The Fashion in the British Empire

Crazy quilts were a global, late-Victorian phenomenon. Women all over the world adopted the style, particularly those in countries that were part of the British Empire. In Australia and Canada, for instance, many Crazy quilts have survived, even from the first half of the 1880s. In her overview of historical Australian quilts, researcher Annette Gero cites a late-nineteenth century Australian household manual that describes Crazy work as "a kind of patchwork . . . and if well done looks like Oriental work."1 In many regards, Australian Crazy patchwork looked the same as English and American forms—sometimes presented in the typically British all-over format, sometimes in the more Americanized block style. However, the most notable ones, Gero asserts, are the ones that "started to exhibit our indigenous symbols such as the wattle, kangaroos, emus, geckos . . . naval badges and mottos such as 'Advance Australia Fair.'"2

Canadian Crazy quilts also resembled those made in other parts of the world. As in Australia, however, Canadian quiltmakers inserted regionally and culturally specific elements into their handiwork. An easy way of doing so was to include event- and organization-specific printed and woven ribbons. A block-style Crazy quilt made in Durham County, Ontario features ribbons from Canadian chapters of the Ancient Order of Foresters (later, Independent Order of Foresters) and the Catholic Order of Foresters, related fraternal mutual aid societies. Details such as these imbue Crazy quilts with individual character even greater than the haphazard format and diverse materials already grant them.

1 Annette Gero, Historical Australian Quilts, Roseville, NSW, Australia: The Beagle Press (2000), p. 18.

2 Ibid., p. 19.