Saturday, January 9, 2016

National Crazy Work Show 1885

Well here's something we missed.
A big quilt show in New York City....
131 Years Ago.

New York Sun
November 18, 1885
From the Library of Congress site Chronicling America.

The Sun article tells us:

"All Kinds of Crazy Work.
Crowds of Women Flock to Masonic Hall to See It.
"If all the Japanese in Japan should set [sic] up all night and put together all their eccentric ideas of color in one complicated mass, they couldn't get up anything more intricately distracting the the show [at] Masonic Hall in West Twenty-third street yesterday... It looked as if somebody had shattered two thousand rainbows and heaped the fragments into two thousand different mounds of rich and wonderful color...."

Masonic Hall from the collections of the 
New York Public Library.
Looks like the perfect setting.

The New York Times

Passers-by were lured in with
"posters bearing in large and lurid red letters the word 'Crazy!' Upon pausing to discover what was the meaning of this ominous announcement they learned [of] and exhibition of what is known as crazy work..."

“An hour in the Masonic Hall will give any one a fair idea of what women’s work may come to when it becomes merely women’s leisure employment.”

Not fair! Men's work was also exhibited.

Antler footstool upholstered with crazy work.

Doll bed and crazy quilt
None of these pictures is from the exhibit. It's just an excuse to show
lots of crazy work.

The Dorcas Magazine reported:
"Although the exhibition is devoted to crazy quilts, which partition the hall, and transform it into a kaleidoscopic bazaar, the room is ablaze with color, not always artistic when examined in patches, but making a gorgeous effect, taken as a whole, which suggests a stream of sunlight pouring through glass windows. Around the hall are arranged booths in Turkish fashion, with walls and roofs of crazy work: either quilts, lambrequins, piano scarfs, table covers, portieres, or screens."

I was surprised to see such a huge exhibit in 1885, just a few years after the Crazy Quilt fad had begun. The show seems to have been a reflection of how rapidly the fashion grew. The event also probably fanned the flames in the world beyond 23rd Street. 

Two table scarves


See articles about the exhibit:
The New York Times

Dorcas Magazine

New York Sun


  1. Beautiful examples of crazy quilts, I do love them and wish I had my grandmother's old quilts.
    She always used my grandfather's wool pants to make them.


  2. AWESOME! Yes, wish we could all have attended this!

  3. How wonderful - loved all the photos - thanks!

  4. How exciting! Thanks for sharing, I love hand embroidery and crazy quilts. At that time I imagine all of the piecing was by hand too, wow.

  5. I just looked again at the quilt examples and I think I saw one with a little machine
    piecing. I checked out the history of sewing machines and they were being manufactured by around the 1850's. So hand or machine pieced, still amazing and the hand embroidery is amazing