The Fashion in the U.K.

Making patchwork quilts, a centuries-old practice, continued in Britain during the nineteenth century, but the new fashion was fancywork, which incorporated a wide range of other time honored techniques such as knitting, lace-making, crochet, and embroidery. In the early part of the century, making patchwork in both cotton and dress fabrics was only one of the many handcrafts that occupied women of leisure. Silk then became the fashionable choice, especially in more well-to-do households. Mid-century, there was a revival of interest in making the more labor-intensive mosaic patchwork that used the ‘piecing over papers’ technique, which allowed for greater piecing accuracy. This patchwork utilized the new range of luxury fabrics that were becoming available. Embroidery was also sometimes incorporated into patchwork. Making Crazy patchwork appears a natural development. Women held all the necessary skills: making patchwork; embroidery, and foundation piecing, a technique already established for Log Cabin patchwork.

Added to this mix was the influence of what was, until recently, referred to as the Orient (a generic term for Asian locales ranging from the Middle East to the Far East), which expanded with Japonisme, the passion for Japanese art and design in the 1870s.

Books and periodicals provided plenty of ideas and inspiration for fancywork projects, which could easily be adapted for Crazy patchwork. Though instructions for making patchwork in this literature were minimal, patterns appeared for embroidery as well as instructions for painting on velvet, beading and other aspects associated with Crazy work. It was recommended as suitable for cushions, the ubiquitous tea cosy, shelf trims, bell pulls, ‘couvre-pieds,’ and other decorative household goods that one might expect to find in the Victorian parlor.

Quilts and other items appear to have been made all over the country, often incorporating lavish embroidery and sometimes beading, spangles and occasionally winding braid. Lavish dressing gowns, reminiscent of the kimono so favored by the Aesthetes, were also made in Crazy patchwork.

Crazy work continued to be made in the twentieth century, with a revival of interest during the Second World War, no doubt due to fabric and clothing being rationed.