The Design Used By Marie And Heloise In Their “Crazy Quilt.”
Most crazy quilter’s are familiar with Godey’s 1884 story called “The Career of a Crazy Quilt” by Dulcie Weir. It’s a charming story about two society young ladies, Heloise Herbert (aka Lois) and friend Marie Antoinette Craig, on how they embark on making a crazy quilt. A lot can be gleaned from the story as to who, when, where, how, what and why crazy quilts were being made.
Who made Crazy Quilts?The patch-workers are Heloise Herbert (Lois) and Marie Antoinette Craig. They were young ladies of means who could perfectly well afford all the silks they wanted for their crazy quilts but wanted the excitement of collecting them by any means necessary. Heloise was the daughter of a banker and lived in a mansion with a staff who, should knock please prior to entering a room and ring tea-bells announcing meals. The girls sent fashionable-looking correspondences to each other, written on terra cotta paper illustrated with a little Greenaway girl, holding a peacock feather; ragged-edged paper; and copper embossed correspondence-cards. Fashion trends were depicted in the outfits worn by the girls: A China silk morning gown; pretty pongee traveling suit, richly trimmed with brown velvet and the violet scented gloves and kerchief. Fashionable lady Mrs. Beauchamp wore tan-colored mousquetaire gloves while calling on Heloise; she and several of her friends also made crazy quilts.
When were the Crazy Quilts made?The story was published in the July 1884 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book and refers to the wedding last fall, indicating 1883 when the crazy quilts were completed. The girls got together on a fair, sweet day in the early spring of 1883 to work on their crazy quilts. Several of the letters are dated in January and February of 1883, with the idea for making the crazy quilts coming out one day last winter, referring to 1882. In February 1883, Mrs. Beauchamp exclaimed that she and several of her friends had each made a crazy quilt last fall. It was she who told Heloise of the scheme to get free buyers samples to make the quilts.
The shop keepers complained to the loss of revenue and cost of making samples from the prior year, 1882, due to the thousands of requests they received, of which a large portion had no return, as in only one case out of ten led to a customers. They didn’t want to buy anything at all, but wanted to use the silks for patchwork.
Where are the Crazy Quilts being made?Where else, but up-state New York, where I live! Marie lived in Albany and Heloise in Rochester. According to the girls, the storekeepers in Rochester were not as generous as they were in Albany. Marie’s Mamma and rich Aunt Annabel went to New York to get new patterns and stacks of samples for the girls. Heloise’s father went to the Convention in Syracuse, leaving the girls to work on their quilts.
How are Crazy Quilts made?First you needed supplies. The girls collected silk samples from dry goods stores and sent begging letters to out-of-town friends for contributions of silk. Relatives supplied bits of old-fashion brocade, scraps of silk, and old silk dresses. They asked every lady that called on them for bits of their bonnet strings. Young men provided gently used lovely silk handkerchiefs and old (plus newer) neckties. Sometimes family members donated unwittingly to the patches as overcoat linings and sleeves were cut out and used in the quilts!
The patches were arranged on a piece of Canton flannel eighteen inches square, and the pieces of silk arranged upon it. Pre-stamped muslin foundations were also sold in stores. The edges of each piece were turned in, and afterwards covered over with fancy stitches in colored silks or gold thread (numerous stitches are shown in the design); the greater the variety that adorn a quilt, the handsomer it was considered. The pieces were furthered ornamented with embroidered designs, or figures in etching, with colored silks. Lovely little figures for appliqué were available to purchase. After the squares were completed, they were joined together with fancy stitches, and the whole quilt would then have a border of plush nine inches deep put around it, with a lining throughout of satin. It would then be trimmed all around with lace, and the two upper corners ornamented with ribbon bows.
What do Crazy Quilts look like?Throughout the story descriptions of and means of getting supplies; along with alternative uses for crazy quilts are implied. The look and motif designs are described in detail as the girls worked on their patches. One of their friends, Janie Roberts made an oriental looking sofa cushion of tiny little bits worked up with spangles and gold thread. Pretty splashers could be made by reproducing the design provided to the size required, tracing it on coarse white linen, and doing the work with colored silks.
The design given for crazy patchwork showed the different forms the pieces could be made, although a great deal was left to the ingenuity and taste of the person designing it. Different colored silks, satins, velvets, and plushes were used; harmony of color was aimed at in the arrangement. It was advised not to have many large pieces in the quilt; as the small ones were so much more effective.
