If you love rich fabrics, embroidery stitches, and intricate beading—if you think more is more—crazy quilting might be for you.
A crazy quilt has blocks assembled from irregular and sometimes scrap pieces; there is no set pattern or design. Crazy quilt patterns were popular during the Victorian period when they were made with silks and velvets and heavily embellished with embroidery, beading, lace, and ribbons. Because of this, they appeal to fiber artists who like a vintage look.
But crazy quilts can also be done in a contemporary way. Jamie Fingal's quilt "The Little Black Dress," featured at the right, could be considered a contemporary take on crazy quilting, with its wonky (fused) piecing and found hardware embellishments (from Quilting Arts Magazine October/November 2011).
Crazy quilters are rule breakers at heart, so really, anything goes!
How to Make a Crazy Quilt
While there are no set rules for how to crazy quilt, there are some guidelines that will make getting started easier.
Step 1: Planning. While a crazy quilt may look like it was pieced in a helter-skelter fashion, usually it takes careful planning to achieve this "crazy" look. Many quilters plan their crazy quilt blocks on paper first, then transfer it onto muslin. Using a ruler, a pencil, and a perfectly square piece of paper (such as 8" x 8") begin by drawing the last seam line first (14), approximating the angle in relationship to the sides of the block. Next, draw line 13, being careful to approximate its relationship to 14 and the sides of the block. Continue until you have drawn seam line 1. Using a ruler and a fabric pen or pencil, transfer the crazy quilt pattern for the block onto the muslin foundation.
Step 2: Piecing. From here, traditional crazy quilters use the flip and sew foundation piecing method, stitching each piece of fabric right-side down onto the muslin according to the numbered seam lines.
Other quilters prefer the fused appliqué method of placing their fabrics. They iron fusible webbing (a sheer sheet of fabric glue) to the back of the fabrics, cut the shapes with a rotary cutter, then iron the pieces down onto the muslin backing.
In the contemporary, or modern, quilting movement, fiber artists are using the improvisational piecing method that results in quilt blocks with quirky angles that resemble crazy quilt blocks. In this method, the quilter cuts and stitches fabric pieces as she goes along to create a block, trimming excess fabric to fit. (Modern-style quilts don't typically have embellishments like crazy quilts, however.)
Step. 3. Embellishing. There are many ways to embellish a crazy quilt. Here are a few of the basic techniques.
An example of crazy quilt blocks, Susie Williams' "Mrs. McConkey's Garden," has all the hallmarks of this style of quilting: odd piecing angles, embroidery, ribbon work, lace, and beading. (Quilting Arts Magazine Winter 2006)
Embroidery. Embroidery stitches are used to decoratively cover the seams, bridge two pieces of fabric (or two blocks) with a design element, create motifs within the fabric pieces, or add writing. The rich look of traditional crazy quilting is enhanced with wool and silk threads as well as glossy cotton and sparkling metallic floss. Many artists also embroider over (or couch) novelty yarns.
Beading. Beads figure prominently in crazy quilt designs, from accents scattered here and there to heavily encrusted areas. Combining beads with embroidery stitches (beaded embroidery) is very popular among crazy quilters.
Found objects. In addition to traditional beads, artists often use buttons, shells, charms, and other found objects—anything they can sew onto their fabric. Old war medals, plastic gumball machine charms, old bottle caps, zippers and snaps, satin-stitched patches; if you can think of it, it's likely a crazy quilter has embellished with it.
Ribbons. Ribbon (silk, lace, etc.) can be formed into shapes like triangles, scallops, and circles with a sewing technique called ruching, or gathering with a needle and thread. By ruching ribbon, you can make tiny pansies, lush chrysanthemums, and undulating vines or rivers on your crazy quilt. Ribbon embroidery, where narrow silk ribbon is used instead of floss or thread, is another way to embellish your crazy quilt.
Step 4. Quilting and finishing. Because of the fine fabrics and heavily embellished surface used, the Victorians didn't actually add a lot of quilting stitches to their crazy quilts. Rather, they tied the quilt to the backing (sometimes with batting, sometimes not), with embroidery thread or depended on the decorative crazy quilt stitches to hold the piece together. Today's crazy quilters often add free-motion machine quilting to areas of the crazy quilt before embellishing. Some quilters add a binding, others simply embroider around the raw edges or stitch lace or ribbon over them.
Useful crazy quilt stitches
Four classic stitches for crazy quilting include: The fishbone stitch, the fly stitch, the chain stitch, and the stem stitch.
Another useful crazy quilt stitch is the ladder stitch.
The ladder stitch can be used on its own as a design element, or as a way to decoratively "join" two pieces of fabric in a crazy quilt. Always work this stitch in a downward direction.
1. Start at the back of the fabric and bring the needle and thread through from the back to the front.
2. Stitch over the fabric strip from left to right in a straight line and then slide the needle and thread from front to back and then back through to the front in a downward diagonal movement so that the needle emerges at a point directly below the point at which the stitching started.
3. As the needle emerges it is passed through a loop created in the thread by the left thumb. The loop is kept loose so that as the needle is taken across the fabric strip in a straight line, the second repeat stitch is made by placing the needle through the loop again before sliding it through the fabric.
4. Repeat the stitch as needed (until the piece is couched in place).
5. On the last stitch of the row, tie down by making a small straight stitch in each corner.
Vivika Hansen DeNegre
Editor, Quilting Arts Magazine
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