Allie Crumble | Wisconsin Historical Society

Feature Story

Allie Crumble

Celebrating Wisconsin Visionaries, Changemakers, and Storytellers

Allie Crumble | Wisconsin Historical Society

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Quilts that Tell a Story

Storyteller | Allie Crumble | 1911 - 2013

Allie Crumble working on a quilt, 1987.

Allie Crumble working on a quilt, 1987. - Courtesy of Hardanger to Harleys

Drawing from established quilting traditions in her community, Allie Crumble was an artisan and storyteller who used quilts as her primary medium. Crumble was born and raised in Newton County, Mississippi, and it was there that she first learned how to sew, piece, and quilt from her mother, Minnie Lofton. Crumble’s love of quilting and talent for the craft are evident in her work.

In 1944, when Crumble was in her early 30s, she and her husband moved to Milwaukee where they raised 10 children. A member of the Metropolitan Baptist Church, she taught quilting to congregation seniors. For years, she produced approximately one quilt each month, working six hours per day six days a week. In addition to stitching quilts for family and friends, she occasionally sold some of her work to members of the community.

The Wisconsin Historical Museum acquired one of Crumble’s skillfully crafted quilts in 1992, a “Necktie Quilt” which she created in 1982. The quilt commemorates the story of her African American church community. It is a pieced quilt that consists of 36 large squares, each appliquéd with portions of actual ties owned by the male members of her church. The quilt asserts the individual identity and significance of the male leaders of her church, while reinforcing the communal nature of church membership and the church's centrality to Black culture in America.

The name of each necktie's owner is embroidered next to it on the quilt, beginning with the clergymen and deacons at the top, and continuing with the brothers of the congregation below. The quilt is a variation of a traditional “album” or “friendship” quilt. For these styles, a quilter's family and friends contribute materials, handiwork or both in the making of the quilt. Beloved by her community, Crumble is remembered as a storyteller and an artisan who used her craft to bring her community closer together. 

* This story is adapted from Wisconsin Historical Society articles Necktie Quilt by Allie Crumble and About Our Quilt Folk Art.