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!