We love Etsy, it’s filled with handmade joy. We’ve been allowed to rummage through their blog archives and share our findings with you. This month we’re sharing a terrific article on Japanese crazy quilts. Enjoy!
Closed to outsiders until 1854, Japan was a focus of fascination for much of the Western world. The 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia gave Americans their first look at the Eastern nation’s artistic style. Shelves filled with Japanese pottery captivated attendees, who marveled at sophisticated finishes that created the illusion of cracks. The refreshing patterns and quality of craftsmanship were quickly adopted by decorative arts practitioners in America in several disciplines, but quilters transformed the aesthetic into a nationwide mania: the crazy quilt.
With a mishmash of fabric scraps sewn together in a seemingly random pattern, crazy quilts echoed the crackled finishes of Japanese porcelain that entranced Exposition attendees; most quilt historians believe that the crazy quilt was named after the “crazing” or “cracked ice” effect that appeared in Japanese porcelain. The East Asian influence also accounts for the appearance of fans within crazy quilt patterns, often the only identifiable image among the asymmetrical fabric scraps. By the end of the 1800s, the fad was so widespread that the quilts were simply referred to as “crazies.” Women’s magazines included instructions for their readers to make their own, and textile companies began offering prepackaged kits, providing the sewer with all the fabric scraps she would need.
maclancy – A 1903 photograph of three women in a living room. Notice the crazy quilt draped over the end table.
While some historians claim that crazy quilts were a money-saving pastime, allowing makers to take a kitchen-sink approach by sewing excess fabric scraps into a quilt, the majority of Victorian-era crazy quilts were composed of fancy silks, velvets and valuable borders and threads. Crazies were carefully planned, each stitch sewn with premeditated intent. Rarely functional, these quilts were decorative pieces, hung on walls or draped across furniture.