Saturday, August 18, 2012


It is always a treat to go to my local Prairie Women's Sewing Circle, hosted by my local quilt shop here. At today's meeting, we were treated to a most informative program on crazy quilts by local quilt historian Barb Eckhoff, who brought some beauties from her collection of antique quilts. Some of the group members also shared some of their own treasures. Barb purchased the crazy quilt in the top right of the below photo for just $20 back in 1967. The quilt dates to the 1880s. We learned that the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia launched the crazy quilting craze and that these quilts were originally called Japan quilts because they resembled the crazing of a well-known Japanese porcelain pattern called "cracked ice".

The maker of Barb's crazy quilt cleverly incorporated the lining of men's hats into her quilt (the circular fabrics bear haberdashery labels from London).

We were all in awe of the beautiful handwork on these quilts. Barb told us that crazy quilts were status symbols of the day and were rarely displayed on beds but rather sofas or pianos where they would be seen by company. As you can see, the makers loved to showcase their embroidery skills on these quilts. 

Sadly, most crazy quilts have some form of deterioration, primarily shattered silks—the result of chemical damage caused by the process of weighting silks. Barb said Congress eventually outlawed weighted silks when parachutes, which were also made of silks, began to fail. Not a good thing to fail!! In addition to the beautiful crazy quilt made of silks and velvets seen in the photos above, Barb also brought some country cousins made of cottons and wool. She said they would have been made by country women who wouldn't have had access to the fine silks and velvets. Don't you love this wool one? It's part of the Iowa Documentation Project and features borders on just three sides.

This country crazy quilt is made of cottons and was embroidered with string.

Kathy, one of our group members, brought this lovely crazy quilt, which Barb dated to the 1930s when the crazy quilt enjoyed a resurgence. It also contains some older silks.

Jacque, our group facilitator, brought this striking crazy-quilted treasure that was made by her husband's grandmother. 

Jacque also shared this charming sewing pocket (pattern by Pam Buda) that she made from a kit that she won at Pam's Schoolhouse presentation at Quilt Market. I've seen LOTS of patterns for these sewing pockets, so they should be widely available if you want to try making one yourself. I purchased a wonderful book on them a couple years ago, and it has many patterns for pockets similar to this one as well as huswifs. Wasn't there a fabric collection called Pockets and Housewives by Old Sturbridge Village many years ago? Can't remember if that was the exact name or not, so if you know, please leave a comment! I think I have some it somewhere in my fabric stash but not anywhere that would be easy to access right now!

This book is a great resource on the history of crazy quilts. I received it as a gift several years ago. For years, I had wanted to learn how to make a crazy quilt and 12 years ago, I attended an all-day seminar on just that by crazy quilt expert Betty Pillsbury at the Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa (which has a beautiful guest room decorated with antique quilts). Sorry to digress as that has nothing to do with this book, which was written by Cindy Brick. 

In addition to crazy quilts, Barb talked to us about lighting during pioneer days in Iowa. Unlike those in the East, Iowans didn't really use candles because they didn't have a plentiful supply of the material necessary to make them. While researching the topic, Barb learned that they typically only sewed during the daylight hours and if they sewed by evening, it was usually by the light of a fire. Those in the East had plentiful access to bayberry, which was made into candle wax. This was much more fragrant and pleasing than the scent of candles rendered from beef tallow. I don't have any lighting visuals from the presentation to show you but I can show you this small sampling of my vintage kerosene lantern collection in my parlor.

This is my cast-iron Victorian match striker, which was made during the late 19th century. It's made in the shape of a lady's boot! The Victorians certainly had a penchant for the fanciful, so I had to pair it with matches that were equally delightful. These are aqua and came in the prettiest bird box! 

And on a totally different note, don't forget to join the giveaway for my most recent quilt book editing project in my previous post. You have until this coming Tuesday. I'm delighted by the terrific response to it so far. 


  1. Quilts are amazing, I think you live in the perfect state for quiling! Thanks for sharing you day with us...

  2. I LOVE Victorian Crazy Quilts!!! I do not own one though. The one Barb owns is gorgeous! I like your kerosene lamp collection and your wall color! How fun! I like your Victorian match striker too! Have a great Sunday! Gina

  3. I love crazy quilts - my sister-in-law has an antique one that I keep threatening to steal! I think it should come live at my house.

  4. Thank you for sharing the info on crazy quilts. I have 2 friends who made tree skirts in this style that are lovely. You have the best collections!

  5. I've always loved crazy quilts, in any form. These are all so lovely.....what a treat it must have been to see them up close. And your group is so knowledgeable! Wonderful post!

  6. What a wonderful display of crazy quilts.

  7. Thank you for this blog, I loved reading about crazy quilts. I also love kerosene lamps (old ones). My favorite one hangs on the wall and has a deflector to move the light where you need it. The holder is made of cast iron and I have hit my head on it a couple of times (WOW that hurts). Hugs, Mary

  8. Thanks for sharing, Kimber. It was a very interesting program.


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