Symbols & Motifs

The iconography found on Crazy work often reflected contemporary artistic trends. The influence of the Aesthetic Movement can be seen through the inclusion of its iconic symbols: peacocks, peacock feathers, potted palms and sunflowers. A range of "oriental" motifs began to appear as the fashion for imported goods from Asia, especially Japan, took hold. Fans were a favorite and appear either pieced in brightly coloured silks or executed in embroidery. Asian-inspired figures and scenes, flowers (especially chrysanthemums), cranes, bull rushes, and butterflies all crop up carried out in combinations of stitches.

Flowers, insects, birds (especially owls), and spiders and webs were all popular motifs, the use of which can be traced back to the sixteenth century, when embroidery flourished in Great Britain. Floral motifs appear to dominate in British Crazy work, though birds, insects, and other motifs are also found.

In the United States it was possible to purchase ready-made hand- or machine-embroidered appliqués.

Patterns for the distinct figures of illustrator Kate Greenaway were very popular, as were copies of her work. These were embroidered in outline stitch.

Often the interests of either the maker or the destined recipient of the work, or both, were reflected in a range of more eclectic motifs, such as animals, horseshoes, stars, moons, anchors, and sporting equipment. Flags and religious symbols were sometimes included too.

Beading was fashionable in all types of fancywork in both the United Kingdom and the United States in the nineteenth century, but more commonly used in Crazy work in the United Kingdom. Beaded motifs such as flowers or insects, as well as more abstract shapes, were used, and in the United Kingdom beads were also attached in a more random fashion over the surface.

Sometimes Crazy quilts display a range of elaborately worked initials or more simply embroidered names, as well as goodwill messages. This possibly indicates that they were made as gifts. When dates are included, it is worth remembering that the date may well mark something commemorative rather than the time the quilt was put together.