Crazy quilting piecing

Crazy quilting piecing

I frequently get emails asking me how to do crazy quilting. They arrive in response to either a piece about crazy quilting such as Saturday’s post or because someone has discovered some of the crazy quilting pieces on this site.

I promised to answer these on a post by post basis so this morning I thought I would address some of the basics as in one email I was asked “how can I learn to do crazy patchwork in this style. I am a beginning patchworker – do I sew each crazy patch as for foundation piecing – stitch an flip – what do I use as a base fabric – have you written a book?”

Firstly before I start chattering I would like to stress that there are no hard and fast rules in crazy quilting so anything I say is simply in the category of advice. The style that is used in the I dropped the button box crazy quilt is called encrusted because it is heavily embellished. Whereas the blocks in the current crazy quilt I am working on are not so heavily embellished. I am not sure if they would sit in the encrusted category but they are heavily embellished.

Firstly I suggest anyone who is interested in learning about crazy quilting to poke around in the crazy quilting section as there are lots of leads to links online relating to crazy quilting and how to do it there. Also read the blogs that are listed in my side bar under crazy quilting as there are some very talented women documenting what they do and why in their blogs.

The CQ Mag online is also a great resource. This ezine is written by practitioners who have a passion for crazy quilting. There are an extensive collection of articles including articles on the history of crazy quilts, instructional material on piecing, embroidery and embellishment of crazy quilts with lace, trims and beads.

Another key source of information is the discussion lists online. If you join them they will open a whole world of ideas and tip and tricks. If you live in Australia or New Zealand you will probably enjoy southerncrosscrazies. The three large global lists are CQembellishers and Crazy Quilting International which are both associated with Yahoo groups. The oldest list online is Crazy Quilt which you subscribe to via the Quiltropolis site. All the lists are great, and welcome beginners and old hands alike. I have learnt many a trick and had many hours pleasure from these lists over the years.

The first question is often how do you piece a block? For a foundation fabric, I use what Australians call Calico and what Americans call Muslin. However at various times I have used old sheets, and the like. You can use any fabric that is doesn’t have a tight weave or high thread count as you want to be able to embroider the block so you will need to hand stitch through all the layers. I also trim all selvages as I make up the block to keep the weight of fabric at the seam line down. When hand stitching seams you are embroidering the fabric, the seam underneath and the foundation fabric so I try to keep this as light a weight as possible. I find that if my seams are too thick I have to push the needle through the fabric with force. It starts to become a battle with the block rather than a pleasurable experience of fabric, needle and thread. I find I do better hand stitching and enjoy it when I keep the weight of the seam in mind.

The weight of the fabric actually used in the block is also important to me as fabric that is too heavy and thick can lead to forced stitching. If I have a particularly heavy fabric I usually place this first on the block and add lighter weight fabrics around it using the sew and flip method. My next trick is to embellish on the light weight side of the seam. That way I use some of the great heavy weight fabrics that are available without having to resort to really forcing my needle through them.

There are number of good articles on how to piece a block already online. How To Piece a 6″ x 6″ Crazy Quilt Block by Kimber Pekora has illustrated step by step instructions. Annie Whitsed has provided people with an article on Solving Crazy Patchwork Piecing Problems the key problem being very long seams. Long seams are an issue because the eye simply travels along them and slides off the block so most crazy quilters try to avoid them. Leslie Levison’s Online Class Crazy Quilt Patchwork Block is also a tremendous introduction for those new to crazy quilting.

I am often asked how do I get my ‘encrusted’ look on a block. Although I do use quite a lot of beads and buttons most of the look is achieved by use of stitching and fabric selection. I have found that too many patterned fabrics can hide the stitches. Older crazy quilts seem to have many plain coloured fabrics and I am inclined to reach for these as they show off the stitches well. Since stitching is often hidden on patterned fabrics I am inclined to use just one or two patterned prints per block. I do however make use of textured fabrics as they seem to add a level of visual complexity to a block which I enjoy.

Heavy use of textured materials would be one of the first steps to encrusting a block. For instance, by heavy use I mean on an 8 inch block perhaps even as many as 4 or 5 textured fabrics, 1 patterned fabric to 4 or 5 plain fabrics. Notice that I have just given a list for an 8 inch block that tallies somewhere between 9 and 11 different fabric pieces. At one stage in my CQ education someone told me that the way you work out what material you need for various blocks is that for an 8 inch block you need a selection of 8 pieces of fabric for 10 inch block you need a selection of 10 pieces of fabric and 12 inch block you need a selection of 12 pieces of fabric and so on. As I stated a few paragraphs ago I – there are no rules in crazy quilting so if you like this style and anyone says that you have too many fabrics on a block, simply tell them you break this ‘rule’. I always use a greater selection of fabric and if you like the look I encourage you to do what you please.

Although some may call it an ‘encrusted’ look I call it visual texture. Creating a deep visual texture on a block simply means that the viewer is always noticing something new of interest. Simply put, the name of the game is to catch their eye and keep them going over and around the block. Attract them and keep them there is the philosophy behind it! This means that when I start the block it is already crowded with a ratio of more textured fabrics than normal.

The other way I add texture to a block is the liberal use of lace and braids. Lace sets up a contrast of texture yet is light and interesting to stitch. Further embellishment on top of lace such as stitching or beading areas adds other forms of contrasts to the block and deepens the visual texture.

Braids on the other hand create very strong lines in a block. You can use these linear elements to guide the viewers eye around the block. It is a bit like taking the viewer on a walk down a path. Attracting them with a key area of interest such as a clump of buttons, beads, or a well placed charm then via a linear element such as braid or seam embellishment guiding their eye to move along the line to the next area of interest, then to next and so on around the block.

I make up my blocks with lace and braid stitched in as I go. I then add embroidery and buttons, beads, charms are attached last. I work this way because I like to do a lot of embroidery on my seams and if I add the embellishments too soon I am for ever getting my thread tangled on the embellishments. So I resist as long as possible!

I will continue tomorrow in the meanwhile todays dash of eye candy above is a 6 inch block in the I dropped the button box crazy quilt


  1. Jane – I have not heard of hiding a piece of fabric although I do stitch a prayer between the front and and back fabric that is hidden – but I thought that was a quirk I did – not a tradition. Perhaps it is part of tradition I am not sure – anyone else know?

  2. I have a question about crazy quilt tradition. I am making 10 blocks for a small quilt out of thirteen different types of fabric arranged differently in each block. I thought there was a tradition that you “hide” one piece of material in the entire quilt that is different from all the other fabric. Have you ever heard of this? I can’t find it anywhere on the web. Did I dream this , or what πŸ™‚ ? Thanks for your reply. Jane C.

  3. hello,
    need your help, as I saw on your blog the name of the crazyquilterinternalional I did subscribe, but unfortunatly I had and still have aproblem with mailprogramm. so I have lost the group. now I have a new yahoomail ady
    and would rejoin. but I can not find anymore the start page. can you help me please
    thanks lio switzerland

  4. Wendy the blocks are pieced together after the embellishments are done. I make the foundation material a little larger so the I can get a hoop on them – work the blocks them piece them together as you would other quilt tops some people stitch the seams with embellishment too.

  5. To a wonderful inspiration! I can find so many articles about foundation blocks and how to make them but I cant find a single article about how to piece the blocks together. Is the foundation block cut bigger then the actual quilting block ???? and how do I join the blocks… maybe a dumb question but I am so new to all this Thanks for reading this Cheers

    Wendy Caughey

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