The Fashion in the U.S.

American Crazy quilts at the height of the fashion (1880s-1890s) were high style, made using luxury fabrics, and embellished with embroidery. These were a true departure from previous American quilt styles that relied on pieced geometric or appliquéd naturalistic patterns assembled in grid or medallion formats. Crazy quilts dispensed with some of these conventions and attempted completely random designs.

Hybrid quilts, combining Crazy quilt elements with Log Cabin blocks, for example, or a freer piecing of repeat-block patterns appeared simultaneously with the high-style Crazy quilts, raising—but not answering—the question of which came first.

Some makers created humble utilitarian quilts still characterized by asymmetry, irregularity, and randomness even after the fashion for the high-style quilts waned. These “vernacular” interpretations possessed the essence of Crazy quilts, but were made of durable wools and cottons with little or no embellishment. Also, fabric printers offered pre-printed Crazy patchwork (“cheater cloth” in today’s parlance) that afforded one the possibility of showing their good taste in a Crazy quilt that took comparatively little time to make.

Some twentieth-century vernacular Crazy quilts had an even more fractured and modernist feel than earlier silk and wool crazy quilts, having higher contrasts, fragmented geometries, and more shard-like pieces without any softening of embellishment. The Crazy quilt aesthetic also influenced American scrap quilts through the hard economic times of the 1930s and the years of rationing during the 1940s as the world was at War. In the 1970s, after a period when quiltmaking was out of fashion in the United States, many historical quilt styles were revived. Books and how-to manuals proliferated, instructing a new generation of Americans to make Crazy quilts, bags, clothing and other objects inspired by the high-style originals.