Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Crazy Treasure

For me (Kara), antiquing is about digging for treasure—finding that one item that speaks to you in some way and deciding that you can't leave without it. Unfortunately, my budget line item for antiques (if that really existed in our house) is negligible. However, every so often, I find an item that is a treasure, but won't break the bank or incur some sort of financial displeasure from my husband.

To my delight, I have found two quilts in the last six months that meet the previous requirement. The first one is a log cabin quilt that I will share more about in the coming weeks, but the most recent was a tattered silk crazy quilt that practically jumped off the table and into my arms. It even has a ribbon in it from Jackson, Michigan. I worked in Jackson in my early adult years, so I took that as a sign that I should buy the quilt.(I can rationalize with the best of them.)

Crazy quilts have held a special place in my heart for a long time. Participating in making a reproduction crazy quilt for quilter/author Jan Vaine was a joy, and it solidified my love for this particular genre. You can read about that in our post here. The crazy quilt I just bought was sitting underneath a pair of embroidered "twin" quilts that Teri will tell you about another time, and it caught my eye. It was a little worn in spots, primarily because it was made of mostly silk, but its charm held me captive.

The fabric that caught my eye in the store was a printed ribbon from the "Annual Reunion, 20th Michigan, Volunteer, Jackson." Being a Michigan girl at heart, this was all I needed to lead me to purchase this gem. As I researched, I found out that the 20th Regiment, Michigan Infantry, was mustered out of Jackson, Michigan, for the Civil War in 1862.

As we looked at it further, we found another ribbon with "6th Annual Encampment GAR" and "Compliments Fairbanks Post No. 17, Detroit Michigan, 1884." As I did a little research, I learned that GAR stood for Grand Army of the Republic. This was a society founded in Decatur, Illinois, in 1866, and its members were all honorably discharged Union veterans who had seen active combat in the Civil War. You can read more about the GAR here. If you would like to read about another crazy quilt that references the GAR, check out Barbara Brackman's post about the Emma Hurd 1886 Union Crazy Quilt here.

While these ribbons added to the quilt's charm, the fabrics, stitching, and painting in and on the quilt worked together to make a lovely example of the crazy quilt style, popular in the 1880s. There is no provenance with this quilt, so I have to make up one based on the evidence in the quilt. My favorite appraiser, Phyllis Hatcher, dates the quilt at approximately 1884-1890 based on the fabrics and the ribbons. The embroidery ranges from quite good to beginner, leading me to believe that the quilt could have been made by more than one person.

I've never seen a stitched grasshopper before
A goose or a duck?

Tea anyone?
A slightly more primitive bird
Another primitive bird sitting on a branch

Embroidery wasn't the only method used to create motifs; the stitchers also put their artistic talents to use by painting images on velvet.  I always wonder what inspired a particular maker, or makers to put certain motifs into a crazy quilt.

A spray of forget-me-nots
The owl makes another appearance 

A lovely thistle

Sweet painted roses
A popular motif in this quilt is a tassel design scattered throughout the whole quilt. Most of the seam stitches are classic crazy quilt stitches with a few more creative ones thrown in.

Is there a significance to this design?

Very neat stitching
A classic fan
Some creative stitching!
The quilt is pieced with so many different types of fabrics: silk, velvet, embossed velvet, foulard, faille, as well as pieces of ribbon. There is even a piece of silk that looks to be the lining of a hat!

"Newent" and "London" are the two discernible words on this piece of silk
that is possibly a piece of lining from a hat.

A lovely piece of embroidered lawn
It was difficult to get a good picture of the whole quilt, so I took pictures of the quilt in four sections. The quilt is made up of four 24" square blocks, two of which are made up of four patches. The borders are about 5-6" wide, and thankfully, the maker used a gingham as a backing, so where the silk has degraded, it doesn't look quite as bad with the gingham showing through.

I have so many questions about this quilt. Did the military ribbons belong to a relative? Where did they get all these silks, velvets, and ribbons? Were the fabrics they used special to them in some way? How did they come by the GAR ribbons? Unfortunately, these questions will never be answered, but I am thrilled to have such an interesting piece of the past in my collection now. Who knows what other quilt treasures might join it in the future? 


  1. What a great post. Crazy quilts are not my favorites, but I love any quilt with a story. Hat linings were used quite often in crazy quilts. Yours is a treasure!

    1. Thanks, Wendy! We felt the same way about crazy quilts at first, but we really got pulled into their charm when we started stitching them. And they do tell such interesting stories!