Cutting and Basting the Patches

The next step is cutting patches.  Start with your motifs.  Pair each pattern or pre-made motif with the fabric of your choice.  I do a lot of tracing paper transfer, so you will see in the picture below that this is what is pinned to each patch.  If you’re using another method of transfer, you might have to do the transfer before you cut your patches.  This would be true for transfer methods like the pounce method, transfer pencil or light box.  Then cut generously around the motifs, being careful to not always cut straight lines.  Leave at least 1″, if not more, around each motif.  This allows for 1/2″ seam allowance and 1/2″ for embellishment.  Allow for some space around the motif also.  Place each patch on your background fabric in an arrangement that pleases you.  Once you have the layout approximate, remove any patterns. 

This photo shows the loose patches placed on the background fabric approximately where they will be basted.  It also shows the motifs being removed and the start of pin basting in the center. 

Starting in the center, start folding back your seam allowances and pinning.  Use pins that hold up to heat.  I use dressmakers silk pins that are around 1″ long.  Be mindful to layer your seams in the best order to prevent bulk or darker fabrics showing through.  For instance, the white silk dupione in the photo is laid flat on the background, while the green silk next to it has been folded under to creat the seam.  If it had been done the other way, there would likely be a green shadow on the white.  Here’s a close-up photo of that area.

Notice that the pins are placed parallel to the seam and close to the fold.  Also notice that the point of the pin in the green fabric exits the fabric right at the point of the fold.  This is important to keep sharp points where you want them. 

Work in this manner out from the center until your project is completely pin basted, taking care to keep the piece as flat as possible.  Make adjustments to your layout as you wish.  You will realize that the idea you originally started with may change.  It happens from actually handling the fabrics.  It’s just pinned together at this point, so this is the last chance you will have to easily make changes to patches and layouts.  Don’t be surprised if you need to add fabrics to cover blank spots.

Once your piece is pin basted and everything is where you want it, turn it over and give it a light press to encourage the seams to crease.  Be wary of heat sensitive fabrics!  If you’re not sure a fabric will hold up to a press, test a piece.  If it scorches easily, test it again with a press cloth.  Since you will be pressing from the reverse side, it’s as if you have a pressing cloth.  I do not use steam for this press.  Steam can distort fancy fabrics permanently.  Also steam heat is hotter than dry heat and some fabrics will melt or scorch with steam, but not with a dry iron.  This photo shows the pin basting complete.  Most of the fabrics lie flat.  The satin types skew and stretch when you work with them.  Over pinning them can cause runs and snags, so I don’t worry if they’re not perfectly flat at this point. 


Next, starting from the center and working out, hand baste all the seams.  Before stitching, make sure the piece lies as flat as possible. 

This photo shows the seams basted.  They show up best on the green fabric.  I used inexpensive, ordinary, hand sewing thread.  The basting will be removed or covered over by the embellishments later.  I leave the pins in until I have basted around all sides of a piece.  Notice the pin at the point of the blue fabric.  I couldn’t sew around this pin, so I removed it enough to get around it, leaving it piercing through the point so I didn’t loose that point.

Here’s the piece ready for embellishment.  The satin pieces still roll a bit.  I’m not worried about it because I’ll be embroidering and that will take up some of that slack.

Next I put the patterns back onto the piece with pins and it’s ready for transferring the embroideries.  I’ll show that process in the next tutorial on embellishment.

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Starting a Crazy Quilt

Starting a Crazy Quilt can be an overwhealming task.  There are so many fabric choices, so many pieces and embellishment possibilities, it can rapidly turn into one big pile of jumbled up fabrics and chaos.  Here is how I tackle a CQ.  I hope it helps and encourages those who haven’t tried CQ because they don’t know where to start.  This is the process I follow when doing a crazy quilt in the traditional method of construction, that is hand pieced patches onto a base fabric and hand embellished.  It includes all the steps I follow through the process of basting the patches onto the foundation fabric. All of the steps up to the point where I describe basting the patches onto each other can be applied to many other methods of construction.  It is important to say here that these are just guidelines, not hard and fast rules.  I allow myself creative license, but I have them if I need them to return to a point of sanity and organized thought in the process.  If you want to try CQ, I suggest you start out small;  Wall Hanging size or smaller.

1.  Decide on a theme for your CQ.  For instance, nature, floral, seasonal, or oriental are common crazy quilt themes.  Try to visualize it and sketch the layout you have in your mind.  Make notes about your vision.

