For the last quarter of the nineteenth century, crazy quilting was definitely the ‘in’ thing to do. Every woman had to have a crazy quilt. The more intricate and busy it was, the better. It hit every echelon of life, from the poor to the wealthy, to the country and the city woman… the first-ever American commercial needlework craze!
Their quilts were decorative, made of scraps of lush dress and furnishing fabrics, covered in embroidery, keepsake items – ribbons, lace, buttons, even give-away silk ribbons specially produced by cigar and cigarette manufacturers! As Judith Baker Montano says these quilts ‘were used as ‘show off’ pieces to display in the parlor’!
Of course, what goes around comes around and there is a modern take on crazy patchwork. There are different techniques, the one I taught myself from ‘Very Easy Crazy Patchwork’ by Betty Barnden is a sew and flip method starting from the centre of a piece of backing fabric.
I find crazy patchwork very satisfying and freeing from the usual methods of patchwork piecing: no tricky cutting and matching seams and it doesn’t even matter about the direction of the grain – the backing fabric gives the piece stability and reduces the chances of distortion. Incidentally, my backing fabric of choice has been a bargain, king size, 100% Egyptian cotton sheet found in a charity shop for less than £5! Using densely woven sheeting is fine as I know I’ll be machine quilting, if I were intending to hand quilt/embroider the crazy blocks then I’d use more open weave fabrics such as calico or a quilting weight cotton as the backing fabric.
My latest crazy patchwork project involved making two cushion covers for my Aunt. I’m glad to say they are finished and in place in her newly decorated flat! Here are some photos of the covers:
Sometime I’d really like to put together several crazy blocks and make a quilt… (Although it is a great way of using up scraps it can also be quite a wasteful technique with all the overlapping seam allowances to be cut away as you criss-cross the fabric pieces.)
I hope you found this little guide helpful? Please ask any questions or add any tips you may have about this technique.