Mannin Quilters

Quilting in the Isle of Man
About Us
News & Information
Contact Us
Aspects of Manx Life
Suitcase Collection
Challenge Quilts
SCBU Quilts
Picture Gallery
Site Map
For Sale
Suitcase Collection
Crazy Patchwork

pieced by Sheila Huxley

embroidered/embellished by Marian Cunningham and Sheila Huxley


The 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition was a big event in Victorian society.  One of the most popular exhibits was the Japanese Pavilion with its fascinating crazed ceramics and asymmetrical art.  Women were eager to incorporate this new look into their quilts and with the help of popular women’s magazines the making of Crazy quilts became quite the rage.  This enthusiasm over Crazy quilts continued until about 1910.


Crazy quilts were more show pieces than functional and were often made as smaller unquilted “lap robes” that were used to decorate the parlour.  They were fitting showpieces for the lavish interior decoration of the day.  These Crazy quilts were made using velvets, silks and brocades, cut and pieced in random shapes.  Using silk thread, women placed lovely decorative stitches on each seam.  Intriguing names like feather, herringbone, fly and chain describe just a few of the intricate stitches.  The imagination and skill of the seamstress was the limit.


To the Victorians the word “crazy” not only meant wild but also broken or crazed into splinters; a good description of the look the various triangles and other odd shapes gave to these quilts.  Although Crazy quilts may appear haphazard they were carefully planned.  Hours were spent cutting shapes and trying out various arrangements of the pieces.  It was a challenge to create unique ways to embellish the quilt.


We find a great variety of stitching styles and embroidered motifs on these quilts; sometimes small pictures were even painted on the fabric.  Animals and flowers seem to be the favourite embroidery patterns.  Some quilters believed that embroidering a spider on its web would bring good luck to the quilter.  Crazy quilts occasionally included embroidered verses and information recording family events.



Crazy quilts were also popular for fund-raising.  Sometimes churchwomen would even write to famous people asking for a piece of clothing that could be incorporated into the crazy quilt they were making to raise money to help the missionaries, build a new church or other worthy cause.  What a great conversation piece such a quilt would be!


Originally these quilts were made by those women in the wealthy classes who had the time and the money for the expensive materials.  Before long, other women got in on the fad and found ways to make their own Crazy quilts.  Some were made from the fancy clothing of the day that had been discarded or passed on to less affluent relatives.  Those women who could get a hold of old fabric sample books felt themselves lucky indeed.  What a delightful array of fabrics in just the size needed for a crazy quilt!  Women soon adapted the Crazy quilts to be used for such fabrics as flannels, denims and other cottons.  These quilts do not always have the decorative stitching and instead are often simply pieced.


Sadly the quilts made with silk in them are rapidly deteriorating, in part because the Victorian silks were embedded with metals to give them rustle  and weight.  Experts in quilt preservation do what they can to save the old silks and when that is no longer possible some take on the painstaking task of renovating the quilt while carefully preserving the original embroidery.  Someday these historic quilts will on be found in pictures.


Today quilters are still finding new ways to use the techniques found in Crazy quilting.  Using modern sewing machines with their wonderful arrays of stitches can made Crazy quilting fast and fun.  Crazy quilting techniques can be seen in many of the picturesque quilts modern quilt artists are creating.

From an article by Anne Johnson 


The Crazy patchwork block in the Suitcase Collection contain pieces of bobbin lace hand made by the daughters of Marian Cunningham (Kate and Nicola).  The quilt also has pieces of lace from Sheila Huxley’s wedding dress.  Often crazy patchwork was embellished with adornments/embroidery, that have a special meaning/sentiment to the creator of the quilt – hence the lace which is incorporated into this quilt, the embroidered 3 Legs of Mann, embroidered Cushag, Y2K, the initials of the creators of the quilt, and the “Tartan” border.  Our crazy patchwork quilt is all hand pieced and hand embellished.  Both Sheila and Marian are enthusiasts of patchwork and embroidery, hence all the charms on the quilt being related to needle work. Some of the buttons on the quilt have been donated by other members of Mannin Quilters.