The Fashion in the U.S.

High style American Crazy quilts at the height of the fashion (1880s-1890s) were made using luxury fabrics, and embellished with embroidery. Though pieced on a foundation fabric like Log Cabin quilts, these were a true departure from previous American quilt styles that relied on pieced geometric or appliquéd stylized patterns based on natural forms assembled in grid or medallion formats. Crazy quilts dispensed with some of these conventions, as makers attempted completely random designs.

Americans were more likely than their British counterparts, who tended to work on one large piece, to construct and join blocks of Crazy patchwork in a grid to make a quilt. In addition, hybrid quilts—those combining Crazy quilt elements with Log Cabin blocks, for example, or a freer piecing of repeat-block patterns—appeared simultaneously to the high-style Crazy quilts, raising—but not answering—the question of which came first.

By 1890, Americans had begun to craft humbler interpretations of the Crazy quilt style. Still characterized by asymmetry, irregularity, and randomness, these “vernacular” interpretations possessed the essence of Crazy quilts, but were made of durable wools and cottons, with sparse or no embellishment, and were large enough for use on beds. Also, by 1890, fabric printers offered pre-printed Crazy patchwork (“cheater cloth” in today’s parlance) that afforded makers the possibility of demonstrating 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 and more shard-like pieces without any softening through 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.