I've been catching up with Antiques Roadshow in my idle moments while repairing books at work-- have you seen the newest season of that PBS ratings' juggernaut? Far more often than I'll sit and studiously observe an episode of this series, I tend to watch it while I'm doing other things. It's easy to prick one's ears up, as if hearing the call of a distant predator, when key exchanges like "How much did you pay for it?" and "Oh, I think a couple bucks?" are bandied about, so this crazy quilt a woman in Seattle, Washington score at an estate sale (gasp!) for three dollars (gasp!) definitely had my head turned at the very beginning of the episode. Look upon it, fellow vintage junkhounds, and tell me it's not as magnificent a quilt as ever you have seen!
I did some reading up on the history of the crazy quilt and found that its popularity dates to the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where the asymmetrical beauty of Japanese ceramics and textiles on display inspired the creativity of needlewomen across the country! The term "crazy quilt" owes less to the lunacy of the person making the quilt than possibly the term "crazed" or "crazing", which refers to tiny cracks in the glaze of pottery that gives it a shard-like look (I'm sure you've seen this on old plates before if you're a picker, see an example here). Apparently, everyone and their great aunt was making these quilts in the late nineteenth century. And can you blame them! You don't have to embrace the classical tenet of "symmetry" and "form", just go to town with whatever tiny scraps of silk strike your fancy!
Growing up in the late eighties' and early nineties', I have to say, this form of folk art is something that I haven't been able to understand until lately. Something about Victorian dolls and 1880's buggy wheels, crazy quilts and bold print feed sacks, primitive art in general just stinks to me of rich, suburban hausfraus slash amateur interior designers trying to "vintage up" their otherwise unremarkable households. Not everyone who collects in any of those categories is necessarily guilty of this trespass against good taste-- but I feel like nineties' subscribers of Country Living and design dilettantes have ruined that rustic aesthetic for me for practically all time. Hoosier cabinets have no business in your brand-new, Berber carpeted McMansion! Why do you collect milk glass? Seriously, why?! When I was kid tagging along to antique stores and junk shops with my dad, in between the legitimate stalls of stuff-we-like (creepy cabinet cards, old canteens, paperback etiquette books, mannequin heads, you get the gist) were "Gammy's Quilted Angels!" or "Country Times" booths. One, they had "shop names", boldly displayed on a hand lettered placard, usually hung with christmas lights and craft store twigs. And you know what was in the booth-- ducks in bonnets. Yarn-haired seraphim holding handpainted signs reading "Welcome to Our Mess!". "Aged" whitewashed wooden school chairs that were $100 a piece. Etc., etc. It sounds like I'm just being mean, but thinking about how there were probably a handful of truly invested, interested pickers who saw the beauty in a faded quilt or a repurposed sewing machine table, were followed by a water buffalo stampede of people without taste, ruining it for the rest of us, just gripes me in a way that's new every time I think about it.
So to see a quilt like this! Intricate! Marvelous! I'd seen the country-chic copies of these in TJ Maxx type stores, where panne velvet was pieced awkwardly by machine with brocade with tassel fringe, all of it looked like a pelted animal that wheezed its last dying breaths in the gravel parking lot of a Renaissance Festival...my IDEA of what a crazy quilt should look like is changed now. Look at all the stitchwork, the wild embroidery. Going through the sixteen year archive of the show, I was able to find two other quilts of similar knock-your-eye-out quality. Take a look!
