• Quilt Fashions

    Adirondack quilters have always been in touch with national quilting traditions and trends. In the past they learned about new block patterns and fads while visiting others, through the exchange of letters, and in the popular press.

    "I am peasing [sic] a quilt and I will send you a block," wrote thirteen-year-old Julia Ann Hill of Warrensburg, N.Y., to her friend Julia Baker, who lived in Minerva, N.Y., on April 11, 1855.

    Since the late 1970s, modern art quilting in the Adirondacks has reflected the movement in the nation at large. Quilters still learn from each other and from the quilting press, but most are interested in pattern, color, and quick production rather than hand-quilting or functional bed coverings. Adirondack quilters participate in guilds, workshops, and shows just as quilt groups do across the country.

    In the late nineteenth century Adirondack quilters participated in the crazy quilt fashion. Classic crazy quilts were made from fancy fabrics. They were decorated with embroidery, painted figures or flowers, and applied braid, flowers, and sometimes beads. A fine crazy quilt demonstrated that the maker was in touch with the latest fashions in fabrics and needlework. It also exhibited her skill at embroidery and her leisure to make decorative textiles.

  • Crazy quilt

    during the winter of 1887-1888
    by Mary ("Mamie" Church) Holland, North River, N.Y.
    Photo by Richard Walker

    Crazy quilts are named because the irregular patches suggest the "crazing" of some ceramic glazes. Folklore has it that assembling one would make the quilter go crazy. This quilt was actually intended to prevent the maker from having emotional problems. After her first child died as an infant, Mamie Holland's doctor advised her to "keep busy" for her own mental health. A spectacular quilt was the result.

  • Ode to Lance: The Wind Embracing the Tree

    by Kris Gregson Moss, Queensbury, N.Y
    Private Collection
    Photo by Richard Walker

    Memorial Quilts

    Memorial quilts were sometimes made with scraps of the deceased person's clothes. The crazy quilt made by Mamie Church Holland is a kind of memorial quilt. This wall hanging, also made with shiny scraps and fancy stitching, is a memorial, too.

    Kris Gregson Moss explained this piece: "On October 31, 2007, my brother, Lance, the youngest of my six siblings, died in a tragic fall. Within the week I was constructing these curving "flying geese" patterns, not knowing how I was going to use them, only knowing that they moved through the air.

    "[Lance said,] `I'm the wind that's down low and moving just above and through the trees… and if there's a leaf that needs some rustling, I give it a little push…' Lance was an avid cyclist. If you look closely, you'll see Lance riding his bike up the tree; he loved the Adirondack hills…

    "The circles in the quilting are in reference to bicycle wheels… The leaf is hanging loosely waiting for Lance to give it a little push, and the narrow lines of drops along the right side are the family tears."

    Traditional quilt techniques and styles are very much a part of this modern art quilt. "Flying Geese," the strips of triangles that symbolize the wind in this piece, is an old pattern dating to the early nineteenth century.

  • Cotton crazy quilt

    ca. 1915-1934
    by Jennie Ordway, Kate Watsaw Ordway, and Maria Austin, North River, N.Y.
    Photo by Richard Walker

    The Crazy Craze Evolves

    Most crazy quilts were made of fancy fabrics and meant to be showpieces. This crazy quilt, however, was made of cotton and intended for use.

    At the height of the crazy quilt fad in the 1880s and 1890s, crazy quilts were made from fine silk satins and velvets. As the fad diminished after the turn of the century, women made more modest crazy quilts from wools and cottons without the elaborate decoration and embellishment of the earlier pieces. This is an example of the later crazy quilts; it is made of cotton dress- and shirt-fabrics and is decorated with only two types of embroidery stitches. Unlike the fancy classic crazy quilts, this was a functional bedcover.

    The blocks were pieced about 1915 by Maria Austin of North River, N.Y. She basted the scraps onto a foundation fabric and then whipstitched them together. Her kinswoman Kate Watsaw Ordway, an Abenaki woman, did the featherstitching around each piece. Twenty years after the blocks were assembled, Jennie Ordway, Kate's niece, put the quilt together.

    Jennie Ordway made a number of comforters during her lifetime. According to her daughter, she used fabrics from her "ragbag" or scrap bag, supplemented by scraps given to her by friends. Like others of Jennie's quilts, this one has an old blanket as batting.