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image icon Crazy patchwork quilt, 1890-95

Crazy patchwork quilt, 1890-95
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a crazy patchwork quilt, measuring 202.5 cm x 268.0 cm, made by Rebecca King (1859-1915) in the late 19th century. The 'crazy' elements are immediately evident as the eye begins to take a journey across a spinning mosaic of different shapes and colours, which the artist created by sewing hundreds of small units against and over each other. At first glance, the units appear to have been arranged in seemingly random patterns, but a longer look reveals a system at work in which different colours have been spaced apart to help maintain a 'scatter' effect. A balance has also been maintained between the representational shapes - butterflies, emu and kettle - and the geometric shapes. Pronounced stitching around the edges of each shape adds to the visual complexity of this striking example of folk art.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a fine example of crazy patchwork - this style of patchwork involved sewing together random-shaped pieces of fabric and evolved from mosaic patchwork; an international fashion for 'crazy quilting' developed in the 1880s, becoming popular in the 1890s and lasting into the 20th century
  • reflects a particular quilting tradition - patchwork quilting was associated with rural and working-class communities, in England in particular, and involved re-using or recycling oddments of fabric from worn-out clothing and bedding; because much of the material used in these early patchworks had already seen hard use, few examples survive; the technique, known as 'English Patchwork', originally involved tacking patches of material over paper templates, which were usually hexagonal in shape, and over-sewing the edges together; the end result was a series of small shapes joined in tessellation patterns (also known as 'mosaic' patchwork)
  • demonstrates considerable technical skills in the intricate sewing required to fix each small shape and the aesthetic judgements made in balancing the 'lights and darks' of the colours to create a sense of constant movement
  • demonstrates some particular features of later Victorian patchwork - the original basis for crazy patchwork or recycling of worn-out fabrics became superseded in the Victorian era and this form of needlework became more of a woman's hobby; the Victorian needlework craze was for heavy ornamentation and colour combinations (such as the blacks, off-whites and browns in King's 'Crazy Quilt'), which reflected current dress fashions in its choice of colours and fabrics such as cotton, velvet, wool, or silk
  • references long-standing quilting traditions within Australia - many patchwork quilts were worked on the journey to Australia or made by European settlers in Australia from at least the 1820s; the 'Rajah Quilt', which is held in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) was made by convict women on their voyage to Australia in the ship 'Rajah' in 1841; community quilting projects with social or political content have been a feature of Australian cultural life since the 1970s
  • has its origins in traditions of quilt-making which is centuries-old - the earliest recorded (European) uses of quilted fabric were the padded garments worn beneath battle armour; there are 14th-century records of quilting having been used as a technique for making bedding and clothing; examples of quilting in 18th-century garments such as petticoats and bonnets also survive
  • commemorates a specific family event - King made this quilt as a wedding present for her sister, which introduces the idea of handcrafted items being of the same cultural and artistic value as other forms of art expression such as painting or sculpture.