Potter College News
Crazy Quilt Mania on view at Kentucky Museum
- Tiffany Isselhardt
- Thursday, April 28th, 2022
The Kentucky Museum at WKU has opened a new exhibit, Crazy Quilt Mania. The exhibition showcases 23 crazy quilts from the Museum’s permanent collection, as well as examples of related textile and non-textile fancywork, illustrations, and advertisements.
When asked to describe Crazy Quilt Mania, Museum Registrar/Collections Curator Sandy Staebell replied that this exhibit is “a visual feast for the eyes. The combination of luxe fabrics, vivid colors, and often extravagant needlework makes this exhibit a must see for any lover of quilts and the needlework arts.”
Crazy quilts emerged in the United States during the late nineteenth century. Stitchery from London’s Royal School of Art Needlework as well as the display of Japanese arts and crafts at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 inspired women across America to take up their needles in new and different ways. Significantly, the authors of the household décor literature associated with the resulting Art Needlework movement were not the first to promote crazy quilts. Rather, as quilt historian Virginia Gunn has noted, these textiles “emerged as a grass roots response to Aesthetic Movement fashions.” By 1884, the fad for crazy quilts was so great that terms such as ‘mania’, ‘maddening’, ‘maniacal’, and ‘insanity’ appeared with regularity in newspaper and magazine articles.
Crazy quilts appealed to urban and rural women alike. Unquilted and therefore technically not quilts at all, they consisted of randomly shaped and sized pieces of fabric that were attached to a foundation layer and then embellished with decorative embroidery that covered the seams. Realistic and naturalistic embroidery motifs, ribbons, and pre-embroidered appliques often provided additional surface decoration. In the 1880s, scraps of brightly colored silk, taffeta, and brocade were the fabrics of choice. Towards the end of the following decade, woolens in a limited palette of muted, darker colors gradually replaced luxe fabrics in popularity, individual pieces became larger, and the use of embroidery was increasingly limited to stitches that disguised the seams. After 1900, the renewed interest in patchwork coincided with the rise of the Colonial Revival and Arts and Crafts movements, and fashion tastemakers declared crazy quilts unfashionable. Even so, some women continued to make them.
Whatever the origins of these textiles, the phrase “crazy quilt” holds a prominent place in the vocabulary of Americans. During this era, crazy quilts were the subject of poems and stories, and newspapers of the era used the term frequently to describe the weather, sporting events, theatrical productions, and political contests. Even today, most Americans form a mental picture of something that is seemingly random or chaotic when the term “crazy quilt” is used.
Crazy Quilt Mania is on view now through June 30, 2023. The Kentucky Museum is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
About the Kentucky Museum
Founded in 1939, the Kentucky Museum is a teaching institution with premier cultural collections that complement, support and challenge the academic experiences of WKU students, faculty and staff. It also provides a gathering place for our campus and community to come to know and celebrate who they are as individuals and as Kentuckians in the 21st century. The Museum serves Kentuckians and visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications and collections research. As a history and cultural museum concerned with meanings, narratives and associations, its collections offer multiple opportunities to explore and interpret history and culture as well as discover how Kentuckians have shaped and been shaped by local, state, regional, national and global influences over the last two-and-a-half centuries.
For more information, contact Tiffany Isselhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org.