2.  Decide how big you want your CQ to be and cut your base fabric out at least 2″ larger all the way around.  This will allow for the shrinkage that may happen when you embroider/ embellish the seams.  Typically the base fabric is muslin, but it can really be any fabric as it is only a foundation and will be covered when you put the backing fabric on.  Make sure it is not a tight weave of fabric if you plan to do silk ribbon embroidery as a tight weave will make the ribbon shred during the passing of the ribbon through.  Lay out your base fabric on a flat surface.  Tape it down if you can.  This will give you a visual of how much patch fabric you will need.  Design walls don’t really work with fancy fabrics because they don’t stick to the wall very well.  You could pin them, but I find it easier to work on a flat surface.  For smaller projects I also sometimes put the base fabric in a large quilting hoop, especially when I need the project to be movable because I don’t have the luxury of occupying the space for a period of time.  Make sure your layout area is next to an outlet where you can plug in your iron.  Also, make sure you have room for your pressing surface.  Portable pressing boards work well, but an ironing board lowered to the level of your layout area works also.

3.  Gather motifs and embroideries that you want to use in your quilt.  This includes embroidery designs you intend to work into your quilt.  If you have a motif that you will embroider after the patches are sewn onto the base fabric, make a copy of the pattern and cut out around it.  Pin it to the fabric you think you will be using as a background.  Most techniques of creating motifs can be done either before or after the patch is incorporated into the quilt.  An example of an exception to this would be something like reverse applique, shadow work, or trapunto.

4.  Pull fabrics that go with your theme.  Make sure you also pull some neutrals like white, off white, etc.  This is your color palate. Some crazy quilt artists have 2 rules they aim for with fabrics; that they can be ironed and they hold a crease.  I like to use unusual fabrics, so I test them with an iron before deciding to use them.  If they melt at the hint of an iron, I might decide to not use them at all.  Fold and pin fabrics into pieces that are approx. the size of your hand stretched out.  This is the point where it gets confusing because you have just pulled many fabrics and all together they look like a mess.  Having them in a compact and uniform size helps tame the appearance of the pile down.  It also helps to arrange your fabrics around in color wheel order. Doing this helps you make decisions about which fabrics to include and helps you avoid only picking your favorite colors.  For example, I find I don’t automatically include yellows in my color choices, but when I have purples and violets, yellows make the whole composition more appealing.  One part of color theory is that opposites compliment each other on the color wheel.  (Don’t include neutral fabrics, i.e. whites, off-whites and blacks in this step.)

5.  Start playing with your selections.  Lay out motifs first, then lay out the fabrics around them.  Continue with this untill you have an idea of what you like where.  Remember, this is a process, so enjoy it.  Once you have something you like, it is helpful to sketch it out on paper.  Make notes about what you think you want where and which fabrics you want to appear next to each other.  This is not intended to become your pattern, just your first settled idea.  It will probably change.

6.  Once you have your patch fabrics chosen, pull the fibers, i.e., embellishments (laces, trims, etc), ribbons and threads you want to use.  Lay them on top of your fabrics and find which fabrics look good with which embellishment or thread.  Make notes about these combinations either on 3×5 cards or on your notepad.  I like to use little samples of the fabric/thread glued to paper or cards.  Again, this will help you narrow down your choice of threads/embellishments.  Once you have your choices made, put the thread/embellishments in a zip lock bag to keep it from getting tangled together. 

7.  Now it’s time to cut down your fabric into manageable pieces.  I like the size of 1/10 yard, or about 9 x 11.  I didn’t realize I liked this size until I bought fabrics pre-packaged for CQ.  That’s the size they usually come.  Now I cut my fabrics down.  They are way easier to work with.  Keep in mind that there is no rule to how many fabrics should be used on a CQ or how large they can be.  There is also no rule as to how many times a particular fabric can be used in a CQ.

8.  Lay your fabrics/motifs onto your foundation fabric as per your plan.  Rearrange until you like what you see.  It helps to walk away, even into another room for a moment and then turn back to see what stands out that you don’t like.  Very rarely will the arrangement you end up with be the exact same thing as your notes.  The notes will help you remember what fabrics you liked next to each other and where you wanted your motifs.  Once you are pleased, pin fabrics to the background fabric.

9.  Now you will begin cutting each piece down to patch size.  I use a rule of thumb that patches are not wider than my hand.  Now sometimes they are smaller, but I try to keep it so only motifs can be larger.  This is just something I aim for.  It is not a hard and fast rule.  As you trim your patches, make sure that each patch overlaps every fabric around it by at least 1/2″.  The patches shouldn’t be of uniform size.  Make some larger and some smaller, some narrow, some wide, etc.  Make sure some of your patches are curved as it makes for more visual interest. 

