Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Crazy Quilts


∼ by Jade Papa

One of the things I missed the most during our time away this Spring and Summer was opening boxes and discovering the treasures inside. One of the main goals at the Textile and Costume Collection has been to create a comprehensive inventory of the objects we have. To achieve that, we need to open each box and systematically catalog its contents. We also take this opportunity to photograph and measure the object. All of this information, plus any we have about the object’s provenance (gleaned from the object’s original accession file) is compiled into our collection management system.

One facet of the collection that has not yet been inventoried is our extensive collection of quilts, coverlets, and other household textiles. However, I encountered some of these pieces as I prepared for a Zoom lecture this spring to a local quilters group. Obviously, I wanted to make sure I included quilts, so I scoured through some old digitized photographs. 

Although there were only a handful of images, one type of quilt featured prominently was crazy quilts. With their collaged pieces of multi-colored fabrics and decorative embroidery stitches, it was clear that when originally photographed, these were a favorite. One quilt in particular (1980.2) had multiple photographs detailing embroidery work featuring butterflies, women in period dress, fans, and birds. It’s pretty spectacular.   

Crazy quilts became popular in the late 1800s, likely stemming from the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. At the Exposition, the Japanese pavilion was a particularly popular attraction. The screen prints and cracked glazed porcelain on view there became the inspiration for the quilts. Soon, ladies’ magazines were publishing patterns and bags of scrap fabric were being sold to supplement a family’s own collection of scraps. 

As we eventually work our way through this collection, we’ll certainly bring you more details here on the blog and add them to our online database.  Stay tuned! 

In the meantime, learn more about crazy quilts:

Fueled by Silk: Victorian Crazy Quilt Mania

Curator and Adjunct Professor, Textile & Costume Collection, The Design Center, Thomas Jefferson University

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