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Monday, October 13, 2008

 

Crazy Quilts: History, Techniques, Embroidery Motifs




Crazy Quilts: History, Techniques, Embroidery Techniques

By Cindy Brick
Voyageur Press, 2008
Hardcover, 160 pages
MSRP: $29.95

While researching this book, Cindy Brick came across the following assertion in the catalogue for Joseph Doyle & Co., from about 1900:

It may interest many to know that the first 'crazy quilt' was made at Tewkesbury (Mass.) almshouse by a demented but gentle inmate, who delighted to sew together, in hap-hazard fashion, all the odd pieces given her. One day a lady visitor was shown the quilt as a sample of poor Martha's crazy work. The conglomeration of color, light and dark, of every conceivable shape and size, caught the visitor's fancy, and within a week she, herself, was making a crazy quilt. And thence the furor spread.

Whether this passage is a true account or simply an early example of urban folklore, it captures something of the mystique and widespread appeal of that most unique of art forms, the crazy quilt. Exuberant, seemingly random, yet highly formal and ordered, crazy quilts celebrate all needlework at once in a riot of patches and stitches. This comprehensive and loving look at the crazy quilt undertakes the difficult task of determining provenance and origins, and celebrates the persistence of the form with a high degree of historical integrity and grace.

Part one of the book is the history of the crazy, and it is fascinating. Not only does it present and analyze outstanding examples of the form, both historical and contemporary, but it has many interesting and instructive digressions on other emerging styles, such as the Grandmother's Flower Garden and the Log Cabin. Particularly noteworthy are the section on the growing influence of Asian art in American textiles and a sidebar on the commercial response of manufacturers to the craze, which resulted in a flood of tools, threads, fabrics and embellishments aimed directly at the crazy quilter market. Cigarette silks of course have a prominent presence in the embellishments category.

Crazy Quilts contains many beautiful color photos of significant examples of the style from its heyday in the 1890s, but equally significant is the coverage of the legacy of the crazy style into the present day. Stunning quilts by Judith Baker Montano and Terrie Mangat, among others, are generously represented in large photos. My favorite is the double-truck of Mangat's “Cleveland Fireworks,” a dramatic expressionist work commissioned by the Cleveland University Hospital for display in their entrance foyer. It absolutely takes your breath away.

Part 2 of the book is the inevitable and indispensable section on how to make your own crazy quilt. It addresses piecing, stitching and embellishing the quilt, including three different construction methods, traditional hand-piecing, paper foundation piecing, and a Cindy Brick technique called “shadow crazy piecing,” billed as the fastest of the methods, using either hand or machine piecing. An appendix includes a large collection of elaborate embroidery motifs with lots of birds, flowers, and an Art Deco alphabet, among other designs.

This handsome volume belongs on the shelf of any quilter touched by this rich tradition. Which in all likelihood includes all of us.





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