Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Magic of Crazy Quilts

I completed my first crazy quilt for the 1000 silk ties project when four friends pooled their resources and used old silk ties to create a number of different projects.  In my crazy quilt the ties were mixed in with new silk pieces and a random effect was created, mainly using jewel colours.  As well as the silk fabric and silk ties there were some added patches made from images printed onto silk. 

 I was hooked!  As soon as the first quilt was finished another had to be started straight away, but what to do to make it a bit more interesting and exciting the second time round?  I started making a couple of blocks out of yellow/cream/tawny tones but once these were nearly finished decided making a whole quilt with this limited palette would be too boring.  So instead of that, the new plan was to make a "rainbow" effect through the quilt by making the blocks in different shades for each row so that the rainbow effect would appear.  This has been such fun to create, the first six blocks are almost finished now (30 will be needed) and they have been very enjoyable to work on. 

The reason for the name “crazy” quilt is not known; there is one theory that it stems from the “crazed” look of a cracked glaze on china.  It underwent a period of great popularity in late Victorian times and a resurgence during the 1930s and has never completely died out. 

The beauty of crazy quilting is that with only a small number of simple embroidery stitches an intricate, interesting and colourful effect can be obtained.  Also there is no exact counting to be done and it can be picked up when you have only a few minutes to spare and put down again without “losing your place”.  Small scraps of luxury fabrics, leftovers from other projects, sentimental mementoes such as laces donated by friends and family, special buttons, beads and charms can all be incorporated into your work.  Once your friends and relations know you are “saving up for a crazy”  you will be surprised what they find for you – old silk ties, silk scarves, sports prize ribbons and so on will all make your work unique and you will remember where your prize pieces came from each time you see your “crazy”. 

Straight Stitch (or Running Stitch)
Chain Stitch
Fly Stitch
Blanket Stitch
Herringbone Stitch
Feather Stitch


If you are frightened by the thought of a large project such as a bedspread you could start off with a cushion, table runner or Christmas table centrepiece.  Or a framed work of crazy quilt art could be the answer. 
Be inspired by the things you love, be they pets, hobbies and activities, family members or the natural world.  Take note of colours in nature which please you and use those combinations in your stitching.  Use materials from family members and friends to personalise your work.    
Try not to mix fabrics of entirely different weight – a lightweight silk next to a heavy brocade will cause extra stress on the seam and not be so durable.
Keep to a single “family” of colours for a more coordinated look, for example pearly pastels or darker colours all of the same depth.  Decide on a general colour theme before you start your work.  You can even sort your fabrics and threads into categories in this way if it is helpful.   
Look out for old handkerchiefs, laces and doyleys from thrift stores and relatives.  Ensure that if you are using old fabrics (such as old silk dresses) the fabric is still sound and will not deteriorate.
If possible avoid synthetics as they can melt with ironing.  Cotton lace rather than modern synthetic lace looks more authentic and is longer lasting.
“Let the thread do the work” by looking out for variegated threads.  These can be bought cheaply at emporiums or there are luxury silk versions available.
Try using perle cotton, crochet cotton and bargain threads from the $2 shop in your work. 
If you love it, use it!  There will be a way to incorporate your favourite bits and pieces into your quilt.  Resist the urge to save your favourite luxury threads for a “special occasion”. 
Do not cut very long pieces of thread to use – it is tempting not to have to thread your needle so often but you will get more tangles and knots.  Let the needle hang down from time to time and “unwind” if you are having problems with tangles forming. 
Look for ribbons to use to embellish your seams – some can be found at very reasonable prices.  Over-embroider ribbons which are a bit plain for your taste. 
If you are using old patterned silk ties alternate them with plain fabrics to prevent an overall “too busy” look – remember that your embroidery and embellishments will provide a lot of visual interest also. 
If you are adding buttons and charms try to put them on pieces which will not receive wear and tear – wall hangings for instance rather than bed quilts.  Use beading thread to attach them and secure firmly and add them when other stitching is completed.
If you wish to put ribbons along a seam it is a good idea to put them in at the “construction” phase when you are putting the “ground” together.  But if you decide to add them later they can be stitched along the seam.
If you have left over thread in your needle use it to make an area full of flowers composed of small French knots and lazy daisy stitches on one section of your block. 
When you find your work is becoming a bit “samey” (for instance you are repeatedly using the same stitch combinations) pick up a new block and work on that for a while or look for new techniques and inspirations on the block you are working on. 

Try using pictorial elements in your crazy quilt – look for fabrics with pictures on them and use them as patches in the quilt block.  Or you can print onto fabric using images scanned into your computer, but be aware that these will not be waterproof.  There is a product called Jiffy Jet Set which you can use to make your printing washable. 
Cross stitch on waste canvas – you can use waste canvas to create small cross stitch pictures and then when the waste canvas is removed you will have a cross stitch on your silk or other fabric which you can use as a patch. 
Embroidery of flowers etc – use silk ribbon embroidery or freehand embroidery to “draw” scenes which appeal to you.  Try creating pictures of your favourite animals, flowers and scenes. 

So give it a go and have fun, it really is only limited by your imagination. 

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