Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at “Textiles and Settlement: From Plains Space to Cyber Space,” Textile Society of America 12th Biennial Symposium, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 6-9, 2010. Copyright 2010 Textile Society of America.


Crazy quilts captured the imagination of American women who made thousands of them between 1880 and 1900. But, what sparked this craze at this particular period in time? Most scholars agree that several factors sparked the national rage for Crazy quilts in the late 19th century, the most important factor being the Japanese and British decorative arts displays at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. The other factor mentioned is the availability of affordable silk fabrics.

Specifically, scholars note how fascinated Americans became with the exotic goods displayed at the popular Japanese pavilion at the Centennial Exhibition. Scholars agree that Japanese decorative art featuring asymmetrical formats and cracked ice patterns became manifest in the Crazy quilt style. Scholars also note that American women were impressed and inspired by the embroideries on view at England’s Royal School of Art Needlework display. The Crazy quilt proved the perfect canvas for melding these two new

Although most scholars cite the wider availability of silk fabric as contributing to the Crazy quilt fad, they never offer a detailed discussion of how and why affordable silk fabrics suddenly became more widely available. This paper examines these questions in depth. Based on a comprehensive analysis of published sources regarding world silk trade and economics of the period, this paper posits that the availability of silk fabric not only fueled Crazy quilt mania, it argues that the fad could not have taken hold had affordable silk fabrics not become available. It contends that it was no mere fluke of fashion that Crazy quilt mania emerged, flourished and declined when it did.