The Motifs:Little girl sitting on a fence – crimson etching silk on a bit of cream-colored satin
Little chocolate girl – stitched on grey damassée
Sunflower block – done in filoselle
Painted Flower – Mabel has painted me some pansies, a bit of forget-me-not, and a spray of wild roses
Monograms – Janie Roberts is doing me a block with her monogram on it
Crimson heart pierced with a golden arrow – embroidered on white with gold dots
Little boy – on a bit of sulphur satin, worked him in black
The Design:The girls worked on opposite sides of the pattern, from Godey’s, a pretty design with a queer little zigzag piece in the corner. They also used gay-figured goods on their blocks. They used old-fashioned brocade, silk samples, silk scraps/bits, neckties, handkerchiefs, silk dresses, bonnet strings, white Ottoman (with gold dots), a lovely rose-colored striped satin, crimson brocade silk and light brocade (light colors were scarcer to find). Both quilts were finished with a beautiful rose-colored border, on which were worked the following lines: “All precious things, discovered late, To those that seek them, issue forth; For love in sequel works with fate, And draws the veil from hidden worth.”
Alternative Supplies and Crazy Quilt Uses:Heloise’s brother Ned brought her a lot of those nasty little cigar ribbons all in a tangle, and offered them for her crazy quilt. As we know now, cigar ribbons were indeed used to make quilted items several years later – this could have been the starting point of that trend. Ned and his friends made a crazy quilt using coffee-bagging as the foundation and blocks made of old flannel shirts, stockings, linen collars, striped petticoats, aprons, bandanna handkerchiefs, etc., all cut in their proper form, and stitched on with pink, yellow, and purple wrapping cord. They made it to be raffled off for a horse blanket at the firemen’s fair.
Opinions regarding Crazy Quilts:Not everyone was keen on the idea of crazy quilts. They were referred to as “those abominable things” by several of the young men who claimed that the makers would become bores to their friends. They didn’t want the girls plaguing men for their old neckties, and all that sort of thing. Fellows made fun of girls who went around begging for old silk --‘rag-pickers’ they called them. Family members who had their clothing attacked said Marie was being a nuisance to everybody, and threatened to put her quilt in the fire if it didn’t stop.
The Shop Keepers Revenge:As a result of making and giving away so many samples in 1882, the shop keepers resorted to providing wee little mites of samples, with button-holes cut in them, or pasting them cardboard so that they were of no earthly use. The firms had been driven to this in self-defense. In some cases, a deposit of five dollars was required to get samples as a measure of good faith, with the amount credited upon purchase. Some companies sent representatives to inquire into the commercial standings of the buyer’s sample requesters since ladies were creating fictitious firms in order to get lovely shades of fine silk and damassée and brocade, some of them six or eight inches square, and all bound together in a beautiful little book for their patchwork.
Why were Crazy Quilts made?Why not? In this case, the girls could well afford the patterns and supplies – they were making them for the sport of finding the materials and defying the young men who thought they were silly.
The better question is why the story was written?Ads, lots of them! The entire story is sprinkled liberally with advertisements! Of course there were descriptions of all the latest fashions – what the girls wore, with mentions of household items – furniture and such. The Little chocolate girl is a nod to Walter Baker’s chocolate, an American chocolate manufacturer, who packaged his breakfast cocoa using the silhouette of the Austrian girl from a portrait of "La Belle Chocolatiere” as his trademark in 1883. The ever popular Kate Greenaway girls were mentioned as adorning the stationary used by the girls; not to mention the other types used in their correspondences. There was even a plug for the publication Godey’s as the source of the pretty design. It was indicated that other supplies could be purchased – stamped linen and completed appliqué figures; plus lots of cuttings that you get so many for a dollar. The text they embroidered on the border is a line from popular poems. Both Mrs. Frances S. Osgood and Alfred Lord Tennyson use the stanza. During 1843-4 Osgood published a story “The Wife,” and around the same time Tennyson expanded his 1830 poem “The Sleeping Beauty” to include those lines in “The Arrival” section of “The Day Dream.” Since the girls exchanged their crazy quilts at their double wedding, the text probably refers to “The Wife” story as they embarked on their married lives as wives.
The most probable reason the story was written was to be used as a guide on how to make crazy quilts. The design given for both stitches and motifs; suggested material types, sources, colors and patch ideas (monograms, painted flowers); plus the directions on how to assemble are all provided in the guise of the story.
Well there you have it, the, who, when, where, how, what and why crazy quilts were being made. Why were more made? The story was written to make more crazy quilts!
Source:Godey’s Lady’s Book, Volume 109, No. 649, July 1884
J.H. Haulenbeek and Co. Proprietors and Publishers. P.O. Box H.H. Philadelphia.
The Design Used By Marie And Heloise In Their “Crazy Quilt.” For Description, See Work Department. For Story, See “The Career of a Quilt.” [Colored insert page in front of issue, not paginated.]
THE CAREER OF A CRAZY QUILT. Dulcie Weir. [Pages 77-82]
WORK DEPARTMENT. CRAZY PATCHWORK. (See colored page in front of book.) [Page 96]