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Crazy quilting.

My fourth grade artists began a colorful journey back to the nineteenth century, with pages from wallpaper sample books of discontinued merchandise as their time machine. Through the fanciful art of Victorian crazy quilting, the students approached a fascinating time in our history, and what was for them a new art form.

There are many ways to introduce the art of quilting, but I chose a book that relates to both boys and girls. Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt (Lothrop, 1983), written and illustrated by Lisa Campbell Ernst, tells the story of men and women working on quilts for a county fair. The pages are illustrated with farm fields of patched designs reminding us of the inspiration we may find in the world around us.

Reproductions of quilts were lined up for the students to see, as were library books with quilting as the subject. My brief history lesson began with Queen Victoria of England who reigned from 1837-1901. Imagine, sixty-four years of history named for one woman! In the years before the Victorian era (the early 1800S), the majority of people made do with basic goods which were often scarce. Only the wealthiest class owned any decorative objects. By the Victorian era, technology and invention had greatly improved material life thanks to the Industrial Revolution. In the 1890s, fabric construction became a popular art form, with spinning and weaving factories in the United States turning out fabrics as fine as those of Europe and Asia.

Victorian ladies decorated their homes with a great abundance of objects. They collected everything from hand-painted china to pictures made of carefully braided human hair. Every surface in a Victorian home--from tabletops to piano tops--was draped with fabric. The crazy quilt was a natural art form for Victorian times because it included many fabrics, ribbons, buttons, photographs and mementos.

Crazy quilts received their name from the word crazed, which means fractured, or full of cracks. Indeed, the many pieces that comprise a crazy quilt give the appearance of a broken surface.

The first crazy quilts were not intended for practical purposes; they were used as parlor throws. One might lay a quilt across oneself for a nap, but these quilts were not very warm since they were usually made of only two layers of fabric with no filler between. Included in the crazy quilt along with silks, velvets and wools were sentimental pieces of fabric from clothes worn at special occasions such as a piece of a wedding dress. Thus, crazy quilts told a story much as patchwork quilts did in The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flourney (New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1985).

My young fabric piecers began their crazy quilts on 9 x 9" (23 x 23 cm) squares of white drawing paper. We spread out plenty of wallpaper samples and glue sticks on the tables. The children were asked to bring scraps of fabric, lace, shiny beads, sequins, buttons and ribbons to art class the week before. They came with brown paper bags full of treasures.

Crazy quilts can be started from a corner of the square or from the center; we used the comer technique most often. One piece of cut wallpaper glued to the comer of the white paper got the students well underway. As they worked, we observed their progress together, noting shapes, colors and patterns. in every class there were examples of light and dark, bright and dull, small and large shapes and curved and straight lines. By seeing these design elements developing in their classmates' work, the young quilters further refined their own ideas.

Since there is no formal pattern in a crazy quilt, there is more room for creativity. With so many wonderful choices to be made in combining patterned, solid, textured and plain surfaces, the room was full of energy.

The finishing touches were perhaps the most enjoyable--lace, buttons and stitches added with marking pens over or next to each seam. For starter ideas, I made a visual of various embroidery stitches, but I suggested that anyone could create a stitch just as our Victorian friends did.

The finished quilts were mounted on black paper to give the same effect that a border of black velvet gives to a fabric quilt. The pieces could be glued together for a complete quilt top, or attached to a wall for an overall effect. I did not join the squares permanently because the artists deserved to take their own pieces home. After all, the Victorians were not only great producers of art, they were also great collectors.
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Title Annotation:art class project for school children
Author:Anselmo, Mary
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Love & comfort: the art of creating quilts.
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