Sweetwater County is Crazy for Crazy Quilts

Sweetwater County is Crazy for Crazy Quilts

Amanda Benson, Sweetwater County Historical Museum curator, talks about the crazy quilt exhibit at the Museum now through April 30. SweetwaterNOW photo by Olivia Kennah

GREEN RIVER — The Sweetwater County Historical Museum and the Sweetwater County Quilt Guild have partnered up once again for the fourth annual Quilt Show, in which this year is all about crazy quilts.

The museum has several crazy quilts on display, of which were mostly made by members of the quilt guild, from now through April 30.

Amanda Benson, museum curator, said the “crazy quilt craze” was a unique historical period for America. It started at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia in 1876 at the Centennial Exhibition. People were intrigued by the abstract art and ceramics at the Japanese Pavilion, which became the inspiration for crazy quilts.

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“The abstract art and ceramics just kind of blew people’s minds,” Benson said.

Bringing that inspiration into quilt making, women abandoned neat patterns in their creations and began incorporating several eastern Asian motifs and styles in their quilts such as peacocks, fans, and flowers.
A blend of styles could be found on the quilts, however, as the stitching between fabric pieces was heavily influenced by English embroidery.

The quilts were decorative pieces rather than functional, and became expressions of imagination and creativity.

“A crazy quilt’s design showcased the creator’s personal preferences and taste in fashion and décor,” Benson said.

The fabrics used in the quilts were quite expensive, including silk, velvet, and brocade, and silk thread was often used for the stitching. This limited the hobby to upper-class women, but eventually the craft made its way to the middle-class as excess fabric scraps became more affordable.

Many quilts from the crazy quilt period have deteriorated over time, as the silk used in this age was often weighted with a chemical process using metal salts such as lead or tin, Benson said. The museum has a quilt in storage from 1886 that cannot be displayed because of its condition due to the silk materials used. However, the museum does have a quilt from 1907 on display that was made by a quilter in Pinedale.

Going “Crazy” Over Crazy Quilts

Benson said an interesting piece of history she discovered while putting this exhibit together was that some men during this time started to believe the women were going “mad” through the process of making crazy quilts.

It took on average about 1,500 hours to complete a quilt, which is equal to 62 and a half days. The length of the construction period became an avenue for criticism against the quilt makers, as men began pointing out how much time they were “wasting” on making quilts.

Men penned opinion pieces for newspapers in the 1880s, posing questions such as what else could women accomplish in terms of education matters if they dedicated their quilt making time to something else?

Benson noted that in this time period, matters of education and careers outside of the home were not even feasible for most women.

Crazy quilts saw their peak in popularity in about 1910, and then the fad slowly faded out.

For this exhibit, the quilt makers who participated wrote messages to go along with their quilts, and many explained that the quilts became a great project to keep their hands and minds busy during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

Benson said she herself was inspired by the world the quilt guild did and is starting to make her own crazy quilt.

This quilt specifically inspired Amanda Benson to make her own crazy quilt. It was made by Robin Avery using handkerchiefs from her late mother, fabrics that remind her of her late son, and several embellishments that pay tribute to her life and the people she cherishes.

“There’s a lot of passion, memories, and energy that goes into each piece,” Benson said.

To check out the quilts yourself, visit the exhibit at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum by April 30.