small blocks as with most patchwork quilts and then the blocks were stitched together with the seams embroidered in to make a cohesive coverlet.
Where to Find Antique Crazy Quilts
The best places to find antique crazy quilts are online and at auctions and antique stores. EBay always has at least two pages of listings for them. The most sought after and the ones that fetch the highest prices on eBay are generally those signed by the maker.
The best investments are made with these considerations.
- When buying antique crazy quilts, look for those that are in very good condition, even with age consideration.
- Shattered silk pieces in the crazy quilt can certainly lower the price. These parts can be restored, but it’s expensive and can actually do little in the way of furthering the investment as it’s no longer completely original.
- Look for signed and dated quilts, and those with lots of fine detail, embellished with numerous and different fancy embroidery stitches.
- Look for embroidered pictures of of buildings and flowers, especially the lily and sunflower. A good example is the Cleveland-Hendricks crazy quilt.
As with anything old and collectible, antique crazy quilts are only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it.
- Prices vary with the above criteria. On eBay, antique crazy quilts can sell for as little as $20, or as much as $5000 for a truly spectacular piece.
- Wools and heavier textiles were also used in crazy quilts as a more primitive way to use scrap fabrics. These quilts were generally more functional as bed quilts. One from the early 20th century recently sold on eBay for $200 (update, article originally written in 2007). And this particular crazy quilt had several worn and frayed patches.
- A stunning 1880s quilt that was signed, dated and extensively embroidered sold for as little as $160.
- You will also find crazy quilt blocks or small squares from earlier periods for under $50 and these are worthy of framing.