Crazy quilts have asymmetrical designs, vibrant colors, and intricate stitching patterns. Originating in the late 19th century as a rebellion against the rigid rules of traditional quilting, this unique art form allows quilters to unleash their imagination and showcase their individuality through a patchwork of fabrics. It is also referred to as crazy patchwork.
Whether you’re a seasoned quilter looking to try something new or a novice eager to embark on your first crazy quilt adventure, this article will guide you on how to crazy quilt, as well as techniques and tips on how to create your own stunning masterpiece.
Crazy quilt history
I love quilts. All quilts. And I collect vintage quilts. They don’t need to be in perfect condition. In fact, the ones that have some wear and tear show that they’ve been loved. Here is one in my collection made from a variety of fabrics. When looking at this quilt closely you can see that it has been added to and mended over the years.
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A variety of fabrics were used and different hand stitching was used to hold it together.
Here are some close-up pictures of this quilt. In the image on the far right, you can see the tan silk was used as a patch over a black and white fabric. The quilter continued to add fabrics and stitching as the quilt showed more wear from use.
Below is another vintage crazy quilt that was made from all silk scraps. Again you can see the wear on this quilt. Don’t you wish these quilts could tell you their stories? This quilt has embroidery stitching along each seam line and it also was tied in the middle of some of the larger pieces of silk.
Are you ready to learn how to make a crazy quilt for yourself?
Materials needed for crazy quilting
- You’ll need a variety of fabrics. As you can see above, any type of fabric works! For the ‘crazy’ finished look, try different textures. colors and printed fabrics. For the two crazy quilt blocks I made for this article I only used fabric scraps left over from other projects. The important part is to have a wide variety of fabrics.
- Foundation fabric to build your crazy quilt block(s), I used muslin.
- Batting: Consider the different options for the finished quilt whether you want just a thin layer of flannel or a cotton/poly batting. If you want a fluffy quilt, consider wool batting.
- Embroidery thread or floss, if you want to hand embroider your crazy quilt.
- If you are making a small art piece crazy quilt, you’ll need some beads, buttons, lace or ribbons
As you can tell, anything goes on a crazy quilt!
Tools needed for crazy quilting
- Sewing machine
- Embroidery thread for hand stitching
- Suitable needle for the thread chosen for hand stitching
- Rotary cutter
- Cutting mat
- Seam ripper
Planning your crazy quilt design
Do you want (or need) a plan for your crazy quilt? No plans for me! I had fun just using my scraps and small pieces of fabric and seeing what struck my fancy as I was ready to add the next fabric!
If you are a planner, you might want to select a color scheme for your finished crazy quilt. Or, like the examples above, pick out a type of fabric you want to use.
Crazy quilting doesn’t lend itself to sketches or layouts. It is intended to go with the flow. There is no predetermined crazy quilt pattern.
Piecing techniques for crazy quilts
Crazy quilts start in the middle and fabric is added around a center piece of fabric. Start with one piece of fabric on your foundation fabric. I used muslin as the foundation for my crazy quilt blocks. Using a foundation piece of fabric to stitch the pieces makes it easier.
Get a piece for your center. I like to start with a shape that has five (5) sides. Stitch it down. Get another piece of fabric to sew to it. Place them right sides together and stitch with a 1/4-inch seam allowance on the foundation fabric. Press the second fabric to the outside edge of the foundation so that the right side shows. Continue in this method adding fabrics in a counterclockwise order.
If you are interested in a more planned crazy quilt block, there are many option for foundation paper piecing that tells you what size and order to add your fabrics.
Crazy quilts are a perfect place for fussy cutting if you want to highlight a print or motif. Learn more about fussy cutting.
Decorative stitches and embroidery designs
Part of what brings a crazy quilt to life are the stitches. Crazy quilt embroidery can by done by hand embroidering the stitches or using the decorative stitches on your machine. The embroidery is placed next to or over the crazy quilt seams.
What are some of the common hand embroidery stitches used in crazy quilting?
Any stitch can be used to embellish your crazy quilt. Some of the classic stitches used are the feather stitch, French knots, herringbone stitch, lazy daisy stitch (detached chain stitch), chain stitch, blanket stitch, chevron stitch, fly stitch, and stem stitch. And, sometimes just a basic running stitch is used!
Couching is another hand embroidery technique that is commonly used crazy quilts.
Many times several stitches are combined to create intricate designs on the piece.
Silk ribbon embroidery is also very common in crazy quilt designs from the Victorian era.
How do I make a crazy quilt?
At one retreat someone put a big bag of silk satins and velvet scraps on a free table. I had no plan for them but they were beautiful! And, I love a good scrap project. So they came home with me. I opened the bag and started enjoying the variety of prints and textures. Time to make a crazy quilt sample!
I started with a 12-1/2 inch square of muslin for a foundation. I found a few little pieces in the assortment of fabrics.
In doing research, there are many quilters who have a lot of rules for making a crazy quilt. I say “you do you”! One of the pieces of advice that I did like was to start with a five-sided piece of fabric. Starting this way, your block won’t begin to look like a log cabin quilt block.
