By Tricia Patterson, Quiltmaker Associate Editor
I’m starting to make plans for the Fourth of July weekend. We are thinking about a possible road trip, which means lots of time in the car and some stitching. I’ve had a project in mind for a while to make a story quilt for each of my grandchildren to document some of the key events of my life. Maybe it’s time to start my crazy quilts.
I think it’s important to carry history from generation to generation. I always wish I had gathered more information about my grandparents’ younger days, before I came on the scene.
I feel the Crazy Quilt pattern is the best design to document a story, to create a quilt with memories. They are scrappy with odd bits and pieces of fabric; they have no order (unless I put it there). The fabric found in traditional crazy quilts is fancy, plain, colorful and subdued, and may also have a memory of their original use. And, lots of fancy embellishments are added to make them individually creative, beautiful and interesting. The materials alone tell a story! These quilts are just like life, full of texture and kinda’ crazy at times.
I believe the Crazy Quilt is the most romantic of quilts. These free-flowing quilts appeared in the U.S. in the late 1800s, during the Victorian era. They were displayed at an exposition in Philadelphia, showcasing the art of English and Japanese embroidery. Embroidery needlework was also popular in America then.
The Crazy Quilt craze spread through the east coast by upper-class women who used their silks and velvets in their quilts; fabrics that were then available because of the industrial revolution. These quilts were often used to adorn the home, rather than as functional bed coverings. Along with the elegant fabrics, some of these early Crazy Quilts included blocks of familiar patterns such as, Dresden Plate or Fan, Log Cabin and Grandmothers Flower Garden, joined by many different embroidery stitches.
The Crazy Quilt pattern is perfect for wall hangings, pillow tops, evening bags and holiday ornaments. Finished quilts can be elaborate or simply elegant. This easy pattern is great for all the scraps I’ve collected. No batting is required, just a backing for the finished quilt. The Crazy Quilt pattern is also perfect for using up odd bits of thread, lace, trim, buttons, beads and old pieces of jewelry – items that may have some historical significance.
- Muslin fabric, cut to the size of a finished block, plus 1/2″ (e.g. 12-1/2″ square)
- Scraps of fabric
- Embroidery threads of different textures and weights
Preparation Before You Go
You can use several methods to create your Crazy Quilt. One method is to create the pattern as you go placing the fabric and stitching onto the muslin free form. Another is to draw the pattern on a piece of muslin or use a paper pattern (e.g. foundation paper piecing). I like the muslin pattern the best and prepare a quantity of them before I travel to take with me. (If I prepare all I need for a quilt, the ones I don’t finish are easy to pick up and work on any time I have the inclination.
Making the Crazy Quilt block with an unmarked muslin foundation.
Note… While making a Crazy Quilt block I keep in mind that the order and addition of adding the fabric patches is much like making a Log Cabin block. I start with a small piece of fabric. The next one I add is the length of one side of the small piece. The third patch I add needs to be the length of the first and second piece of fabric.
Step 1. Cut the first bit of fabric to give it 5 edges. Lay the fabric, right side facing up, on the muslin backing. (I received this machine-embroidered sample from my daughter-in-law’s mother. She found it at a yard sale. It’s a perfect piece for a Victorian Crazy Quilt.)
Step 2. Add the second fabric using the basic Stitch-and-Flip technique. Place another bit of quilt fabric, lining it up with one of the edges, right sides facing. Using a short running stitch and 1/4″ seam allowance, stitch the three fabrics together. (I trim the edges of the fabric to 1/4″ if they are uneven.) Flip the second fabric so both fabrics are right side facing. Finger press the added fabric so it lays flat.
Step 3. Cut the next bit of fabric the length of the joined first two pieces. Add this bit of fabric by laying it against the next angle of the beginning fabric, repeating the process. It’s OK to let the fabrics overlap; it generally gives more interesting free-flowing shapes to fabric placement. Move around the block, adding new bits of fabric sized to cover the edge of the last joined fabrics. In some cases, to get a pleasing placement, you may need to fold under and stitch an edge in place before adding another, or pre-sew two or more patches of fabric together before you add them to the crazy block.
Step 4. The block is ready for embellishment when the surface of the foundation muslin is covered with fabric bits. (Notice the fabrics in my sample block are very intense prints, in color and design, so I decided to go simple on the embellishment, a few beads and minimal embroidery.)
Here are a couple more examples. The first is going to finish as a Christmas ornament. I created foundation muslin with a pre-drawn arrangement for the patches.
The second block is the first of my story quilt. I think it looks kind of goofy so far, but I think it will work out when I add more blocks to the quilt. I was born in Greensburg Indiana where we are known for the tree growing out of our courthouse tower. (Really. Google it.) I decided on a wonky Log Cabin for this block because it represents home and hearth. I’ve just started the embellishment. I’ll add my name and date of birth to the block, and knowing me, a lot of other fluffy stuff. I have fabric left from lots of projects. In future blocks I plan to add some fabrics and embellishments that I’ve held on to because they are my favorites or were used for family quilts. I think I’ll also add some pieces from a couple well-loved quilts my grandmother gave me (They also contain pieces from clothing she made for my sister and I.). These patches will carry a piece of her quilting history forward.
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Miss part one of our Quilting That Travels summer tutorial series? Check it out here.
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For more crazy quilt inspiration, check out these books available in our online store:
- Quilting Just a Little Bit Crazy by Allie Aller and Valerie Bothell
- Allie Aller’s Crazy Quilting by Allie Aller