In the 1880s, quilt makers became intrigued with the possibilities of patchworks that did not follow a specific structure. Random, asymmetrical patterns, contrasting thread colors and a collage of fabric scraps were hallmarks of these works. Creating these so-called “crazy” quilts was an artistic outlet for women—who were often engaged in domestic arts—to showcase their fashion sense and needlework skills. These bold and brightly colored quilts were proudly 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. Initials or full names of family members were embroidered onto individual pieces of fabric, and some quilts featured portraits that were developed 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.
“We are excited to exhibit these elaborate, highly decorative patchwork quilts that showcase their maker’s artistic sensibility, fashionable taste and skillful embroidery techniques,” said Niloo Paydar, exhibition curator and the IMA’s curator of textile and fashion arts.
The IMA has collected these quilts since the 1970s, but this is the first time they are being shown collectively.
“This exhibition has enabled us to collaborate with two other Indiana museums and borrow pieces from their collections to enhance the exhibition,” Paydar said.
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 repurposed 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.
Members can learn more about the crazy quilts fad and its continued influence on the fashion world during a special Members Only talk with Paydar on Sunday, Aug. 13 at 2 p.m.
Crazy Quilts: Stitching Memories is on view through Jan. 7, 2018 in the Gerald and Dorit Paul Gallery.
SOURCE: Indianapolis Museum of Art