The crazy quilt we conserved from the Dudley Farm Museum, which we discussed in the blog Crazy for Crazy Quilts, contained many printed patches that were inspired by East Asia. The fabric seen below has white clouds outlined in black intersected by red curvilinear shapes. Clouds are a lucky symbol in Chinese iconography because they bring rain for crops, and the pronunciation of the word is very similar to the words "luck," "fortune," and "fate." This pattern can be frequently seen in the swirling shapes of robes of the Qing dynasty, like the example below from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Another, very simple patch is white with stylized black writing. Chinese characters are both symbolic and decorative, expressing important concepts such as happiness and longevity. A ceremonial umbrella we conserved in 2015 for Wheaton College had writing on several ribbons, believed to be the names of donors who supported the gift of the umbrella to a retiring government official. These umbrellas can be seen throughout the 1987 movie The Last Emperor.
The Dudley Farm Museum quilt also contains several patches printed with blue lattice work intersected by ethereal light pink peonies. Peonies are extremely important design elements in Chinese textiles, and are sometimes called the "King of Flowers." They are indicative of the spring season and symbolize royalty and virtue. The ladder, or ladder of heaven, is used to symbolize longevity.
Another crazy quilt that came to MTS from a private collection contains patchwork fans, which were a very popular Victorian element. The word for fan in Chinese sounds much like the word for "kindness" or "good," making fans a symbol of good luck and generosity.
Quilts are often illustrative of the fashion of an era, because of the myriad of fabrics they contain. Crazy quilts go one step further by shining a light on how interconnected the globe was becoming at the height of the Victorian era.