A 19th century textile craze is the subject of a new exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, “Crazy Quilts: Stitching Memories.”
In the 1880s, quilt makers started experimenting with freestyle patchworks that did not follow a specific structure, which often incorporated random, asymmetrical patterns, contrasting thread colors and a collage of fabric scraps.
Creating so-called “crazy” quilts was an artistic outlet for women to showcase their fashion sense and needlework skills. The bold and brightly colored quilts were displayed in parlors when families entertained guests.
In addition to being highly technical works of art, crazy quilts also contained powerful and personal stories. The quilt makers captured memories by incorporating ribbons or scraps from dresses, men’s silk ties and other items of clothing into their quilts.
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Initials or full names of family members were embroidered onto individual pieces of fabric, and some quilts featured portraits on silk or satin. Some quilts were memorial pieces, to honor the life of a certain person, or designed to mark a special occasion, such as a wedding.
The IMA has collected these quilts since the 1970s, but the exhibit is the first in which they will be shown collectively.
On display in the exhibition are seven quilts from the IMA’s collection, along with three quilts borrowed from the Indiana State Museum.
Also on display is a coat made from a re-purposed antique crazy quilt and a Judith Leiber handbag, on loan from the Indiana University’s Sage Collection. The Sage Collection items showcase the lasting impact crazy quilts had on the fashion industry, as designers in the 1970s tried to recapture the patchwork styles popularized by the crazy quilts.
Crazy Quilts: Stitching Memories is on view through Jan. 7 in the Gerald and Dorit Paul Gallery.
Learn more at imamuseum.org.