Monday, October 28, 2013

Factory Cutaways and Quilts

Quilts grow out of the available fabric. Quiltmakers responded to the arrival of factory-made clothing with new styles made from the factory cutaways. The crazy quilt is one.

This crazy quilt dated 1911 seems to
be made from large velvet pieces, unlikely to be
scraps from family sewing.

Crazy quilts became a fad in the 1880s,
fed by periodicals with instructions and advice.
Advertisers offered packets of silks just for crazy or puzzle quilts.

Here one could buy two pounds of leftover silk for about $1.00.
"Gorgeous Transparent Velvet Assortment"
Also 24 quilt designs.
That may have looked like this.

Crazy quilts in the 1880s and '90s tended to be made of
small, random-shaped pieces of silk built on cotton foundation squares with
a good deal of elaborate embroidery.

Quilt dated 1889 by "Grandma Wise"

Crazy quilt dated 1918

Towards the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, crazy quilts became less elaborate.

 Pieces were often larger, embroidery minimal. Here one can guess that the arc-shaped pieces were also cutaways from a garment construction.

We see the arcs again here.

Related to the crazy quilt is the string quilt, which also
developed about 1880.
String quilts are composed of thin "strings" of
fabric, often clothing-factory leftovers.
String quilts are also pieced over foundations,
but many quilters used newspapers rather than cotton.

Family in front of a string quilt.

There's a fine line between a string quilt and a crazy quilt.

The major difference is in the basic shape. String quilts
feature narrow strips; crazy quilts random shapes.

It's the basic classification problem.
Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?
Depends on your rules.

And how do you know if a quilt is made from factory cutaways? There is rarely a family story attached to these scrappy quilts. Above an early 20th-century top was sold with the history that it was scraps from a "ticking factory."It seems more like to have been a factory that wove cottons or cut them into clothing. It's impossible to know without that story, particuarly if the quilter cut the scraps into squares, rectangles or other
common patchwork shapes.

Family scrap bag or factory cutaways?
One minor clue is the triangles with blunt points.
This one looks like the maker used many of the scraps just
as she found them.

You don't see that blunted, long shape used until the turn of the 20th century

When you see it a lot.

The long triangular shapes are really not a concrete clue.
This fan-like block could be pieced of scraps begged, borrowed and cut up from clothing.

But it is provocative to think about how fabrics sold by 
the pound shaped the look of the quilts.

Ad for remnants in Good Housekeeping magazine in 1924:
"You will be surprised at the splendid value of these bundles. Every bundle a BARGAIN! Remnant bundles of Coloured Art Linen for cushion covers and fancy needlework.."


  1. Barbara, I could stay here all day staring at these quilts!My mom used to bring fabric samples from a distant relative, who owned a factory back in the 60's and 70's. Us three sisters hated the prints then. They were wild with bright and crazy colors. She made dresses for us all. And yes, we wore them.. I would do anything to bring those dresses back from where ever they are just because I know the little story behind them. Thank you for this post. Lovely way to start the day with crazies :)

  2. It is a shame that so much of our clothing now is made overseas. That source of fabric is not available to many quilters today. I would love to buy scraps by the pound from a local factory.

  3. I love the look of unplanned quilts but I also notice that the woman would also use basic patterns even in the crazy quilt designs. I was told by the salvation that they sold off the excess clothing and it was shipped overseas.


  4. String and crazy quilts are always my favorites. That one with the fan shapes just knocks my socks off! I think we should bring back scrap bundles for sale. Well, it's not like we don't already have plenty of scraps.

  5. I always love your historical documentary style posts. I wish that there were still garment factories abundant in the U.S. so we could buy scraps. I love scrap quilts!

  6. It is fun to specutlate! I think that's why scrap quilts are so interesting. Gathering scraps and making scrap quilts helps gain insights to what other quilters were thinking. A bridge over time to the thoughts and activities of our greatgrand mothers. Thanks so much for all your interesting posts! I read them all with great interest!! cheers, Claire W.

  7. My Grandmother made a satin crazy quilt top in the late 1970's from cutaways that she bought by the pound from an advertiser in the back of a quilt magazine. It was fun trying to figure out how the cutaway fit around a clothing pattern.

  8. Wonderful history lesson, I learn so much when reading your blog.

    I know you've written about cats on quilts: I wonder what you'd think of my quilt, link below...especially the date it was made? I've never seen another like it.


  9. I might be wrong, but didn't Eleanor Burns start her career making quilts from factory cutaways? I think she and her sons gathered wastebands or something -- corduroy?

  10. Love the quilts, especially the last one.

  11. Thanks, Barbara,for shedding yet more light on my favorite subject: crazy quilts!

  12. What a treat it must have been for the quilters back then... you needn't buy all of your fabric in larger pieces!

    Barbara, I had heard that there was baskets of silk pieces you could buy from China. Also read, to add weight to the silk (silk being so light weight), the silk was washed in a solution of lead and water and dried with the solution still on it. Is this true? If so, its that was adds to the rotting we see on some silks?

    Thank you

  13. great quilts, thanks you. Wish we could still get all those fabric scraps.

  14. Your designs are soo cool..Prety awesome to look at!

  15. I'm taking the day off to search and read your blog. My goodness, do you have a life? There is so much research into all these posts its wonderful. Its like visiting Grandma!