No one knows who made the first Crazy quilt, where it was made, when, or if it was made by woman, man or child. In fact, the technique might not have started with a quilt, but with a table cover, pillow, or tea cosy since Crazy-style patchwork was used to create all manner of domestic items. The quintessential Crazy patchwork—a quilt with dozens, even hundreds, of irregularly-shaped luxury fabrics and profuse embroidered embellishment—appeared around the same time in the 1880s in the United States and the United Kingdom and without apparent direct precursors. The style also caught hold in other parts of the world, especially where British influence was most felt.
Although Crazy quilts appeared on the scene suddenly, trends in home decoration, quiltmaking, and embroidery in the late 1800s were all likely inspiration for the origin of the Crazy style.
Style was considered an indicator of one’s taste during the Victorian era (1837-1901, the period of Queen Victoria’s reign over the British Empire). Victorian style favored an eclectic and lavish combination of past decorative styles and Asian and Middle Eastern elements that were incorporated into architecture, furnishings, and interior decoration. Late 20th-century American quilt historians have pointed to the Japanese Pavilion and the exhibit by The Royal School of Needlework at the Philadelphia Centennial as having a direct influence on Crazy quits’ origins in the United States. These historical and international design influences were popularized through magazines, together with tastemakers and collectors who shared their ideas and collections with large sectors of society.
In the United States, publications targeting female audiences promoted Crazy quilts as artistic home decoration from the early 1880s into the 1890s. Yet Crazy patchwork fascinated needlewomen, who continued to adapt and evolve the style through the mid-1900s.