Needlework, Finishing, Designing, Quilting, Some Discoveries and Adventures in Stitching from Windy Ridge Designs

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Bachelor Quilt

This is one of two really fabulous crazy quilts that were recently on display at the Berkeley County Historical Society "Quilts of Berkeley County" held on Heritage Day.  I picked this frame to go first because it has my last name initial on it - and the heron is pretty cool.  But wait, there's more.

This quilt is owned by the General Adam Stephen Memorial Foundation.  Adam Stephen was the founder of Martinsburg, West Virginia and built his house near the banks of the Opequon Creek there.  The Foundation is one of the four organizations that work together each year to celebrate Heritage Day.  

This quilt was donated to the foundation by members of the Wiltshire Family of Martinsburg and Berkeley County.  The Wiltshire Building, a very prominent and beautiful building used to stand in downtown Martinsburg, but was bulldozed down to make way for the Martinsburg Public Library many years ago.  There is no information on this quilt other than it was a "Bachelor Quilt" and that the ladies (whether they were old or young is unknown) of Martinsburg made it for a member of the Wiltshire family.  Obviously from the photo above, it was made in 1886.

Because I had little direct information to post on the information sheet for this quilt, I did a little research on crazy quilts themselves.  Historically speaking, interest in “Crazy Quilts” first began after the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.  There, Japanese ceramics that had a crazed glaze were noticed by the public and became very popular. 

The first use of the word crazy, to describe a random, asymmetrical pattern in needlework was in the "Cultivator and Country Gentleman" magazine in 1878. It referred to an embroidered canvas cushion, to be passed among friends. Each would invent and embroider her own design, and when finished it was returned to its owner. As the article suggested, "You will think it a 'crazy" cushion indeed!".

Crazy patchwork reached its peak in the late 1880's, and continued to be made until as late as 1920. The most elaborate work, so ornamented with intricate embroidery, that the fabric itself was hardly visible, was much less common, however, in later decades.

The most elaborate work, so ornamented with intricate embroidery, that the fabric itself was hardly visible, was much less common, in later decades.

It would appear that this quilt was made during the Crazy Quilt’s heyday for the embroidery is so elaborate and well preserved that you almost don’t see the background.

It was an extremely fortunate gentleman that received this quilt – to have the admiration of so many ladies and to be able to keep this quilting treasure!  Still, the question remains . . .

Was this a popular young man about town - the equivalent of today's high school quarterback - who all the girls admired and were hopeful he'd ask them for their hand?  Did they do their most amazing handwork on this quilt in an effort to impress upon him of that they were quite a catch?  Note that they all initialed their work.

Or, was this like the groom's cake at bachelor parties and weddings; a gift to a groom on the occasion of his wedding?  Or, was it a case of a personable young man, good to all, who had been engaged to the town beauty until an actor of equal good looks had performed at the Apollo and then swept her off her feet and out of town?  

Were these the old maids and mothers about town making him this quilt to console his broken heart with the beauty of their work?  Indeed, I do not think we shall ever know.  

However, if a passer by comes along and reads the story of this wonderful quilt, please don't hesitate to contact me with the truth behind the incredibly embroidery laid out on velvet here.

Don't you just love the camel in this one?


  1. Amazing! I do love the camel. Imagine the amount of work in this quilt! Thanks again for sharing.

  2. Crazy quilts certainly were the rage in the 1880s. I've read newspaper accounts-pretty funny ones-where it was said that young gentlemen would go about town to various tailors and seamstresses begging fancy fabric scraps for young ladies they wanted to impress with their consideration (and win her affections). I've never read anything about the reverse but I love your idea that the girls wanted to impress the Bachelor with their beautiful work!

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful quilt. It looks to be in very good condition with no shattered silk...lucky!

  3. For the most part, this particular quilt was done almost completely with velvet. There were just a few spots where I could tell they'd used silk because it was breaking up. Oddly though, there was one strip that was really plain - squares that had been crazy patched together, but the velvet pieces didn't have any fancy embroidery on them with the exception of the seams.

  4. That is SO pretty! It makes me realize how important it is to label things, so future generations will know who made the items and for whom it was intended. I love decorating magazines but recycle most of them when I'm done with them. I did keep one feature on a home that has a crazy quilt stitched by President McKinley's wife. The quilt is hanging in a place of honor on the stairwell wall--soooo pretty. I want to do a crazy quilt and saved some of my father's clothing to put into it. Most likely, though, I'll do the Wool Crazy Quilt pattern from JoAnn Mullaly. Anyway, thanks for sharing the pictures! I'm looking forward to more.

  5. Siobhan - I'd love to see that quilt - sounds really interesting! I've been thinking I'd like to do one on velvet - maybe not so big 'cause it would take me a l-o-n-g time to stitch like these gals did! It ain't cross stitch, is it?!


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