Crazy Quilt Pittsburgh (2012)
Only the year previous, this "animals" themed crazy quilt was brought in from a home in Pittsburgh. Do you ever notice at estate sales, flea markets, etc-- crazy quilt or not, any hand-pieced textile is going to be CRAZY. EXPENSIVE. compared to anything else at the sale? I don't know if its the fact that so much work goes into the quilt, or the idea that's it's "heirloom" material, or that the aforementioned suburban moms have driven the prices on these things sky high. I was at a sale last weekend where I saw a quilt on half off day and let out a little yell-- "Oh, awesome! Who would have thought this would be here today? I wonder how much they--" and lapsed in a stunned silence as I flipped over the price tag. $275! That's still almost a hundred and forty bucks on half off day. Unlike the steal of a deal story of the first woman's amazing crazy quilt find, this quilt was handed down over the years in the same family. Check out the gothic Victorian quality of this backstory:
GUEST: This was my grandfather's aunt's, who lived in Mercer County, Kentucky, on a farm just outside of Harrodsburg. She was born in 1870, and we think she died in her 20s, so the quilt was probably made in the 1890s.APPRAISER: Well, it's the ultimate Victorian crazy quilt, and it's called a crazy quilt because each one of these patches of wool and velvet, in this case, are odd shaped, and so they have a crazy, unpredictable kind of pattern to them. And I think every Victorian lady either made one or received one-- there are zillions of them-- but this is far and away the best example I've ever seen. This calla lily is tufted, like a piece of English needlework in the 17th century. And this bird and the swans are three-dimensional. Normally they are flat and sell for about $300. We think this one could be worth between $3,000 and $5,000.GUEST: Oh, great, wow. My father said, if he ever went on the Antiques Roadshow, that he would bring this quilt.
How nice of her to make this fever dream of a quilt before she passed away at a tragically young age! In stories like these, I don't know whether to be jealous someone has such a macabre handicraft in their family, glad someone along the bloodline still valued the piece, or grousing because someone should let me have this for like 30 bucks at an estate sale. Conflicting emotions! Look at these swans and cobwebs from the closeup:
Here's the backstory on this one:
Talk about a piece of honest-to-goodness history-- included are a regional ribbons and other pieces of Seattle history.GUEST: Well, it was my grandmother's. She had received this quilt from her mother, and the back of it was actually a contribution made by some Chinese immigrants who had been burned out of their homes at the time of the Seattle Great Fire which was...APPRAISER: Which was like the Chicago Fire in terms of devastating...GUEST: Oh, it was terrible. My grandmother watched it from her bedroom window.APPRAISER: So this actually was made by her mother.GUEST: Yes, by her mother, yes.APPRAISER: Right, and the date was about? 1889 was the fire.GUEST: 1889, yeah. And then she backed it with these Chinese silk handkerchiefs that they gave to her in appreciation for letting them sleep and cook in her home.
Advice from the website on quilts:
Virtually every family has a quilt made by grandma or great-grandma. Unfortunately most of these quilts were used, washed, or repaired. Quilts in worn and frayed condition are rarely salable and usually cannot be restored. Collectors want quilts in perfect condition with no worn edges or faded colors. Machine washing causes the filling in the quilts to bunch up, causing the surface to crinkle in ways collectors run from. Crazy quilts in silk that date from the last quarter of the 19th century very often have torn or worn silk strips, which also renders them unsalable.
I love that instead of reading this like "avoid old worn out quilts at any cost!" I'm thinking...now...if I could only get my hands on some nasty, torn and worn quilt, it MIGHT be in my price range! And I could still use it as a wall hanging. I am so bad. I have one 1930's mint-condition quilt top (just the top, no batting or backing) that I got at a sale for $10. I'm still trying to figure out how I can attach this to said backing and batting without ruining the whole thing with my ineptitude at handicraft. And I have one complete 1930's quilt, which is 3'' x 3'' squares of black-and-white-polka-dots alternating with same size squares of a violet flower print, which I haggled a third day estate sale woman down from $50 to $20. She was almost not having it, too, but I really wanted the quilt almost as much as I really didn't want to pay $50 for it. I'll take a picture some time and show you guys. Both are humdingers!
What do you think? Are you a crazy quilt or a quilt fan? Have any of these in your own collection? Do you have a type of antique or vintage item that some people are nuts about, and has been completely ruined for you by other people? Do you have a reasonably priced vintage quilt you'd like to sell me? I'm in the market, let's talk! PS click on any of the links to see the original appraisals of these quilts, I love how tickled people are at the "market value" of some of these quilts, my own envy aside!
That's all for today, but I'm sure I will have found something else to either gush or gripe about tomorrow, haha! Have a great Tuesday, and I'll see you tomorrow.