Have you heard of a crazy quilt before? They were wildly popular in the late 1800s, and even though historians are unsure of their exact origins, they are a symbol of the Victorian era. A crazy quilt is made with fabric scraps, then embellished with beads, feathers, fancy stitching and more. To learn more about the interesting history of the crazy quilt, check out this article from All People Quilt. This is one of my favorite quilt blocks to make, and I'd love to share the technique I use with you. Note that there are many techniques used, but this is my preferred method.
Here's what you'll need:
Scraps of fabric- this can be anything you’d like. I like to use my leftovers from other quilting projects. You want to include an assortment of colors, patterns, and sizes for the best look.
Base fabric- this needs to be a square piece of light-colored, plain fabric. You can use an old cut up bed sheet, plain cotton fabric, or muslin. You can make it any size you want, but a square is easiest to work with. Remember that after you trim the block in the end step, it will be slightly smaller all the way around. I start with a 12-inch square, and after trimming I end up with a roughly 11-inch square.
Scissors- any sewing scissors will work fine.
Sewing pins- You can use any straight pins you have on hand, but I prefer pins with round glass heads so I don't lose them in my project.
Sewing machine- any machine should work fine, but if yours has the fancier, feather-stitch options, you can get more creative.
Thread of choice- I like to use a thread that goes well with my fabrics, but also stands out enough to be noticed.
Ruler and/or cutting mat for quilting- A rotary cutting mat makes measuring precisely much easier.
Rotary cutter- this is not required, but it is easier to use than scissors for clean and accurate cuts
Now that you've gathered your supplies, let's jump right into the fun part!
Steps for Piecing the Block:
First, choose a piece of fabric to go in the center of your square. This piece should be irregularly shaped and at least three to four inches long and wide. I like for mine to have at least six sides. Pin it securely in place.
Next, choose your second piece of fabric and decide where you want to place it, overlapping one edge of your first piece. Fold the raw edge under to make a neat seam.
Place your folded-under edge of fabric over the existing fabric and pin it securely in place. The pictures below illustrate these steps. On the left, I am folding the raw edge under. On the right, I have pinned my fabric in place. Note: You do not need to fold under all the raw edges, just the one you’re placing on top of your existing fabrics and pinning. You will likely cover most of the other raw edges with other pieces. Also, you will probably need to move pins around to avoid covering any up with other pieces, and this is completely okay. The more pieces you place, the faster this process goes.
Choose your next piece of fabric and continue as above. You may find that you’ll lift corners and tuck some fabrics under others. This is fine, do whatever makes it look best to you. There is no rule, but I generally work from the center outward. The following pictures show the progression as I moved along.
You will continue to add new fabrics, always overlapping previous pieces, until you have completely covered your base fabric. The photo to the left shows the fully pinned block. As you can see, the fabrics will hang off around the edges. There are also tiny areas around the edges that aren't covered. That's not a problem since you'll be trimming the block later.
Once you’ve covered your base block, make sure one last time that no raw edges of fabrics are showing. If you find any, be sure to tuck them under and pin them. If you don’t do this, the finished block won’t look as neat and the raw edges will likely fray in time.
This step is optional, but I like to cut the excess fabrics from around the edges to make it less cumbersome in my sewing machine. The two pictures below show the back of the block before and after I trimmed the excess.
If you choose to do this step, always cut with the back side of the block facing up so you can ensure you don’t cut into your base fabric. Your block is now ready to sew.
Sewing Your Block:
Now that you have your block prepared, it's time to sew it all together. This is not difficult, and you can really get creative here.
First, choose a thread color that you like; it can blend in or stand out, it’s your choice.
Next, thread your machine and choose a stitch. You’ll want to use one of those decorative stitches that, if you’re like me, you’ve never really done much with. If you want to adjust stitch length or width (and the machine will allow you to), go ahead. I personally do not.
Start in the center of your block and sew down the edges of each folded and pinned piece, removing the pins as you go. To the right you can see my first row of stitches.
Work from the center outwards and continue sewing each folded and pinned edge until you’ve stitched them all. There is no need to make sure all your rows of stitches are going the same direction unless you just want to. Remember, it’s a “crazy” quilt!
Once you’ve sewn along all the edges, your block will look something like the picture to the left.
Trim all your loose threads on the top with scissors or thread snips. You don’t need to trim loose threads on the back side. Your block is now ready to square up.
Squaring Up Your Block:
Place your block on your cutting mat and, using your ruler as a straight edge, cut one uneven edge. At this step you won’t need to measure. You simply want one straight side to begin measuring. Be sure to include the edge of your base block as you cut. The pictures below illustrate this step.
I like to put the block back side up so I can see better. As you can see in the pictures above, I cut along the 19-inch line to ensure my block was straight. (Again, I did not measure in this step, I simply used the 19-inch line as a guide to cut a straight edge.) Now that I have that straight edge, I will flip the block right side up and place it at the edge of my mat so I can cut the opposite edge, as shown in the picture below.
At this step you will need to measure, so you will place your ruler at your desired measurement (remember mine was 11 inches) and cut that edge. You will repeat the first two steps with the other two edges of your block.
1. You now have one squared up, completed crazy quilt block. Congratulations!
So, what do you do with it?
This is entirely up to you. Since it takes quite a few projects to save up enough scraps to make an entire quilt, I prefer to use my blocks in smaller projects. I have made one lap quilt with my blocks. I normally make throw pillows from them, and I even framed one as a decoration to hang on the wall. The block I made for this post ended up a lovely throw pillow, as you can see in the cover image. If you really want to get fancy, you can add embroidery, feathers, beads, buttons, and more. The possibilities are endless!
What do you think? Will you be making a crazy quilt block? If you have or do, please share your pictures and tell me about it in the comments; I'd love to see it!