Below are my first few pieces sewn to the muslin. I started with the lavender silk in the center. I then added the gold silk that is to the left. I placed the right sides together and sewed with a 1/4-inch seam allowance on the muslin foundation. I pressed the gold fabric to the outside edge of the muslin.
Then I added the blue triangle shape. I placed its right side to the two pieces that were sewn together along the straight edge. Sewed with a 1/4-inch seam allowance. Pressed to the outside edge of the muslin.
In the image below, the brown silk in the upper right is the fourth piece of fabric added in the counterclockwise order. Keep adding fabrics one at a time, sewing them right sides together and pressing them to the outside.
I like to lay the fabric down to audition what it will look like before sewing them together. Here I’m auditioning this piece of velvety lace to add to the right side.
I flipped it over so that the rights sides are together and sewed with a 1/4-inch seam allowance.
Turn the fabric to the right side and press. Then you are ready to add the next fabric. I auditioned this purple silk to be the next fabric.
Remember that lace had a wonky edge? Let’s trim that off. Fold back the foundation fabric along the raw edge of where you’ll place the fabric right side together. Trim off the wonky edges.
Now you are ready to place the right sides together and stitch the next fabric down. Leave your fabrics long for now to make sure that you are covered for the next seam. Line up the raw edges and stitch with a 1/4-inch seam allowance.
Trim as you go and as you plan the next seam. Here I’ve folded back the muslin to line up with the other fabrics to form a nice straight line for the next seam. The purple fabric was long and it is easier to trim it now before adding the next fabric.
Time to audition the next fabric, this lovely grey print silk. Only a little bit of it will show when the quilt block is done.
Sometimes you’ll need to do a bit of ‘unstitching’ if you can’t sew down a piece without a previous stitching line in the way, just take out a few stitches with your seam ripper.
Here I’ve folded back the muslin to trim off two pieces of fabric before adding the next to make it a nice straight line.
I’ve added a few more pieces just as I showed you before and now auditioning a piece of hand-dyed velvet for that little place. Perfect!
The velvet is in place.
Now auditioning a silk stripe for the long side.
You can see I keep adding fabrics counter clock-wise. I audition the fabric. If I like it I fold back the muslin to the wrong side, trim the fabrics to form a straight line and then sew the new fabric with a 1/4-inch seam allowance.
To add even more visual interest to your block, add pieced sections. On the right side below, I sewed two similar (but different) silks together to make a piece that would fit along that long edge.
Keep adding fabrics until your foundation is filled with fabric pieces! Below is the finished pieced silk and velvet crazy quilt block ready for some hand stitching!
If you look closely at the image below you’ll see a stitching line 1/4-inch around the outside edge. Many of the fabrics are on the bias. To keep everything flat and stable while you are doing your embellishments, it is smart to add a stitching line to keep the edges stable.
Assembling your crazy quilt blocks
Once you have as many crazy quilt blocks complete for your quilt, you can sew them together. If you are doing hand embroidery (or machine stitching) I recommend doing that on each block individually – before you sew them together in a full quilt.
You can just sew the quilt blocks together to make the quilt top, or add sashing between the blocks. Remember, there are no rules!
When you finish the quilt top take a look and see if you want to add any additional embroidery or stitching before you quilt it.
Quilting your crazy quilt
Before quilting your crazy quilt, you’ll want to select a backing fabric and layer your quilt.
A crazy quilt already has a lot of stitching – whether by hand or machine. This is a perfect time to stitch in the ditch to hold the layers of the quilt together.
Finishing touches for a crazy quilt
Make a modern crazy quilt block
Looking for a design that is more contemporary? Use more contemporary fabrics like cotton fabrics in solids or prints, instead of silks, wools and velvets for a modern way of making this block.
For my modern crazy quilt block, I started with a five-sided solid red scrap of fabric.
For the second piece, I added a pale blue fabric to one side.
Just like before, I kept adding fabrics in a counterclockwise pattern around the center. Below is my finished modern crazy quilt block ready for stitching!
For this quilt block for the seam embellishments, I decided to try out some of the decorative stitches on my sewing machine. Our machines come with so many options and how many times do we use these stitches?
Attach a tear-away paper stabilizer on the back of your quilt block. I stitched all around to secure the stabilizer to the quilt block.
Then I started picking out some of the decorative stitches on my machine and had some fun bringing this crazy quilt block to life!
Here is the modern crazy quilt block all stitched with the decorative stitches from my machine, and ready to be finished. Some of the stitches surprised me, and some I didn’t like so much as they were stitched out. A good reminder to play around with all that your sewing machine has to offer!
My favorite? The circles! Check them out at the top of the red strip of fabric.
Then it was time to remove the paper stabilizer from the back of the block.
I started by pulling up the bigger pieces of paper from around the stitch lines.
Then, using my stiletto, I carefully removed the paper from around the stitches.
When it was all done, I layered and finished the 12-inch modern crazy mini quilt!
More crazy quilt inspiration
We’ve been lucky to interview several crazy quilters on Create Whimsy. Here are some of their work:
Browse through all of the crazy quilt projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.