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Meet Maine here.

Learn

Meet Maine here.

Lazy Daisies, Silk Ribbons & Spider Webs:  Mary Louise Orr’s 1890 Crazy Quilt

Crazy quilt made in 1890 by Mary Louise Orr of Bailey Island, Maine. Maine State Museum, 2000.47.1F

The Maine State Museum has a large quilt collection.  The museum staff is working on a new exhibit, Maine Quilts 250 Years of Comfort and Community, that will feature 74 quilts. Let’s take a closer look at one quilt included in the exhibit, a crazy quilt made in 1890 by Mary Louise Orr of Bailey Island, Maine.

A crazy quilt is a quilt that does not follow a regular pattern.  Instead, it has different types of fabrics cut up into shapes and sewn together to form a fancy design. Very skillful makers cover their quilts with decorative stitches, flowers made out of silks and velvets, and ribbons signed by friends or famous people.

Mary Louise Orr’s quilt inspired the start of a pen-pal friendship between two ten-year-olds, her daughter, Ethel Orr, and Helen Keller.  Ethel Orr wrote to Helen Keller requesting her signature, “My mother is making a Crazy Quilt and I would like you to sign the silk ribbon that I put in the envelope.  When it comes back to me, Mother will sew it on one of the quilt squares with some pretty velvet flowers around it.”  Helen Keller wrote back that she was unable to sign the ribbon because she was just learning to write in pencil and could not yet sign her name in ink.

Helen Keller lost both her vision and hearing when she became very ill at the age of 1 ½.  Helen was able to communicate by signing the manual alphabet with her hands.  Helen also learned to write in Braille and with Square Handwriting.  Helen wrote to Ethel in Square Handwriting. She used a writing board with grooves as a guide and drew square block letters.  Helen enjoyed writing and had many pen pals including Ethel Orr of Bailey Island; Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; and the writer Mark Twain.

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