10.  Once you have your patches cut and pinned to the background fabric, start from the center patch and fold a seam allowance of not less than 1/4″ and not larger than 1/2″ and press.  Use caution with your fancy fabrics and use a pressing cloth where necessary.  Where you can’t press the fabric or the fabric won’t hold the press, pin the seam in place using silk pins.  Then baste the seam together.  Repeat on all the patch seams.  Use common sense here as to which fabric is on top.  Try to have thicker fabrics, like velvets, lying flat while the patch next to it is folded under for the seam allowance and lies on top of it.  Also, watch out for dark fabrics under shear ones and try not to have anything shadowing through at the seams.  Work your way out from the center.  Make sure your piece always lays flat after you have basted each seam.  If it doesn’t, stop, remove the basting and reposition.  There is no such thing as adjusting later.  I use a sharps for the basting with any thread I have available.  The basting thread will eventually either be removed or be covered by your seam embellishments.

Once everything is basted in place and you are happy with it, you are ready to start embellishing your seams!

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Column Quilt method for Crazy Quilt

This tutorial demonstrates the use of Nancy Zieman’s (of the Sewing With Nancy TV series) Column Quilt  (this is a link to her video) method used to construct a Crazy Quilt, (CQ).  It is a “quilt as you go” method.  I saw her demonstrate this method on her television show for a more traditional quilt and thought it would translate well for CQ.

Since this was a test, I decided that my columns would be 5″ wide and 20″ long unfinished. I cut 4 strips of this size from muslin and thin fleece batting.  I layered each strip of batting with a strip of muslin.  Then I got out my scrap bin and started sewing cotton scraps of fabric to the muslin/batting strips “flip and sew” style.  I worked from the center out to the edges just because I felt like it gave me less chance of things going askew.  I used cotton thread in the needle and the bobbin.

This tutorial assumes that the reader is familiar with the “sew and flip” method of CQ, and no demonstration is given for this technique.  There are lots of tutorials on the web for this method.  Here is a link to one I know of off-hand at Annie’s Crazy Quilt Studio

Briefly described, it is laying a piece of fabric face up on a foundation, then placing another piece of fabric right sides together along one edge, stitching along that edge, flipping it open and pressing.  This process is repeated until the foundation fabric it totally covered.

The photo below shows the strips with the CQ piecing already accomplished on the muslin/batting strips and trimmed up to 5″ x 20″.

Next I layered one of the backing strips onto one of the pieced strips.  I spray basted it to keep it in place.  Then I machine decorative stitched the seams.  I just used stitches available to me on my sewing machine.  Nothing fancy.  I don’t have a fancy sewing machine.  Here’s a photo of this step completed.

And here a photo of what it looks like on the back side.

I then straight stitched down the length of this strip.  I saw Nancy do this to stabilize the edge before attaching the next strip.

Next I layered the next pieced strip right sides together with the first strip and a strip of backing fabric right sides together with the back of the pieced strip.  I pinned the pieces together.

Then I straight stitched all the layers together.  There was a lot of bulk so I graded the seam allowance with pinking shears and then folded the new strip out to meet the new back. 

Then I machine decorative stitched the seams in the second strip as with the first.  There was a lot of bulk in the strip connector seam and it did affect the stitches, but not too much.  Here’s a picture of the front and back after the seams were embellished.

You can see the bulk of the seam allowance.  It was a little hard to get through the areas where seams from the Crazy Patch were. I decided not to straight stitch the second strip edge before joining the third to cut down on at least that much bulk.  It wasn’t really necessary to stabilize the edge with the seams at the edge and the spray basting.  I joined the third strip, embellished the seams, then joined the fourth strip and embellished the seams all without this step.

Here’s a picture of the front and back after all 4 strips are joined and embellished.

I liked the way the machine decorative stitches looked on the back, but you can clearly see the seam allowances.  The next time I use this method, I will cut the batting to just under 1/4″ from the edges and I will use a pinking shear or rotary blade.  In the tutorial Nancy did, she cut back the batting when it was regular quilt batting, but not when she used fleece.  Even with fleece there is too much bulk, so I suggest cutting it back no matter what type of batting you use.  It would have to be cut smaller from the start because of the piecing done on it.

Here’s a picture of it finished.  I added decorative stitching to the connector seams and that helped them lay down a little better.  It measures approx. 19 1/2″ x 17 1/2″, so there was a little shrinkage on the width.  The strip connecting seams worked better at 1/2″ instead of the traditional 1/4″ because they were so bulky. 

All in all, this turned out pretty good for a test.  I think with the modification to the batting, it would be a great way to assemble a large Crazy Quilt.  It goes pretty fast.  I did all the cutting and piecing in about 2-1/2 hours and the embellishing and joining of the strips in about 2 hours.  The binding will probably take 1 hour, so, for a good 1/2 a day’s work, I have a cute little baby doll crazy quilt.  I think I will give it to my granddaughter with a baby doll for her birthday.

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