Craziness runs in our family. That is, a true love for crazy quilts. It started when my mom and uncles were cleaning out my Poppop A's house in Mt. Ephraim, NJ and found a very old crazy quilt in a plastic bag in the basement. (By the way, that's the worst possible place it could have been to preserve it. Whoever had placed the bag there did not know of the treasure within.)
The earliest dates embroidered on its surface are in the 1860's. The names stitched so carefully and beautifully are Bessie and Anna--- names on my mom's family tree from the 19th century in Virginia.
Velvets and political campaign ribbons and scraps of silk and linen, remnants of early patriotic flags and memorabilia, traces of fancy gowns and baby clothing and a mile of hand embroidery painstakingly joined one eighth-inch stitch at a time. It's magnificent and a testimony of someone in our family's dedication , creativity, thrift and...craziness. The colorful stitching...herringbones, feathers, daisy chain, french and buillion knots, chevrons and half chevrons, buttonhole wheels and bonnet stitches...all artistically layered upon each other, decorating and celebrating every seam and in the center of the patches, too.
My mom and I embraced the idea of craziness and learned how to make crazy quilt panels ourselves. We never aspired to creating a full size bed cover in this pattern, but we made small pieces. We started collecting pieces of velvet, silk, ribbon and lace. We studied other family crazy quilts and compared them to ours. We studied them in books and in museums. We poured over every inch of our family treasure and tried to discover the secrets stitched and hidden in each of the fabric patches by one of our family members more than 140 years before.
In time my mom started collecting pieces of other people's craziness. She would only buy pieces with the most exquisite patterns or spectacular stitching, the finest examples she could find and save and treasure. She decorated what used to be my bedroom as a kid with her crazy quilted treasures.
Our respect for this art grew and was something that we shared. We explored embroidery stitches and threads and ribbons together. We shopped for them, we shared and traded them, we studied them and got excited about them. We made Christmas ornaments to practice our piecing and stitching and then shared them with others. We made crazy quilted gifts for each other.
My mom had learned embroidery from her grandmother when she was very young, starting at age 7 or 8. She was very skilled at it, precise and talented. Each stitch was perfect and identical every time she picked up an embroidery hoop.
I, on the other hand, had no formal training and bought a small pamphlet and started practicing. My stitches are not perfect and professional-looking. And I'm okay with that. I do the best that I can. My stitches have improved over the years, but they will never be as perfect as my mom's nor the woman's on the family quilt. And I'm okay with that, too. They reflect the best I can do on that particular day. Like my mom and the others before us, my history is reflected in my stitching.
When my mom died suddenly and unexpectedly in January 2012, it seemed perfectly fitting in the funeral parlor and during the church service that her casket be draped with the family crazy quilt. Most of the hundreds of people who attended the funeral had never seen a crazy quilt before. I shared with them snippets of all that it embodies for our family... the past generations, my mom's generation and mine, and the next... and how it is evidence of the crazy threads that bind us together.